One of the key concepts in many religious traditions is the idea that man has fallen or broken away from God. It’s considered by some to be the “ascending” form of religion — where we reach up or return to a state of Oneness with the Divine, as opposed to “descending” forms of religion where God is present or manifest in Nature and heaven is on the ground at men’s feet. This state of “falling away” or brokenness is commonly illustrated with the idea of Original Sin, or as it is called in Tibetan Buddhism alaya-vijnana (translated as Store Consciousness or consciousness that “contains all the traces or impressions of the past actions and all good and bad future potentialities“). This is the birth of the ego and the point at which our mind itself starts to distance itself from its true (or original) nature.
We are born clean, perfect and brand new, filled with light and unwrapped for all the world to see. We are born without language, without memories, without bias and without prejudice. We are born fearless. It is the world around us that attempts to work its way inside our mind, bringing along with it the concepts (and in some cases contagious ideas) like fear and bias.
George Leonard in his book Mastery, writes that a baby learning language for the very first time exists in a state of playfulness, a state of nonsense — throwing every manner of random sound against the void — until certain sounds are positively reinforced by the community around them. If there was no positive reinforcement, language would not develop as it does. He also states that the opposite is true, that by trying to control or negatively reinforcing sounds created from this state of blissful awareness, we instill self-doubt and fear in the child, and slowly begin to chip away at this state of blissful awareness. This sense of playful exploration, of pure creativity and imagination is eroded away by those around us simply through the act of (sometimes unconscious) positive and negative reinforcement.
It is only when we reach the post-conventional stage of psychological development (adolescence into adulthood) that we have the opportunity to unlearn this conditioning.
There are those who read scripture and sacred texts literally (33% according to Pew Research). Those that think Jonah literally lived in the belly of a whale for three days or that Noah was able to corral two of every living animal onto a boat. And, there are those who think that a piece of fruit may have contained all the knowledge of the world. Picture an apple packed tightly with not only the sugary flesh of the fruit itself and all its nutrients — its DNA — but also with the entire alphabet of your respective language, the entire number line in both directions all the way to infinity, entire systems of knowledge like law and medicine, potential systems of knowledge (that didn’t yet exist) like physics and astronomy. There are those who believe that when Eve took a bite of the apple, it was this knowledge that infected her. That she now possessed a download of ethics — a framework for interpersonal relationships, when according to myth itself, interpersonal relationships beyond that of our two protagonists weren’t yet known. This moment according to scripture was a transgression of spiritual law, attempting to take knowledge from the tree, the source of life, from higher spiritual planes, from God himself and use it for human ends. However, there are hundreds of ways to interpret this scripture.
There are those who may read it politically, and as an attempt for the patriarchal structure of the time to control the existing (and still very much emerging) storehouses of knowledge in the world. There are those who may read it as a fable to their children, encouraging them not to overreach their boundaries or expectations or not to elevate themselves above their spiritual station or social class.
There are also those that, in an attempt to frame this story biologically, view it as partial at best when considering our homosexual, bisexual, and transgender sisters and brothers. Is this a story that they can identify with? And, if this is a partial picture of the biological diversity and sexual/gender identity — if it’s not “true” biologically, then what else might it be about? Maybe it’s the polarity of the male/female or masculine/feminine drives in all of us. Maybe it’s about the battle being waged by God and the devil over the souls of our illustrious couple in that garden paradise. Maybe it’s all of the above.
Some interpret all scripture figuratively. There are those that perceive the whale as a construct of Jonah’s unconscious mind or a symbol of something larger than himself. There are those that perceive the initial bite of that apple as the first appearance of what we have come to call Ego. Eve was immediately self-aware, and immediately perceived herself as something other, something other than perfect, something that needed work. And this is one of the many effects of the ego, it convinces us that we are not our true or original nature. It convinces us that our mind can fix it, that our mind is in control, that there is a “self” to be preserved in an impermanent world.
We must find a way to inoculate ourselves against these effects. Fear and self-doubt and attachment are all viruses of the mind and highly contagious. And unless we have in place a rigorous practice that is constantly renewing and strengthening our spiritual and psychological immune system, we are at risk of being infected by the idea that we are broken or sinful, that we are anything less than connected directly to God, anything less than apertures of light and energy and Christ Consciousness, of formless Buddha Mind, energy that as it evolves, assists God himself in becoming self-aware.
Yes, we must surround ourselves with people who have similar practices, and similar immune systems. Yes, our community needs to be populated by beings who are continually growing, continually expanding themselves, continually unfolding into higher and more inclusive stages of consciousness. Like the white blood cells of the human body, it is the function (maybe even the responsibility) of that community to proliferate and grow in number, and we can only do this by putting ourselves out there, by being vulnerable and putting our own selves at risk of infection. We need to mix with those of other belief systems in order to spiritually immunize ourselves against the infection of the ego. We do this by entering the world. We do this by being present and engaged with those around us, and strengthening our own practice. We must chip away at the effects and limitations of the ego, and we must lead by example for those around us — taming the ego and gaining the ability to pull it out of our pocket when it is of use.
It’s important to remember the Cosmos itself is evolving — continuing to expand, unfold, and unpack itself. And those who are not illuminated by the most open and compassionate of hearts (or heart archetypes), or the highest and most powerful vibrations of consciousness, or are exposed to the most inclusive of perspectives, a consciousness that includes all voices and all minds — they will remain in a state of otherness, a state of fear, the tightly wound state of recoil before the big leap to the next stage of transcendence. Those who are unaware of, or that choose to deny, the interconnectedness — and in turn the oneness of all minds, of all consciousness, of Spirit-in-action — those individuals will continue to fight among themselves over who has the most correct answer, the most direct path to their destination, the largest patch of real estate and where and when the borders and boundaries were changed. They will not only continue to argue over who has a more accurate map of reality but even who has the more righteous or beautiful dream about that reality. Those who are still under the effect of their own ego, will even continue to debate others about who is most resistant to the ego.
If we are to blossom, if we are to “go forth and prosper,” we must vaccinate against this self-doubt and fear. We must inject ourselves with the most love and the most faith in ourselves, we must trust ourselves implicitly and have unfailing confidence in our potential. We must have faith that we were born unbroken and yet that we continue to improve by expanding to include others until the day comes that we can expand and unfold no more, that we have included all we can, and at that point it is us that become included. It is us that finally return home to the Cosmos from which we were birthed.
My self-imposed inoculation comes in the form of daily transformative and spiritual practice – through prayer, meditation, yoga, through mindfulness and a state of ever-present awareness, through morning affirmations in the mirror before I step into my day. It is my hope that we can lead and live by this example – by modeling the best and most compassionate behavior and by holding the highest consciousness, the most amount of perspectives. It is my hope that we can give back to our community in a way that feeds and strengthens interpersonal and intergenerational bonds — in a way that lifts each other up and pulls each other close, instead of keeping each other as objects at a distance.
And I have faith in the idea that we can get there using the maps we have already been given. But we must use them all. We must honor the interior and the exterior, the individual and the collective. We must navigate this world with the heart of The Christ and the mind of The Buddha. We must be willing to both praise God the Father as well as worship God the Mother in first-, second- and third-person language. And we must know that there are no boundaries when it comes to Spirit-in-Action. That it is one movement in all directions. And that diffusive energy is the same energy that gives us life, gives us strength, fills us with confidence, heals us from the inside out, and ultimately points the way to where the answers are to be found — in the stillness of here and now.