(This is the continuation of a series exploring the nature of the human ego in the world’s religions and science, beginning with this post.)
I think the nature of the development of the ego-self in our consciousness, both in the evolution of humanity at large, and within each of us in our childhood, is what is being symbolized in the mythology of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic story of the Garden of Eden and Adam & Eve.
The ancient writers of this text were clearly not familiar with modern psychology, but I think they did have direct experience of different states of consciousness which allowed them to frame their experience in terms of an allegorical and mythological story of our origins and of the human experience of consciousness. Narratives are powerful tools of transferring meaning among humans, and through generations.
The “Garden” perhaps represent the whole world, the cosmos, Nature itself, from which humanity evolved and arose from earlier mammal ancestors, and from which we ourselves emerge. The “Garden” might also have reference to the earliest human agriculture, of early humanity developing “gardens” of food to help sustain their lives in a single location (“Eden”), so they would no longer have to move around to hunt and gather as their ancestors did.
“Adam & Eve” may represent the earliest humans, or Homo sapiens, or any humans in our most innocent infant-like egoless state of consciousness. In the “Garden,” “Adam & Eve” were said to have been created from out of the “dust of the earth.” Human bodies are actually made from the dust of the Earth, from the many atoms of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and more found in the ground, water, and air of the Earth, which eventually become part of human bodies and all of life. The “Garden” literally becomes the bodies of “Adam & Eve,” through natural life processes.
While the ancient writers did not know about atoms, they may have assumed that the food, water, and air that we breath become a part of us, the makeup of our bodies. And this is not something that happens once in the womb, but is continually happening throughout our lives; the elements of our bodies are being continually recycled from the “dust of the earth,” the Earth becomes us. We don’t have a permanent body, but our body is continually emerging from out of the Earth.
The earliest “Adam & Eve” humans may have been similar to our infants today, with little self-awareness, little ego, perhaps similar to what we observe in most animals today, little to worry about except their most basic needs, and they found these in the “Garden” of the natural world. They didn’t have careers to worry about, complex social hierarchies to navigate, or projects to concern themselves with. They lived what we might call “the simple life,” living in harmony with the fruit of the land, and what nature provided. Likewise, as infants, we are well-nourished by our mothers, and most of our needs are met. There is no concern for a “self,” who this “self” is, or the many cares of the world. We are innocent, pure, at peace, and free. In a way we are at-one with the world, with life, and with our mothers. All things are provided for us. We are in the presence of “God.”
What causes the shift from this state of peace, harmony, and rest to the “fallen” state of humanity? It seems to me to be the development of human knowledge within ourselves, of complex intellect and reasoning, and of self-knowledge in particular, of the almost exclusive focus on the needs of this bodily and psychological “self” in contrast to others. Egoic self-consciousness, or an extreme heightened sense of self-awareness, seeks to protect its “self” at all costs and build it up as much as possible, to fulfill its most grandiose desires, and completely avoiding what it doesn’t like, even seeking to destroy what it doesn’t like. This “self” became the first priority of the human being. It wasn’t enough to simply seek, eat, and enjoy the fruit of nature, but our “self” had to have the best, tastiest, most beautiful, most abundant, most extravagant foods that we could develop. And this kind of egotism extended into every area of human interest, to clothes, to housing, to social relationships, to experiences, etc. Our “self” became the priority in our lives.
In our childhood we develop many of these same qualities, as discussed in the previous post. We begin to learn about the needs of this “self,” and to seek its protection and aggrandizement. We eat of the “Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil,” of the dualities of the world, of the knowledge of the world, and we begin to think that we are separate, independent, isolated beings living in this world, and that we must work by the sweat of our brow for our daily bread. We develop an ego, a sense of “self,” a sense of “I,” of “me,” and in that process we “Fall” from the Presence of “God,” of that felt sense of Oneness and harmony with the world-mother, with Nature, with Universal Being. We enter the lonely “fallen” world of our egoic perceptions, of our separated ego state of consciousness, where “I” am “in here,” in this body, and everything else in the world is “out there.” We realize our mortality, that “I will surely die,” and this frightens us terribly, that is, frightens the ego, which often causes us to act out of self-preservation. We develop a knowledge that we are “naked,” we become ashamed of that “nakedness,” and we hide.
I think the darker shadow aspects of our egoic selves became symbolized in the character of “Satan,” particularly those aspects of ourselves that idolize our egotism and self-centeredness, of believing that “we” are always right, and in doing things (“sins”) which cause harm to ourselves or others, usually out of an inordinate desire to expand the ego or defend it from any kind of diminishment. The “Fall” of “Adam & Eve” was the same as the “Fall” of “Lucifer.” These mythologies overlap. It was a fall from Oneness, from Nondual Presence, from God consciousness.
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The religions of the world seem to have almost universally agreed on the solution to this state of affairs, what needs to happen in order to be redeemed, to awaken, to be enlightened, to be saved, to return to the “Garden,” to the Presence of “God,” to a state of Oneness or Nonduality with what is Eternal.
We need to see past this “self,” the ego, this psychological construction that we call “me.” We need to overcome our own “self.” We need to “cast out Satan” from our “temple,” the temple that is our own mind and body. We need to “put off” this “natural man,” this “carnal mind,” this egoic consciousness in our minds. We need to pass through a kind of ego death, a psychological death of this construction of “self” in our consciousness, wherein we see the true nature of that ego, we see that it is a construction of our minds, a narrative, an illusion of sorts, and we perceive what is real beyond it. We realize that we are truly not that “self,” that complex “self” story we thought we were. We see our “self” die, and yet we are still alive.
And when we look beyond the ego, what we see is nothing other than the “Garden,” Nature, the World, the Cosmos, and all Beings in it, in its totality, and an infinite unity in that totality. We see that we are That, that we are infinitely interconnected and at-one with all of That. Our sense of separateness collapses to Oneness. We come to realize that this is our True Self, and that our true nature is as Life itself, a miraculous conscious energetic Incarnate creation of the Cosmos, and that we are forever One with this Cosmos, this Love, this “God.” We eat of the “Tree of Life.” We are not living in the Cosmos, but we are the Cosmos that has come alive and become conscious of itself. Our ego is the veil that keeps us from perceiving this Oneness, and keeps us separate from “God.” God consciousness is what is realized when ego consciousness falls away, and we perceive an Infinite sense of Interconnection, Life, and Love with all that is.
I think this is reflected strongly in all of the major world religions, each in its own way. I will go through them in the next few posts to show some ways that this is so.
(Next post in series: Sacrificing Ego-Self in Judaism and Christianity)