Something that’s fascinating to me is the presence of two trees in the story of the Garden of Eden: (1) the Tree of Life and (2) the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
What’s fascinating is that both trees appear in the Garden of Eden, a Judaic allegory, even though symbolically the two trees represent the very split between East and West. It would almost seem that the authors of the Torah/Old Testament could have left the second tree out altogether.
The Tree of Life represents a godlike characteristic which people have always desired – Eternal Life. To live without dying. And, when someone partakes of the fruit of this tree, they too become immortal.
In the East, Eternal Life appeared in story as reincarnation, the rebirth of a soul into a new body. With each death comes a new life, a chance to be better, but also a ceaseless cycle of suffering.
Symbolically, Reincarnation is the dying of an old version of ourselves and the rebirth into a new version (akin to the Western theology of Resurrection). In practical terms, this process occurs as we mature and shed old ideas, paradigms, personas, dogmas, values, and societal expectations.
In Psychological terms, Reincarnation is the process of abandoning old Personas to adopt new ones, while completely missing the True Self beneath. In practical terms, Reincarnation is releasing one toxic vice, bad relationship, or poor habit only to attach to another.
Distraught with this cycle of Eternal Suffering, Gautama Buddha meditated beneath a Bodhi tree
(in a garden) for 49 days and achieved enlightenment. Nirvana. His soul partook of the fruit of the Tree of Life and he broke free from the cycle of Reincarnation, finding the Middle Way.
The Buddha discovered that the cycle of Reincarnation is the consequence of pursuing pleasure and attempting to avoid pain. By finally relinquishing all physical and emotional desires, he never again succumbed to psychological death nor rebirth.
With no urgency to do what is right, the Buddha observed himself long enough to realize that there was nothing of himself to observe. He saw that emotions come from the body. Thoughts come from the mind. Sensations arise as apparitions of the exterior world.
In the East, true Eternal Life was achieved in the realization that there is no life, no individual, no identity, no soul, and thus no gods with which to comply.
Eternal Life is to accept each moment as it arises, with no judgment and no influence, it is to observe while relinquishing control. It is to turn off the half of our brain that decides what is Good and what is Bad.
Which brings us back to the Garden of Eden, and the fruit most tasteful to the West, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam and Eve partook of this fruit and came to know Right from Wrong, Righteousness from Evil.
Through this choice, the West became morally binary and, rather than accept no gods, it demanded that all worship one God, Yahweh, all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-full-of-himself.
Connected to this reality are other realities that fascinate me (e.g., How one God leads to liberalism, individualism, postmodernism, and a pandemic of narcissism) but I won’t get sidetracked.
Because Adam and Eve ate the fruit, the world fell under a Nietzschian regime of, “Thou Shalts”, morals, commandments, and punishments. The Tree of life became a reward, dangled like a carrot, and promised in exchange for perfect compliance.
In the West, we all sin, missing the mark, falling short of the glory of God. And, because the fruit was eaten in the Garden, another tree was erected atop Golgotha, where God himself died to end the cycle of death. One last death for all mankind… sound familiar?
In the East, the objective is to let go of the self, of identity, and of ego. In the West, we’re encouraged to hold tightly to our own individualism, our identities, and our God. But where do we find ourselves in this?
Swiss psychologist Carl Jung proposed the idea of Archetypes, or universal, primal symbols or images that exist within every person. These Archetypes map to stories often called Mythology, and as we experience life, our psyches subconsciously map our behavior to the archetypes embedded within us.
Our Personas are then manifestations of Archetypes to which we’ve attached, and at each new birth, either physical or psychological, the potential exists for any one of the countless Archetypes to arise.
In the East, the archetypes were identified as useful but not Sacred, psychological rather than literal, powerful deities but not an end unto themselves, a part of all of us but not the totality of any one of us.
In the West, the Archetypes were consolidated into a single deity known as Yawheh, omnipotent, omnipresent, jealous and vengeful, simultaneously God of War and Fertility, Love and Hate, Faith and Fear.
Jung saw the God-image as a fundamental aspect of the human psyche and closely connected to the development of the self. In this regard he describes the individuation process as the progressive incarnation of the divine. We become what we worship.
The East, free of moral deities and Good and Evil, offers individuals the chance to end the cycle of pleasure seeking and pain avoidance. A peaceful Life Eternal here and now.
In the West, we rely on a single Deity, one God to which we commit our lives, and thus wait to taste the fruit of the Tree of Life until ours have passed. Never fully enjoying the sensation of eternity while we may.
It’s fascinating that the authors of the Torah included the Tree of Life in the garden, as if they knew the choice people have between picking a God, whom they can devote their lives to, and relinquishing that concern so life may be enjoyed.
It’s as if Adam and Eve knew the choice they were making for the West. Why they together would make that choice is the topic of another discussion.
This post is also a podcast episode. Where to find The EXPLORER POET Podcast:
Today is a solo episode, in which I cover the story of the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve not as story of the first people that ever existed, but a story of what it is to exist in the west, both trees existing in the garden, the west only has access to one, the Tree of Life, immortality, eternal life as reincarnation in the east, reincarnation in symbolic and practical terms, reincarnation in psychological and practical terms, Buddha meditating to achieve enlightenment, nirvana, reincarnation as a cycle of pleasure seeking and pain avoidance, the Buddha observing himself, true eternal life is achieved in the realization that there is no life, eternal life is to accept life without judgment, the west became morally binary behind Yawheh, a Nietzschian regime of “Thou Shalts”, morals, commandments, and punishments, in the west we all sin, God died to end the cycle of death, East vs West, identity, ego, individualism, Carl Jung, archetypes, stories, mythology, psyches, and mapping our personas, Archetypes in the east and the west, and how in the west we commit ourselves to one God.
Gong Sound: 68261__juskiddink__bell4.wav