Garden of Eden

(In) the Old Testament image of Genesis 2: 8-14, Eden is described as with “the tree of life in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” and with a river, moreover, that divides and becomes four rivers, flowing in the four directions.  TMD 193

So let us return to our consideration of the cross in relation to its mythological prelude, the fairy tale of the serpent who could talk, and the Fall of Man in the garden – which supplies the upbeat to the downbeat of our story of man’s need for redemption.  We all well know the amusing tale as recounted –without any sense, however, of its fun – in the second chapter of Genesis.  It is based on a folktalk-type known to folklorists as “the one forbidden things” – of which “Bluebeard” is a good example (“You may open all the doors in my castle but one!”).  It commences with a scene of pre-dawn peace, quiet, and wondrous solitude, as do many of the world’s delightful early tales of the Earth-Shaper and his giving of life to creatures of his imagination. 

When God walked in the garden in the cool of day and saw them, he asked, “Who told you that you were naked?  You have leaves on!  Have you eaten of that tree?”  Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent, and the upshot of it all was that this god – who was, as he later explained, “a jealous god” (Exod. 20:5) – became fearful, because, as he told the angels, “the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever; Therefore,” as our Scripture says, “the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken.  He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life” (Gen. 3:22-24). 

Until only a few years ago, a person could be put to death for openly questioning the validity of this fairy tale as the authorized, eyewitness account of an actual historical, or prehistorical, misadventure: the eyewitness, of course, being God himself, and this Word of God being revealed to the only people in the world who know what God is and how he should be worshiped.  By this account, the gods of the Gentiles – of the Greeks and Romans, Germans, Hindus, and the rest – are, if not devils, then mere figments of man’s misguided imagination, as Yahweh and the serpent in the garden are not.  TMD 200

First, the mouth of one is closed, and of the other open.  They are thus a pair of opposites.  Good and evil are a pair of opposites; so, also, male and female – as Adam and Eve realized when, having eaten of the fruit of the tree, they saw that they were naked.  The exile followed this discovery of duality, opposition, separation: it was then that they become separated from God.  Approaching the imposing gate of the Buddhist temple at Nara, we too are separated, being not yet within, but outside, the garden.  Its two giant guardians are threatening; if they were not of wood, but alive, we should indeed be terrified on beholding them.  We should become aware of another pair of opposites, our own fear of death and desire for life: fear and desire.  But these, in the Buddhist legend of Guatama’s achievement of enlightenment, were exactly the two chief temptations that he overcome while sitting on the “immovable Spot” beneath the axial tree, at the “still point of the turning world.”  The god whose name is “Lust (Kama) and Death (Mara)” approached and, to unsettle him, displayed, in his character as the Lord of Lust, his three voluptuous daughters.  Had Guatama, sitting there, had any thought of “I,” he would have thought “They,” and there would have been a response; but there was none; the temptation failed.  Transforming himself, therefore, into his character as the Lord of Death, the Antagonist hurled an army of ogres against the one there sitting; but again there was no identification with ego; no sense of fear was evoked, and the temptation failed. 

   Likewise in ourselves, if our attachment to ego has not been conquered, so that the fear of death and a desire for continued life are still the governing principles of our experience and action, we are unfit psychologically to pass through the guarded gate to the Immovable Spot, where the Buddha sits.  Physically we may go through the gate and walk along the broad path into the temple, there to stand taking pictures, or in prayer; but we shall not by that physical act have made the passage psychologically.  TMD 203/4

For the Bodhi-tree is not geographically situated – as Eden was once thought to be – but is within us, and to be found there; and what is keeping us away from it is attachment to our separate lives as egos – to ahamkara, as the Indians say, “the making of the sound, I.”

In other words: it is our own attachment to our temporal lives that is keeping us out of the garden.  Could we get rid of this, we should walk in truth through what has been called, in a Japanese Zen Buddhist work, “The Gateless Gate,” Mu-mon, since nothing is there, no cherub at either hand, only our own misidentification of ourselves with our mortal part.  TMD 204

   For as we have heard: When the Lord God discovered that the man fashioned to work in his garden had been lured by his wife and a serpent into eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge, which he had reserved for himself, he cursed the serpent to crawl on its belly, the woman to give birth in pain, and his disobedient gardener to toil “in the sweat of his face” on an Earth of dust cursed to bring forth thorns and thistles.  And then, as we read: “lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life and live forever – therefore Yahweh sent them forth from the garden… and at the east of the garden of Eden placed the cherubim and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life”  (Genesis 3).

   It is surely clear (and can be shown) that the two trees in question are aspects of the one Bo Tree of Enlightenment and Eternal Life under which Prince Gautama sat, where the cosmic serpent Mucalinda lived, and the Goddess (here in reduced form as the serpent’s messenger, Eve) testified to the right of Man to come to the knowledge of the now forbidden Light.   G xxiv