The journey from paradise to duality and back

The journey from paradise to duality and back

BRETT I. COHEN and ELISSA COHEN explore duality and oneness through the creation story of Christianity.

In the Judeo-Christian religions, the biblical story of creation is found in the Book of Genesis. Like most creation stories, it is full of magic and symbolism about our origins and the origins of all life. It starts with the sequence of creation, eventually leading to Adam and Eve. The word ‘Adam’ is from the same root as ‘atom’, which comes from the Greek atomos, meaning indivisible. The word ‘Eve’ is from the Hebrew root word meaning to breathe or to live. They are created as the first man and woman on Earth – the ancestors of all human beings. In this worldview humanity is a single family, all descended from a single source.

Adam and Eve live in the Garden of Eden, a paradise on Earth created by God as a home for his newly created humans. What follows is the separation or ‘fall’ of Adam and Eve from unified consciousness with God to separation and subsequent existence in duality. This fall of Adam and Eve into the consciousness of duality was the entry of human beings into the world of suffering, pain and death.

Did you know that this creation story has two narratives? In the first, Adam and Eve are not mentioned by name and are described as being created in God’s image, where both male and female were created at the same time. The male and female were then instructed to multiply and to be stewards over everything that God had created.

In the second narrative, God forms Adam from the dust of the Earth and plants a garden east of Eden in which he places Adam. In this garden God plants beautiful trees that provide good fruit for sustenance. The Tree of Life was in the midst of the garden, as was the Tree of the Knowledge of good and evil. Adam is told that he may eat the fruit from all of the trees in the garden except for the Tree of the Knowledge of good and evil. The price to be paid for eating from the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of good and evil would be death. Eve is then created from one of Adam’s ribs as a helper to Adam.

At this point, Adam and Eve have no knowledge of good and evil and therefore in their nakedness they are unashamed. A cunning serpent then tempts Eve to eat the fruit from the forbidden Tree of the Knowledge of good and evil. The serpent claims that if Eve eats the forbidden fruit she will not die but instead she will become like God and know good and evil. Eve believes that the fruit will make her wise, so she eats the fruit and then gives some of the fruit to Adam. After eating the fruit their eyes are opened. They suddenly identify themselves with their bodies and feel that these bodies are something to be ashamed of, something to hide. This is the birth of fear, shame and sin, marking the separation of consciousness and the subsequent descent into egotistic consciousness. God curses the serpent, and then banishes Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden to begin their lives of pain and toil outside of the garden.

Non-duality has the literal meaning of “not two” and can also be described as “one undivided without a second”, unity with “non-separation” (Katz 2007). The concept of non-duality is found in various religions and spiritual traditions throughout the world (Harvey 2013, Katz 2007, Loy 1988). The ego is part of the conscious mind and is also part of the identity that we consider ourselves to be (Katz 2007, Loy 1988). The ego is also described as an inflated feeling of superiority over others, as well as a feeling of inferiority in relation to others. The ego is also responsible for pleasures and desires as well as aversions. The dissolution of the ego reveals the presence of non-dual consciousness. This leads to a complete loss of subjective self-identity (Katz 2007, Loy 1988). In other words, the transcendence of the ego allows for the awareness of unity consciousness in which One is undivided without a second. This realization of unity can be considered to be a postegotistic state, or in other words, the return to paradise.

There is a lot of theological discussion as to why there are two creation narratives. It is interesting that from the outset of the Old Testament the question of duality, as it relates to the reason for the two stories of creation, is aroused. This can be seen as the foreshadowing of the ‘fall’ of human consciousness from non-duality to duality (two), the basis for the entire journey of humanity that is to follow.

The second creation story of Adam and Eve has numerous descriptions of the ‘fall’ from non-duality (unity with God) to duality (separation from God). After eating the fruit, the fall from non-duality to duality begins. Adam and Eve hide from God because they are fearful. These feelings of fear and shame are the first indications that the fall to duality consciousness has happened.

In this worldview humanity is a single family,
all descended from a single source.

God asks Adam, “Who told you that you are naked?” This indicates that a voice other than God’s had arisen in Adam and God is aware of it. This is the first instance of the voice of the ego in the experience of humanity. God then asks Adam and Eve if they have eaten from the Tree of the Knowledge of good and evil. Adam blames Eve for their disobedience. This reaction of blaming others shows the rise of egotistical consciousness and duality. It is evident that a dramatic change in their way of relating has happened; a split has occurred. Whereas before there was harmony and unity (paradise), now there is hiding, shame and blame (separation). These personal emotional responses of Adam are due to his developing ego.

The creation story ends with Adam and Eve banished from the Garden of Eden, which is symbolic of their separation and the rise of the ego. They are told they will now have to enter into an existence of suffering, which is the hallmark of separation consciousness in various religious traditions.

The fall of Adam and Eve has been depicted in religious art throughout time, e.g. Michelangelo’s great work on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. In this painting, the contrast of the state of non-dual consciousness and egotistic consciousness, before and after the fall, could not be more evident.

The journey out of the Garden of Eden is the end of one story but the beginning of another. The possibility of an eventual return to the Garden is left open: the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Life in its midst are preserved yet constantly guarded. The question of whether humanity will transcend egotistic consciousness, return home to the Garden of Eden and eat from the Tree of Life is yet to be answered.

Harvey, P., 2012. An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices, 2nd Edition, Cambridge University Press, UK.
Katz, J. (Ed), 2007. One: Essential Writings on Nonduality. Sentient Publications, Boulder, CO, USA.
King James version of The Holy Bible, Genesis 1-5.
Loy, D., 1988. Nonduality: A Study in Comparative Philosophy, Yale University Press, New Haven, USA.


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