“The state of pure consciousness without content, which might seem puzzling at ﬁrst sight, is something that all contemplatives have experienced.” Matthieu Ricard
The rich symbolism in the “Fall of Man” story found in the Book of Genesis reveals a cautionary tale on how the original state of pure human consciousness became dominated by knowledge and judgmentalism.
The Fall of Man story attempts to explain the rift between humanity and God, nature and other humans. It is replete with symbols which have been interpreted many times over several millennia. The dominant interpretation is that mankind was tainted at the outset by an original sin which severed our ties to the Creator. Our only prayer for reconnecting is to follow strict codes of conduct tethered to a life of sacrifice and repentance. Some religious authorities insist no human effort could ever repair our separation from Source. That task, they say, falls to a messiah.
This traditional view of Genesis leaves believers powerless over their relationship with the Source of Life. We are all tainted sinners, from the newborn to the most ancient among us, they say. These adherents insist our ancestors disobeyed God, condemning us to a life of powerlessness, guilt and shame. Billions of believers accept this as Gospel truth. But is it?
Examination of the Genesis story from a spiritual perspective provides an understanding which doesn’t relegate us to a life of hopeless dependence on a savior. Let’s examine the state of our minds and apply the insights we glean to the Fall of Man allegory.
According to Genesis, the first humans enjoyed innocent, carefree interaction with their Creator. The world was fresh, exuding the perfume of purity and freedom. God decided Adam needed a companion and created Eve out of one of Adam’s ribs. Adam then proclaimed, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh,” pointing to the interrelatedness God wove into the creation. Presumably, the pristine minds of Adam and Eve allowed them to live happily connected to all things in the Garden of Eden.
This internal condition is the original mind. It can be understood as the state of pure consciousness of a newborn. It is pre-verbal and not yet influenced by experience. It has gathered few memories and is treasured by Eastern sages. Zen masters deem it the “beginner’s mind.” It’s a tabula rasa, a state of awareness devoid of preconceived ideas or conclusions. Chinese mystic Lao Tzu extolled the virtue of this empty mind: “We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want.”
Such a mind experiences everything unfiltered and as connected to everything else. It can observe another person walking down a road and feel every step and breath that person takes. In this pure state, one can be the bird on a wire or be a trembling leaf. There is a kinship with all things. One can be deeply moved by another’s suffering or gladness. Empathy, one of our noblest capabilities, depends on this capacity to connect directly with the inner worlds of others.
God’s first directive to Adam and Eve in Genesis was to “be fruitful, multiply and take dominion” of the Earth. A fruitful person is inwardly mature, fully actualized, complete. There was no need for God to address physical maturity since it was genetically programmed. So, the first thing God expected humans to achieve through their own volition was to grow inwardly.
Inner growth requires a mind capable of being nourished through connectedness. The first people were inwardly immature (as evidenced by their gullibility) but moving naturally toward self-actualization. Their inner worlds would’ve been nourished daily through interactions with nature, Divine inspiration and by relating to one another. However, the Bible explains a serpent thwarted this plan by introducing humanity to the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. After eating from this “tree,” Adam and Eve became aware of their nakedness and experienced fear and shame. Humanity’s innocence and sense of interconnectedness were lost.
Obviously neither the “tree” nor the “fruit” offered by the serpent were literal. So what happened? A form of knowledge was introduced to the original mind. The result was the first people lost their connection to God, nature and one another. This alienation prevented them from being inwardly nourished, stifling their self-actualization. Instead, humanity was banished from the innocent, effortless life of Eden and cast into a life of toil and suffering.
What is knowledge and how does it interfere with our connectedness? In itself, knowledge is neither good nor evil. It certainly has been useful. However, it does exist as a realm separate from physical reality. In some ways, it is mirrored by its modern corollary, virtual reality. Knowledge lives in our minds in the form of thoughts, ideas, words and images which are gathered through experience and stored in memory.
When knowledge dominates the mind, original consciousness doesn’t vanish. It gets buried. Thoughts and other mental activities leave little room for the simple awareness treasured by mystics and meditators. Indeed, many spiritual seekers feel frustration trying to stop the seemingly endless chatter echoing in their minds.
Without self-awareness, knowledge can form a barrier between us and everything else. For example, the word “grass” cannot be walked on with bare feet. The memory of rain will not dampen you. A mental image of bread will not fill your belly. Yet when we see grass, we observe it through the filter of knowledge and no longer experience it directly. We get lost in thought. This is tragic. Our minds get filled with knowledge yet imprisoned in an ever increasing state of alienation. Fortunately, this vicious cycle need not be permanent. We can learn how to use knowledge without allowing it to dominate our experiences.
It’s also important to note Genesis introduced a specific kind of knowledge: good and evil. As we gather experiences, we categorize them and store them as memories. Some experiences are pleasurable or profitable. Others bring pain or loss. We find ourselves seeking the good or pleasant but attempting to wall ourselves off from the negative or evil. This sorting is essential to our survival. Without it, we wouldn’t know which berries are poisonous or how to build a home. However, most of us are unaware this discriminatory process is taking place. It goes on automatically and, left unchecked, can wreak havoc in our lives and our world.
How? Memory sorting can create division and conflict within our minds. This has been cartoonishly memorialized by the image of an angel and a devil, each hovering over a person’s left and right shoulder and trying to influence the struggling human’s conduct. Unless we become aware of the sorting process, we can fall into judgmentalism. Right or wrong, valuable or useless can be based on limited experience, rigid belief systems or personal bias. We learn to condemn the jealousy, greed, lust and violence we see in others. But we also condemn these qualities when they appear in ourselves, creating a chronic state of inner contradiction and hypocrisy.
Instead of feeling in tune with nature and ourselves, we live out a life of conflict and grow mistrustful of ourselves. This condition is projected onto others, solidifying our alienation from them. The sense of separateness breeds external conflict as each of us pursues our own aims, often oblivious to the outcomes we produce in this world. All forms of discrimination and violence flow from unchecked judgementalism. This is a mockery of the careful dominion humanity was intended to exert on Earth.
So the fruitfulness of humanity was stunted by the introduction of both knowledge and judgmentalism early in our development. This left each person existing in their own orb, populated by memories, thoughts, knowledge and experience – but in a sort of dream state. Our minds, lacking self-awareness, run on autopilot. The resulting alienation is painful. We attempt to evade the profound emptiness by filling the void with pleasure to the point of addiction. This condition of spiritual poverty was unwittingly passed on from one generation to the next because parents are unable to pass on a higher level of inner abundance than they themselves achieved. We multiplied and took dominion before we became fruitful.
Jesus was very aware of the damaging impact of our inner conflict. He admonished against our propensity to judge others. “Judge not that ye be not judged,” he said. The Prince of Peace was also concerned with our self-imposed boundaries as evidenced by his prayer that God “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Judgmental activity will go on automatically unless we become aware of it. The challenge of becoming aware is avoiding the condemnation of jealousy, greed, anger or lust when they emerge within. Because discriminatory activity often evades our detection, our awareness must be keen and direct, devoid of conclusions or experience. In other words, the original mind must take back the wheel and put knowledge – and everything it entails – in its appropriate place. When this shift takes place, knowledge no longer dominates our experiences nor do our minds run on autopilot. Instead, knowledge is used consciously to serve us in a holistic way.
How can we break the cycle of unconscious living? Can we mature spiritually and pass it on to our youth? Yes. We need to discover our non-judgmental self-awareness. Spiritual growth requires us to learn to press pause on automatic thought activity and uncover the original mind patiently waiting within. You can find it in the silence between your thoughts. It is a state of silent, compassionate attention, of intelligent and motiveless awareness. Discover it. Let it grow. Let it work.
To align knowledge with our original mind, we mustn’t fear the unknown or the mysteriousness of the universe. We need to avoid getting caught up in the past or in condemning others – or ourselves. We can become aware of our boundaries, of the things that trigger strong emotional reactions. All our emotions and urges, particularly those deemed unacceptable, must be felt and explored. We have to stop dividing ourselves into good and bad. Accept all of yourself in compassion and understanding. Live motivelessly aware of yourself in ordinary daily life.
The Adam and Eve story points out the role knowledge and judgmentalism have played in impeding humanity’s inner growth. Through sages and in the words and actions of Jesus we are reminded to return to the central task of self-actualization. So let us approach life with a tender, loving, vulnerable state of mind. Understand it’s okay not to know, to allow the universe across your boundaries and to move you. With silence, intelligence and compassion, look out at the world as if for the first time. Grin as you feel the cool grass under your feet. Laugh as raindrops tickle your skin. Raise a piece of bread, smell it, examine its texture and tear off a bite. Living this way, your spirit can be nourished and your purpose here fulfilled.