In his life story, Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda, the Hindu saint who brought Kriya Yoga to the West, recounts his experience with the resurrection appearance of his beloved Master, Sri Yukteswar:

     Sitting on my bed in the Bombay hotel at three o’clock in the afternoon of June 19, 1936 – one week after the vision of Krishna – I was roused from my meditation by a beatific light.  Before my open and astonished eyes, the whole room was transformed into a strange world, the sunlight transmuted into supernal splendor.

Waves of rapture engulfed me as I beheld the flesh and blood form of Sri Yukteswar!

“My son!”  Master spoke tenderly . . . .

“But is it you, Master, the same Lion of God?  Are you wearing a body like the one I buried beneath the cruel Puri Sands?”

     “Yes, my child, I am the same.  This is a flesh and blood body.  Though I see it as ethereal, to your sight it is physical.  From the cosmic atoms I created an entirely new body, exactly like that cosmic-dream physical body which you laid beneath the dream-sands at Puri in your dream-world.  I am in truth resurrected.”

The conversation continues, in great depth and length, covering matters about this world and others.  The truth is, we know from current physics that Sri Yukteswar’s description of the material world is pretty much the way things are.

Many Christians will find this account surprising or disturbing, so much so that they will find a thousand ways to discredit it.  Why should they?  In both Matthew and Luke, John the Baptist is quoted as saying, “God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.”  And Jesus himself raises people from the dead in the gospels.

Ever since Anselm, Easter has become such a mess.  Bloody atonement.  We are so horrible that God had to kill God in order to keep God from damning us to hell.  And that is where we get all tripped up in our view of scripture.  Who can really believe that sacrifice for appeasement, payment of a price, was ever the desire of God/Spirit/Mind/Source?  Even the Old Testament prophets consistently cried out that G/S/M/S wanted our hearts, our hearts, not our sacrifices.

I will tell you that the crucifixion on Good Friday (there was nothing good about it, friends) was about murder and the devil’s bargain, not about appeasing God’s disappointment, anger or twisted sense of purity.  And the biggest message of the day, beyond the truth that evil and lies create unspeakable pain and suffering, was the ripping of the curtain to the Holy of Holies – the most powerful symbol of our false and fearful human created separation from our Creator – from top to bottom at the moment of Jesus’s death as a resounding “Enough!”  Enough of death as the end, and of separation of any kind between humanity and our Creator.  It was never intended, it was our invention and the true saints and avatars of all time have called us urgently and persistently back, back to the garden.

The cross, folks, is the painful suffering of our illusory world, symbolized so powerfully by the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  The resurrection – of Lazarus, of Jesus, of Sri Yukteswar – is the truth and reality of the Tree of Life.  We are made, everlasting, in the image of God.  Rise up and follow.  Rise up and follow.

© Two Trees in the Garden

What is Scripture?

Whether we read or studied it or not, most of us grew up with a pretty clear picture of what was and what was not scripture.  For the majority of boomers in America, scripture was the Holy Bible, next question please.  And no matter what it said, in grand story or minute instruction, it was God’s Word, cut and dried, start to finish, take it or leave it.  If you worked hard enough, or trusted completely enough, you could wring some meaning out of every jot and tittle.

That works pretty well in a very small world, until you realize that for a Muslim, scripture is the Quran, for Latter Day Saints it includes the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price, and, of course, the list goes on.  It’s easy to see where this leads.  Holy books, chock full of nuggets of truth and wisdom, are melted down and turned into bombs and swords, objects of division, judgment and violence rather than invitation, healing and peace.  Canon to cannon.  It’s a small sleight of hand.

Another key problem with this traditional understanding of scripture is precisely the canonical aspect.  We are never part of it.  It’s written and decided upon by holier people in holier times.  Somehow we judge ourselves less connected to God/Spirit/Mind/Source than those people in those times and places.  And we cede and seal that authority by Closing The Canon.   (Jesus died. Jesus rose. Constantine reigned. Canon closed. End times are just around the corner. You just repent and wait.)

I don’t buy it.  We are children of God, now, created in that image, as have been all people in all time.  Scripture is the Voice of God, written, as Jeremiah says, on our hearts (Jer 31: 33-34).  It’s not a voice that comes and goes.  It’s a voice that speaks and calls and comforts. It’s a voice that warns of danger and the consequences of ego and greed.  It is capital T Truth, now and evermore.  And it’s here and accessible whenever we choose to tune in.

So I encourage you to do a little creative thinking about what the Word of God is in your life.  Here, to stimulate your imagination, is a quick and very incomplete list of things that come to mind today for me.

Scripture is:

  • The snow on the Colorado Blue Spruce and Ponderosa Pines outside my window this morning
  • The voice of Leonor as we talk about our grandchildren
  • The wisdom of egoless Self in the verses of the Upanishads, passed down for perhaps 5,000 years with authorship attributed to no one in particular
  • The love and comfort of Psalm 23
  • The environmental Truth and wakeup call of hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, and the devastation of the High Park fire
  • Aleppo, the slums of Mumbai, the sweat shop in China and the Arab Spring
  • Jackson Browne singing “Don’t You Want to Be There”
  • JD Martin’s “One Heart”
  • Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching
  • Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables
  • Our friend Lourdes pulling the perfect shot to make that café cortadito down at The Red Cup

You get the picture.  Ease up.  God is speaking.  Tune in.  Listen for the voice of compassion, egoless Self, relationship and healing.  Listen for the warnings about the pitfalls of the path of greed and defense.  True scripture, the very Voice of God, is all around you, in every moment; a gift to nourish, to comfort, to strengthen and connect you, to connect us.

It is stories about the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  It invites us, always, to the Tree of Life.

Two Trees in the Garden.

Fallen or in the Image of God?

I get confused when I hear Christians talk about the human condition.  I hear them tell their teens, “God didn’t make no trash.”  And then I hear them say over and over that they themselves are worthless but for the grace of God.  That does not compute.  The problem goes right back to the two very different creation stories presented in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2.  We need to get over it.

Let’s get back to the garden – actually a little before the garden, in the first round of the creation story in Genesis 1, which is obviously a different story than the one written about the garden by a different author in chapter 2.  The culmination of story 1 is God’s thought to “make humankind in our (plural – hmmmm) image, according to our likeness.”  And so, the story continues, God did exactly that, on that sixth day of creation and concluded that, indeed, it was very good.  If God says it was very good, it must have been, must now be, must forever be very very good.  And it’s not that the author modifies the story in chapter 2.  It’s that someone else came along and wrote a different story.  There is truth in both, certainly.   But bottom line, in the culmination of story 1, we are created in God’s image and it is very good.

And now the garden story, the two-treed garden story.  Recall that, in chapter 2, we ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, we got scared and we ran.  In essence, we experienced what we call sin.  I don’t like the word, not because I don’t think the condition exists, but because I don’t judge it with the load of guilt and shame that Christendom has piled on for millennia.  It is separation and nothing more.  That’s enough, isn’t it, to be separated from love beyond imagination?  It leads directly to, fear, greed, blame and violence – all the things an isolated ego does to try to care for, criticize or punish its poor vulnerable and lonely self in its terrified vision of a universe of competition and scarcity.  Who needs more suffering than that?  Create the devil and pile judgment on top and it’s no wonder we started killing and burning animals to try to appease the gods!

I assert, however, that the experience of separation was not the unexpected and horrible fall of humankind we have made it out to be.  It was, rather, simply part of the plan, part of the process of being created fully in God’s image.  Metaphorically, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was a part of God creating us in God’s image.  We must know both connection and separation, individuation and the whole in order to be complete.

God took a huge risk in granting that awareness.  God risked losing us – or at least having patiently to spend millennia calling us back – in that act.   We got scared.  We separated.  We ran.  We murdered.  We hoarded.  We hid.  We played power games, coerced and enslaved.  We formed co-dependencies and took on addictions.  OK, yes, yes, we sinned!  But have a little compassion, here, on yourself and everyone else.  This was quite a shock, this individuation, this self-awareness, this sudden knowledge of our capacity for good and evil.

And contrary to the way the books of the law and some parts of the New Testament tell it, God didn’t set up a system of blood sacrifice until God could figure out a better way.  The prophets make that clear over and over and over again.  I’ll take Amos 5 over Deuteronomy any day:  “Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon . . . . But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

The call has always and ever been to continue to grow into that full image of God in which we were – and still are – created; to eat from the first tree and to move on to the second; to know the depth and breadth of our potential for individuation and separation, indeed, to know suffering; and then, with that knowledge in hand, to turn with compassion, to abandon ego and to choose life, to move on to the Tree of Life.  Moses, in his final address, implored the people to “choose life.”

What might that look like, to eat from the Tree of Life, to own our complete nature as beings created in the image of God?  I think, perhaps, the Eastern religions, especially Buddhism, present a clearer picture of that than does traditional Christianity.  The Judeo –Christian tradition became too stuck in the games of blaming and judging.

Buddhism does not see suffering as something created by the fall of humankind (the blame game).  Buddhism sees suffering as, well, suffering.  There is no value judgment.  It is just a basic condition of life.  If we were to try to understand that from a Biblical creation perspective, asking ourselves what God was up to by including suffering in the package, I think we would have to admit that it is hard to know anything without knowing fully its opposite.  God, in full respect for us as beings created in God’s image, honored us with knowledge of the full spectrum of conditions and possibilities.  We threw in the value judgments and got stuck with the blame game of burden and shame attached to our picture of sin.

Buddhism advocates responding to life with compassion rather than judgment, thereby transcending suffering.  This is a practice, not a belief, although I suppose all of our practices are based at least to some extent on the things we believe.

But it is precisely this nonjudgmental and compassionate acceptance and response to all that comes from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil – the pain and suffering of life – it is this response that transcends suffering and moves us to the healing home of the Tree of Life.  The Tree of Life, in fact, might even be seen as the very same tree, viewed through the lens of healing and compassion.  Perhaps that is why it is the only tree that remains in the concluding tale in the Book of Revelation, there with its leaves for the healing of the nations.

Whatever the case, compassion and healing are an active choice, a necessary choice on the path of our growing into that complete image of God, our intended and completed form of creation.  They have nothing to do with fear or bloody sacrifice and everything to do with relinquishing ego, isolation, separation, judgment and blame.  Compassion and healing are the choices God sets before us in the transformative path from the knowledge of good and evil to the full knowledge of life.  Choose life.  Life as intended in the image of God.

What is Two Trees in the Garden?

Two Trees in the Garden is a fresh way of looking at scripture and spirituality.  The basic premise is that scripture was made for humanity and not the other way around.  Recall Jesus’s comments on the Sabbath as he casually plucked grain and enjoyed it to the consternation of the uptight religious elite.  Little acts of clarity that eventually got him nailed to a tree.  But still we are afraid.  Well perhaps there is reason, but into the woods!

Let’s start at the very beginning.  Somehow our underlying orientation to Judeo-Christian scripture has been fear.  Ask yourself, for instance, how many special trees there were in the Garden of Eden.  The fast answer for almost all of us is that there was one: The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  And that devil serpent tempted the Woman and she succumbed and bit that apple.  Yes.  She did.  And who can blame the Man for following and it all unfolds from there.  A male God, with a little male Husband hiding behind His holy robe and not quite as much to blame, but still banished from paradise because the Wife just did what came natural — I mean come on, she took a bite from — Hey, wait a minute.  She took a bite from the fruit of one of TWO trees planted as crown jewels at the center of the garden of paradise.  There wasn’t just one.

But that is where someone chose to turn the story down an ugly path of sin, fear, despair, blood sacrifice and never good enough.  And friends, it is just that — a story.  A story some human wrote about their human experience of the Divine.  And like all stories, it is full of capital T Truth.  But you’ve got to let yourself get drunk with Spirit before you can begin to see it.  So here’s a glass.  Here’s a bottle.  Sit down.  Let’s enjoy some time together.

There were two trees in the Garden of Eden, planted as the crown jewels of creation: the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life, side by side at the center of the garden.  Creation was very good, and I don’t believe for a minute that it was anything other than the intention of God/Spirit/Mind/Source/The Universe/The Creator (GSMSUC), metaphorically, that we eat our fill from both.  The problem is, in this story, we ate from just one.  And then we got scared and ran lickety-split out of the garden, full of guilt, fear, shame, ego, separation and the awareness that we were someday going to die.  Yes indeed.  We woke up to our humanity, the complete knowledge of good and evil.  And the author of this book left us stuck and running for cover.  True enough, I guess.  But I think it’s time for another look at the garden.

Softly and tenderly, folks, softly and tenderly, GSMSUC has been calling us in all times and all places, now that we are awake to our full nature, to come on back, to take those few steps over to the Tree of Life.  Eat and be filled.  Eat and be healed.  Eat and be reunited.

It’s there, after all, at the end of the book, where we moved appropriately from a garden to a beautiful city, with the River of Life, bright as crystal, running through its center.  And on either side of the river (Rev 22:2) is planted the Tree of Life, with its twelve kinds of fruit, for every month, and its leaves for the healing of the nations.  Come back, come back.  Eat your fill.