You know, I think the name is truly apt: The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. This tree in the garden was not itself good and evil; it was about knowing, becoming aware, feeling, sensing and distinguishing. And what is the natural response to awareness? It is, of course, just that – response. The bite from the proverbial apple was no big deal. The real event was our response to the flood of awareness that came with that taste:
- I am a distinct individual. Oh my God, I have to protect myself from extinction.
- That feels good. Oh my God, I want some more.
- That hurts. Oh my God, I want to avoid that at all costs.
- I have no clothes. Oh my God, how embarrassing.
- There is only so much of that. Oh my God, I need to hoard it.
- I have power. Oh my God, I have to control someone with it before they control me.
- I am good. Oh my God, I can never be good enough.
- I am bad. Oh my God, I must be horrible.
- I am afraid! Oh my God, I don’t want you to know because I’ll look weak!
- Oh my God!
Becoming aware of me, the natural response was to think it was all about me. I am autonomous. True. In my embodied state, I have a certain temporal sense of individuation. Does that mean I am isolated? Well, I can certainly choose to see it that way. And therein lies the real issue: the power to choose, or free will.
Our Creator made us aware. And our Creator made us capable of response. So where and how does free will kick in? The traditional second millennial Christian view would say that we played our card – and make no mistake, the traditional view holds that the woman started it – we played our free will card in a defining way when we took the bite from the apple. It was all over. We chose to be fallen, and every baby born since that bite is a fallen human being, born of the sin of Adam and Eve. And unless they make the free will choice to accept the redemptive blood of Jesus, they remain stuck in that fallen state and, sadly, bound for hell.
But I see it differently. Free will is our Creator-bestowed power to choose, now and every day, our own response to the knowledge of good and evil that came with our Creator’s gift of human awareness. Will we respond to all that comes to us in life from a separated, ego-centered perspective, or rather from a Spirit-connected, relationship-oriented place of generous and expansive trust? On a daily basis, will we choose to be isolated in ego or to be bound together in love?
Fortunately, while the whole Adam and Eve saga was unfolding, the Creator was also talking on the other side of the world, unbeknownst to the authors of the Biblical text, about the concepts of attraction, aversion and attachment. These concepts, originating in Buddhist writings, presented a different possible free will response to the knowledge of good and evil.
In this context, the knowledge of good and evil was granted, but things went a step further. Somehow in the enlightenment of the Buddha, there came an awareness that our slavery was not to our inherent fallen nature, but rather to our own choice – to our everyday free will choice – to follow, to become attached to our attraction to desires and our aversion to pain and suffering. We allowed ourselves to become slaves of our sensations in an effort to please and, we thought, protect our individuated selves, at any cost to ourselves and to those around us.
If you haven’t noticed, East and West begin to come together in this picture. Ah, beware the heresy of syncretism! Yes, yes, let’s let the blind ones describe the elephant at all costs.
But back to free will and the problem of attachment to attraction and aversion. Somehow, like Adam and Eve, we do not see the lie and the separation in this choice of attachment. Well what to do, what to do? There is an answer, a free will answer, but it’s different than the one of at least second millennial Christianity. Check back next week.
© Two Trees in the Garden