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From: John Rose (107.136.181.36)
Subject:         The Fall and the Origins of Human Evil...
Date: September 20, 2014 at 6:57 am PST

In Reply to: Ancient Memories of a Golden Age... posted by John Rose on September 20, 2014 at 6:53 am:


“Memories and Visions of Paradise” by Richard Heinberg

The Fall and the Origins of Human Evil

The Saddest Story

What is evil? Is evil suffering, or the cause of suffering? In either case, evil may be said to be inherent in nature – in predation, decay, disease, and famine. Yet people in every culture and in every age have held to the belief that in the human world there exists another kind of evil that is profoundly unnatural. We may look to Nature for the source of human tendencies toward waste, warfare, greed, and the restless urges to possess, dominate, and kill, but no clear analogy suggests itself. Nature’s evils tend to exist in balance, predation and famine mitigating overpopulation, whereas the human version of evil apparently knows no bounds. From the earliest times, human beings have believed that there is a quality in themselves that sets them apart from the animals – a quality that manifests itself as a sense of alienation and insufficiency and as an abnormal capacity for destructiveness and cruelty.

Ancient peoples insisted that evil in this latter sense has not always existed, but that it had a specific cause. In their myths, the evil that is unique to humanity is described as having resulted from the Fall – the tragic event that brought the Golden Age to an end. They said that human nature is not natural at all, because it has been distorted by some fundamental mistake or failure that has been perpetuated from generation to generation.

Every religion begins with the recognition that human consciousness has been separated from the divine Source, that a former sense of oneness with the ground of Being has been lost, and that only by a process of purification and transcendence can we be reconnected with the sacred dimension. Whether it is the Judeo-Christian guilt for the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden, the Taoist nostalgia for the era before the Way of Heaven was corrupted by the ways of men, or the Africans’ sorrow for humanity’s betrayal of the animals, everywhere in religion and myth there is an acknowledgment that we have departed from an original condition of wise innocence and can return to it only through the resolution of some profound inner discord.

What caused the Fall? Why and how was the Age of Innocence brought to an end? These questions have perplexed theologians and philosophers for millennia, and we cannot hope to answer them with finality in a few pages, though we must at least pose and consider them. The myths themselves do not present a straightforward, unified explanation; rather, in describing what seems to be a shift in the fundamental polarity of human consciousness, they employ a variety of images that seem to be metaphors for some subjective, spiritual event….

Degeneration and Change of Character

According to nearly every tradition, the Fall occurred because of a debasement of the quality of character expressed by human beings. The nature of the process of decay is described in various ways. If we hope to penetrate to the kernel of the story, perhaps it is best to begin with the simplest and most easily understood versions before we proceed to the more enigmatic ones. The following African myth provides an apt and picturesque starting point.

According to the Barotse of Zambia, the Creator, Nyambi, once lived on Earth with his wife, Nasilele. Nyambi had made fishes, birds, and animals, and the world was full of life. But one of Nyambi’s creatures was different from all the rest. This creature was Kamonu, the first man. Kamonu was special because he was able to imitate everything Nyambi did. If Nyambi was making something out of wood, Kamonu would do the same. If Nyambi was creating in iron, Kamonu would work in iron as well….

The story of Nyambi and Kamonu, like nearly all African myths of the Fall, tells of the disappearance of God into the sky because of human depravity…Thus, according to the Africans, it was people’s cruelty, quarrelsomeness and insensitivity to Nature that caused the Fall.

The Native Americans agree. The Yurok of the Northern California coast say that when the Earth was new it was inhabited by the immortals, myth-time beings who lived in accordance with cosmic law. When people were created, the Immortals went away: “While the world itself remained perfect and beautiful, human beings had the capacity to violate and disrupt that beauty, to throw off the balance of Creation through, especially, their greed.” Similarly, the Hopi say that long after the time of creation people began to depart from the instructions of the Great Spirit…

The Indic peoples describe the fateful change in human character by emphasizing the First People’s loss of saintliness:

In the Treta Yuga (the second age) sacrifices began, and…virtue lessened a quarter. Mankind sought truth and performed religious ceremonies; they obtained what they desired by giving and doing.

In the Dwapara Yuga…religion lessened one half…Mind lessened, Truth declined, and there came desire and disease and calamities; because of these men had to undergo penances. It was a decadent Age by reason of the prevalence of sin.

In the Kali (present) Yuga…only one quarter of virtue remaineth. The world is afflicted, men turn to wickedness; disease cometh; all creatures degenerate; contrary effects are obtained by performing holy rites; change passeth over all things.

The Greek poet Hesiod, in his enumeration of world ages, described the degeneration of humanity in similar terms:

Then they who dwell on Olympus made a second generation…They could not keep from sinning and from wronging one another, nor would they serve the immortals…For now truly is a race of iron, and men never rest from labor and sorrow by day, and from perishing by night.

…Adam and Eve were stewards of the creative process, enjoined to tend and keep the Garden. The story implies that human beings were originally concerned with the entire process of creation rather than merely with its end products….This teaching is explicitly expressed in some Paradise myths, as well as in the core religious teachings of most cultures. Many Native American tribes (the Hopi and the Yurok, for example) tell us that the First People were instructed in the ways to maintain the balance of the forces of nature. The Fall came with their ancestors’ abandonment of responsibilities of stewardship. In one way or another, nearly all the world’s scriptures warn against “sweet, soft sinfulness”, as the Bhagavad Gita calls it, of obsessive desire for an end product in form. “Want not! Ask Not!” Krishna commands. Find full reward of doing right in right! Let right deeds be thy motive, not the fruit which comes from them.”

The Knowledge of Good and Evil

…The story (in the Bible) implies the existence of two kinds of evil – one inherent in Nature, embodied in the Tree of Knowledge itself, and one created by the act of disobedience of eating from the tree. It is the latter evil that causes Adam and Eve to hide themselves from the presence of the Lord…The first kind of evil – that which grew as fruit on the tree – exists prior to moral choice. It is the evil to which Job refers when he says, “What? Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” Hindu theology acknowledges the complimentary of this pre-moral good and evil by revering Brahma the Creator and Shiva the Destroyer. The traditions of the Native Americans, Chinese, and Japanese, in their various ways, also agree that in Nature both growth and decay, completeness and incompleteness exist as essential partners in the creative process.

The second kind of evil – the moral evil that is unique to humanity – arises from judgment between the qualities and pairs of opposites inherent in Nature and from emotional attachment to categories and distinctions. Existence in the physical world in and of itself occasionally produces suffering, but it is suffering that is contained in the ebb and flow of natural cycles and processes. It is a suffering contained entirely in the present moment. The human mind produces another kind of suffering, one that has its basis in expectation and memory, arising from the mind’s attachment to its own artificial categories of discrimination and its projection of those categories onto the world. This second evil is unnatural; its origin was the Fall.

This understanding of the nature of the act of eating from the forbidden tree appears in the Judeo-Christian exegetical literature by way of the Gnostic Gospel of Phillip, in which the author traces the origin of death to the original couple’s attempt to gain knowledge by dividing experience into false categories consisting of mutually exclusive pairs of opposites: “Light and darkness. Life and death, right and left, are brothers of one another. They are inseparable.” But it is in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism that the fundamental error – and psychological consequences – of false discrimination are most clearly explicated. For the Taoists, for example, the Golden Age of Grand Unity was the time before human beings had knowledge of the pairs of opposites. Chuang Tzu writes:

The knowledge of the ancients was perfect. In what way was it perfect? They were not yet aware that there were things. This is the most perfect knowledge; nothing can be added. Then, some were aware that there were things, but not aware that there were distinctions among them. Then, some were aware that there were distinctions, but not yet aware that there was right and wrong among them. When right and wrong became manifest, the Tao thereby declined.

Since it is the making of false distinctions that produces illusion, then enlightenment and liberation – the experience of Paradise – must arise from the abandoning of artificial categories of human judgment and emotional attachment to the qualities of form.

At the heart of the Buddha’s teachings are the Four Noble Truths, which affirm that all human suffering arises from desire and fear based on attachment to form and the vagaries of human discrimination. Buddhist doctrine describes nirvana – the paradisal condition of peace, wisdom, and absorption in the oneness of all being – as the natural condition of human consciousness before attachment arises and after it has ceased. While Buddhism does not acknowledge the Fall as a historical event, passages such as the following…

Attachment and false discrimination produces a condition in which our awareness of the fullness and magic of the present moment are drowned out by the mind’s restless machinations. Then, as the Gita says, “memory – all betrayed – lets noble purpose go, and saps the mind, till purpose, mind and man are all undone.”

Forgetting

A final allegorical image of the Fall is contained in the metaphor of forgetfulness. According to Gnostic, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions, it is the act of forgetting one’s true identity and purpose, because of distraction with the physical world, that produces the misery of the fallen condition.

According to Platonic philosophy, Lethe (“forgetfulness”) has erased not only temporal memory, but also the Ideas – that is, the absolute knowledge of universal principles. In the process of being born, the soul forgets the Ideas, its own past identity, and the collective past of humankind. This forgetting, according to Plato, is the primary cause of human illusion and suffering.

The central myth of the early Christian Gnostics, as preserved in the Acts of Thomas, also revolves around forgetting and remembering. A prince from the East comes to Egypt seeking “the one pearl. Which is in the midst of the sea around the loud-breathing serpent.” The Egyptians make the prince a captive and give him food that makes him forget who he is. “I forgot that I was a son of kings, and I served their king; and I forgot the pearl, for which my parents sent me, and because of the burden of their oppressions I lay in deep sleep.” But his parents, learning of his captivity and amnesia, send a letter:

From thy father, the King of kings, and thy mother, the mistress of the East, and from thy brother, our second (in authority), to thee our son. Call to mind that thou art a son of kings! See the slavery – whom thou servest! Remember the pearl, for which thou wast sent to Egypt!

The letter turns into an eagle and flies to the prince. Alighting beside him, it speaks and turns again into a letter.

At its voice and the sound of its rustling, I started and rose from my sleep. I took it up and kissed it, and I began and read it; and according to what was traced on my heart were the words of my letter written. I remembered that I was a son of royal parents, and my noble birth asserted its nature. I remembered the pearl for which I had been sent to Egypt, and I began to charm him, the terrible loud-breathing serpent. I hushed him to sleep and lulled him into slumber, for my father’s name I named over him, and I snatched away the pearl, and I turned to go back to my father’s house.

This story may be seen as an allegory for the process of incarnation. Prior to birth, the human spirit lives in the eternal realms of light, but in birth – the journey to Egypt – it enters a sleep of forgetfulness. The pearl is the purpose for which the pearl incarnates; the serpent is a metaphor for the mind’s powerful addictions. The letter is gnosis – spiritual knowledge that brings wakefulness and remembrance.

The Gnostics often described this ontological forgetfulness as a state of deep sleep or drunkenness into which the soul has fallen by its involvement with form. “Burning with desire to experience the body”, the spirit has forgotten its real nature. “She forgets her original habitation, her true center, her eternal being.”

If the images of forgetfulness and sleep are powerful metaphors for the Fall, remembering and awakening likewise serve as apt descriptions of the goal of all spiritual practices in every cultural setting: the object of meditation and ritual is always to remember, to awaken.

Awakening implies a return to the awareness of the soul’s celestial origin, and the messenger who brings this awakening offers life, salvation, and redemption. A Manichaean text exhorts: “Awake, soul of splendor, from the slumber of drunkenness into which thou hast fallen…follow me to the place of the exalted earth where thou dwellest from the beginning.” The injunction is not merely to remember who one divinely is, but to remember also the commission with which one has incarnated: “Slumber not nor sleep, and forget not that which thy Lord hath charged thee.”

Being “awake” means maintaining a consciousness of Heaven while on Earth. Hinduism and Buddhism regard the true Self (purusha) as an expression of the divine ground of Being, individualized in human form. Sin consists of forgetting one’s true Self, all suffering ensues from this. The core teaching of the Upanishads, Tat tvam asi (That thou art) corresponds to the letter in the Gnostic myth quoted above, sent by the King of kings (Brahman) to the prince (Atman) to remind him of his royal heritage.

The Effects of the Fall

Whatever the causes of the Fall, its effects are described similarly in almost all traditions. With disobedience, attachment, and forgetting come the loss of contact with the sacred Source; death and the necessity for reproduction; and limitations of various kinds, such as the loss of luminosity and the abilities to fly and to communicate with the animals. Human beings must now labor to compensate for the diminution of their various natural abilities, and must wander through life unaware of their real nature, purpose, and collective past.

Of all the results of the Fall, the most grievous was the loss of the divine presence. Paul Schebesta writes that for the Pygmies’ first ancestors,

“What caused…the most suffering was God’s departure. God disappeared. He withdrew and was no longer perceptible…In the opinion of the Pygmies who spoke of these things, God’s withdrawal was undoubtedly the greatest catastrophe that ever befell mankind; the other consequences of sin were less keenly felt.”

In all traditions, as Eliade points out, the longing for Paradise is first and foremost the longing for the immediate communion with Deity:

“The nostalgia for origins is a religious nostalgia. Man desires to recover the active presence of the gods.”

We have already considered several myths that attribute the origin of death to the transgressions of the earliest human beings. Whereas human beings once lived forever, could fly, and could visit heaven at will, they have now become earthbound creatures who are, in Eliade’s phrase, “limited by temporality, suffering, and death.”

The Books of Adam and Eve tell how the original couple’s very flesh was changed. Prior to the Fall, Adam and Eve glowed with visible light; now their bodies were dense and animal like.

And, indeed, when Adam looked at his flesh, that was altered, he wept bitterly, he and Eve, over what they had done…and Adam said to Eve, “Look at thine eyes, and at mine, which before beheld angels in heaven, praising; and they, too, without ceasing. But now we do not see as we did: our eyes have become of flesh; they cannot see in like manner as they saw before.” Adam said again to Eve, “What is our body to-day, compared to what it was in former days, when we dwelt in the garden?”

Like the First People of the Mayan tradition – who could see “equally well what is far and what is near” – Adam and Eve had lost a “bright nature” that had allowed them to stretch their gaze to encompass Heaven and Earth:

Then God the Lord said unto Adam, When thou wast under subjection to Me, thou hadst a bright nature within thee, and for that reason couldst see things afar off. But after thy transgression thy bright nature was withdrawn from thee; and it was not left to thee to see things afar off, but only near at hand; after the ability of the flesh, for it is brutish.

…In the myths of the Greeks, Native Americans, and Africans, the cruelty of human beings causes them to forfeit their friendship with the animals. But then, having lost their divine powers, the people are reduced to a condition materially equivalent to that of the animals, with whom they can no longer communicate…

Innocence has gone. Human beings are estranged both from the gods and from Nature, and are caught in an addictive round of fear and desire that saps both memory and vital powers. Already, they know the dulling sense of shame and loss. Not only their subjective experience, but the very substance of their physical bodies is changed. Moreover, their new mode of existence is destined to have effects reaching far beyond themselves.

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