Adam and Eve and the Four Ways of Knowing

“Two souls, alas, reside within my breast,
And each from the other would be parted.
The one in sturdy lust for love
With clutching organs clinging to the world,
The other strongly rises from the gloom
To lofty fields of ancient heritage”. — Goethe, Faust.

Having put my foot in it yesterday by invoking Goethe’s poem about the “two souls”, I should probably complete the thought begun there by speaking to the issue of the “other” soul that resides within our breast besides the one that, with clutching organs, obsessively clings to this world of Time and Death and Fear, which is to say, samsaric or sensate existence. But to even begin to discuss the meaning of Goethe’s “two souls” requires we address yet another confusion of the contemporary mind, which is the confusion of “origin” with “beginning”.

The disciple, John, wrote in his Revelation that the universe just wasn’t big enough to hold all the books that could be written about the life and teachings of the man named “Jesus of Nazareth”. I have the sense that he was very right in saying that, for regardless of how much I might write about these matters I always have the feeling that too much has been left unsaid that could or should be said, and so on ad infinitum. The Scriptures and the Gospels are just a tiny fraction of that, and yet they are sufficient, if you have the proverbial “ears to hear” or can “read between the lines”, to obtain even a fleeting  glimpse of that infinity and eternity that lays hid in the finite and mortal — or “natural” — order of things. It was that glimpse of the infinite and the eternal that persuaded so many to leave behind them the “pagan” or “heathen” world of fatality and cyclicity, for samsaric existence is also ouroboric existence, or eternal recurrence of same. And this was expressed in the chief symbol of the pagan world, the ouroboros, or ouroboric serpent or dragon. That’s the meaning, for example, of Jakob Boehme’s very profound illustration of the spirit, in the form of a dove, transcending the ouroboric or samsaric condition. In fact, it’s a fine illustration of Goethe’s meaning of the “two souls”.

Jacob Boehme

Jacob Boehme

We’ve actually forgotten what the meaning of “paganism” or “heathenism” actually was. But the words have preserved their original meaning despite our forgetfulness. The “pagus” and the “heath” refer to the “countryside” — that is to say, to “natural man”, who is bound to the ouroboros because he is fully identified with, and feels himself or herself completely immersed in, physical or “natural” existence. Thus fate rules all and human beings are little more than puppets, pawns, or slaves of gods or spirits who must constantly be propitiated with prayers and sacrifices, even the sacrifice of one ‘s “first born” as in the widespread cult of Moloch, who is, in the Gilgamesh legend, the “Bull of Heaven” and in the Old Testament is “the golden calf”. And before the “fish” of Christianity (the Piscean Age), the Bull of Heaven and the bull-headed god (Taurus) ruled over human hearts and minds. In the pagan order of things, “what goes around comes around”, as we say and the law of vengeance and revenge and feud and of an “eye for an eye” — the lex talionis — is just the “natural” expression of cyclic time and fatalistic existence.

One shouldn’t be too quick to will to become a “born again pagan” or to wish a return to the state of Nature, just because it is so finite, being the realm of Time, Death, and Fear. Many myths and legends attest to the terrible ennui and horror of that kind of existence, such as the legend of Silenus and Midas that so impressed Nietzsche.  That’s what belongs to the “natural order of things”, the order Oswald Spengler, for example, attempted to resurrect with his cyclic theory of civilisational “seasons” in Decline of the West, which contributed so much also to the mythology of Nazism and fascism.

When Abraham stayed the knife rather than sacrifice his first-born, Isaac, this was the beginning of the end of the pagan world, for which reason “Father Abraham” is considered the root of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths. Likewise, to understand something of what the Gospel of Jesus meant to those who heard it in those times one also has to understand the peculiar cult of Mithras, which flourished at the same time and was competitive with Christianity. The cult of Mithras was associated with the Bull, while Christianity was associated with the fish. Mithras died and was reborn cyclically, while Jesus was died and reborn once and for all, and with the crucifixion, as a once-and-for-all event, the cross displaced the ouroboros and became a symbol of the gateway leading from the finite world of Time and Death and Fear into the eternal and infinite. That was the “good news” as it was received at the time, but which we have lost the ears for.

The whole point of the life and teaching of Jesus was to reveal the infinite hid within the finite and the eternal hid within the hour which the pagan world could not see. In other words, Jesus drew a very sharp distinction between “origin” and “beginning”. The pagan world was obsessed with marking beginnings and endings. Jesus attempted to show, however, that “origin” had nothing to do with beginnings and endings in time, but was the Here and Now — “the kingdom of heaven is within you” or “the body is the temple of the living god” were precisely stated that way to deny the ultimate truth of the pagan “natural order of things” — the confusion that beginnings and origin are the same thing is really what is meant by paganism.

Most of what we call “religion” today is a shambles precisely because it has forgotten that origin and beginning are not the same thing, and has become as much Goethe’s “clutching organs clinging to the world” in consequence.

So, let’s return to that other soul that aspires to “lofty fields of ancient heritage”, and that’s the “soul” that knows origin only as in the present, not as the past. This is the same “soul” that is called “the Guru” by Sri Krishna Prem, or “The Aristocrat” by Meister Eckart, and is called “inner ego” by Seth or is the Nietzschean or Jungian “Self”. This other “soul” is implied in the famous Zen koan: “Show me your face before you were born”, the realisation of which is Nietzsche’s formula for self-overcoming, too: “Become what you are!” And this also bears on that ultimate conclusion of Buddhism that “nirvana and samsara are the same” — that is to say what we call “origin” (or the eternal and the infinite) is hidden within the world of Time, Death, and Fear, and it is our perception of things that is in error.

Now, this round-about way of coming to the topic of this post about Adam and Eve and the Four Modes of Knowing was necessary in order to disentangle the meaning of “origin” from “beginning”, for this confusion parallels all those other value confusions we have explored here in The Chrysalis: the confusion of the whole with the totality; or of the integral with the assimilatory; of destiny confused with fate; of unity confused with uniformity, and so on. One might as well confuse gold and lead (which is actually “fool’s gold” I suppose), and all these value confusions, taken together, pertain to Nietzsche’s definition of nihilism — “all higher values devalue themselves”.

It belongs, likewise, to “paganism” in the deficient sense that the story of Adam and Eve, or that of the Prodigal Son, is assumed to be actual history or even untrue historically. Like the Book of Genesis, these have nothing to do with time whatsoever — the are metaphors, similes, symbolic forms that nonetheless have a certain spiritual reality or mythic truth which could only be expressed in the way they were. The name “Adam” means dust or earth; the name “Eve” means life. They are symbolic names for that kind of energy that Jung called “animus” and “anima” energy, which we recast in terms of masculine and feminine energies. They are originally combined as the original “Androgyne” or Platonic hermaphrodite, which means, as a polarity. The “fall” was the lapse from polarity into duality, and in Plato this is the splitting up of the Primeval Hermaphrodite into two separate beings. The “original sin” is dualism, in other words and the fall into the “knowledge of good and evil” as being duality. This isn’t an event in the remote past in some historical or geographical place, it is what happens every day. Likewise, it is vain to look for some historical record of the journeys of the Prodigal Son and ponder what “faraway land” he ventured into as if it were an actual and historical event and geographical location. The Prodigal Son is the ego-consciousness that has lapsed into dualism where there is, in truth, only polarity. And this happens also every day. The tendency to see these issues like the Garden of Eden or the Prodigal Son as either historical or dismiss them as being false because they are unhistorical, both belong to what we call “paganism”, because both confuse parables of origin with actual historical events or “beginnings”.

And it didn’t take long, in fact, from the initial revelation of the presence of origin in the Here and Now for the religions to backslide into paganism by once again confusing “origin” with “beginning”.

That’s the issue of Blake’s protest against “Natural Religion”, and even “natural reason”. “If it were not for the Poetic or Prophetic Character the Philosophic & Experimental would soon be at the ratio of all things, and stand still, unable to do other than repeat the same dull round over again.” These are the four modes of knowing accessible to us, and they correspond to the four rivers that fertilise the Garden of Eden.

And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads. The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; And the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone. And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia. And the name of the third river is Hiddekel: that is it which goeth toward the east of Assyria. And the fourth river is Euphrates. (Genesis 2:10-14 KJV)

Those who believe these to be actual physical rivers, even though they may have correspondences with actual geographical places, are out of their minds. The four rivers are Blake’s four Zoas, and correspond to the four ways of knowing (or functions of consciousness) which he calls “Poetic”, “Prophetic”, “Philosophical” and “Experimental”.

So, feel free to take a dip in every one of them.

What Blake is saying, of course, is that without cleansing the doors of perception in order to see the infinite that is hid in the finite and the eternal that is hid in time or the hour, is Error, and is to backslide into repeating the “same dull round over again”, which is the real meaning of paganism or the deficient aspect of what we mean by “natural”. That is solely the result of having once again confused “origin” with a particular “beginning in time”.

In effect, therefore, what Seth calls “the You of you”, and which Goethe describes as his lofty soul of ancient heritage exists before the beginnings of the world. And that “ancient heritage” which is the “You of you” is what the Zen Buddhist master tries to draw out when he tempts his student with the koan: “show me your face before you were born”.

Before the world was and is, you are. You are firmly in the bosom of the unoriginated or unconditioned, as Buddhism puts it. Rumi calls this origin “emptiness”, or “non-Being” and “non-Existence”. So let your “four rivers” flow free to water your garden. That’s what “integral consciousness” is.



9 responses to “Adam and Eve and the Four Ways of Knowing”

  1. donsalmon says :

    Thought y’all might enjoy this comment on Adam and Eve from Sri Aurobindo’s “Life Divine”. I think it is in harmony with Sri Preston’s comments above:>)

    The Ego and the Dualities

    The soul seated on the same tree of Nature is absorbed and deluded and has sorrow because it is not the Lord, but when it sees and is in union with that other self and greatness of it which is the Lord, then sorrow passes away from it.
    Swetaswatara Upanishad.¹

    If all is in truth Sachchidananda, death, suffering, evil, limitation can only be the creations, positive in practical effect, negative in essence, of a distorting consciousness which has fallen from the total and unifying knowledge of itself into some error of division and partial experience. This is the fall of man typified in the poetic parable of the Hebrew Genesis. That fall is his deviation from the full and pure acceptance of God and himself, or rather of God in himself, into a dividing consciousness which brings with it all the train of the dualities, life and death, good and evil, joy and pain, completeness and want, the fruit of a divided being. This is the fruit which Adam and Eve, Purusha and Prakriti, the soul tempted by Nature, have eaten. The redemption comes by the recovery of the universal in the individual and of the spiritual term in the physical consciousness. Then alone the soul in Nature can be allowed to partake of the fruit of the tree of life and be as the Divine and live for ever. For then only can the purpose of its descent into material consciousness be accomplished, when the knowledge of good and evil, joy and suffering, life and death has been accomplished through the recovery by the human soul of a higher knowledge which reconciles and identifies these opposites in the universal and transforms their divisions into the image of the divine Unity.
    To Sachchidananda extended in all things in widest commonalty and impartial universality, death, suffering, evil and limitation can only be at the most reverse terms, shadow-forms of their luminous opposites. As these things are felt by us, they are notes of a discord. They formulate separation where there should be a unity, miscomprehension where there should be an understanding, an attempt to arrive at independent harmonies where there should be a self-adaptation to the orchestral whole. All totality, even if it be only in one scheme of the universal vibrations, even if it be only a totality of the physical consciousness without possession of all that is in movement beyond and behind, must be to that extent a reversion to harmony and a reconciliation of jarring opposites. On the other hand, to Sachchidananda transcendent of the forms of the universe the dual terms themselves, even so understood, can no longer be justly applicable. Transcendence transfigures; it does not reconcile, but rather transmutes opposites into something surpassing them that effaces their oppositions.
    At first, however, we must strive to relate the individual again to the harmony of the totality. There it is necessary for us,—otherwise there is no issue from the problem,—to realise that the terms in which our present consciousness renders the values of the universe, though practically justified for the purposes of human experience and progress, are not the sole terms in which it is possible to render them and may not be the complete, the right, the ultimate formulas. Just as there may be sense-organs or formations of sense-capacity which see the physical world differently and it may well be better, because more completely, than our sense-organs and sense-capacity, so there may be other mental and supramental envisagings of the universe which surpass our own. States of consciousness there are in which Death is only a change in immortal Life, pain a violent backwash of the waters of universal delight, limitation a turning of the Infinite upon itself, evil a circling of the good around its own perfection; and this not in abstract conception only, but in actual vision and in constant and substantial experience. To arrive at such states of consciousness may, for the individual, be one of the most important and indispensable steps of his progress towards self-perfection.
    Certainly, the practical values given us by our senses and by the dualistic sense-mind must hold good in their field and be accepted as the standard for ordinary life-experience until alarger harmony is ready into which they can enter and transform themselves without losing hold of the realities which they represent. To enlarge the sense-faculties without the knowledge that would give the old sense-values their right interpretation from the new standpoint might lead to serious disorders and incapacities, might unfit for practical life and for the orderly and disciplined use of the reason. Equally, an enlargement of our mental consciousness out of the experience of the egoistic dualities into an unregulated unity with some form of total consciousness might easily bring about a confusion and incapacity for the active life of humanity in the established order of the world’s relativities. This, no doubt, is the root of the injunction imposed in the Gita on the man who has the knowledge not to disturb the life-basis and thought-basis of the ignorant; for, impelled by his example but unable to comprehend the principle of his action, they would lose their own system of values without arriving at a higher foundation.
    Such a disorder and incapacity may be accepted personally and are accepted by many great souls as a temporary passage or as the price to be paid for the entry into a wider existence. But the right goal of human progress must be always an effective and synthetic reinterpretation by which the law of that wider existence may be represented in a new order of truths and in a more just and puissant working of the faculties on the life-material of the universe. For the senses the sun goes round the earth; that was for them the centre of existence and the motions of life are arranged on the basis of a misconception. The truth is the very opposite, but its discovery would have been of little use if there were not a science that makes the new conception the centre of a reasoned and ordered knowledge putting their right values on the perceptions of the senses. So also for the mental consciousness God moves round the personal ego and all His works and ways are brought to the judgment of our egoistic sensations, emotions and conceptions and are there given values and interpretations which, though a perversion and inversion of the truth of things, are yet useful and practically sufficient in a certain development of human life and progress. They are a rough practical systematisation of our experience of things valid so long as we dwell in a certain order of ideas and activities. But they do not represent the last and highest state of human life and knowledge. “Truth is the path and not the falsehood.” The truth is not that God moves round the ego as the centre of existence and can be judged by the ego and its view of the dualities, but that the Divine is itself the centre and that the experience of the individual only finds its own true truth when it is known in the terms of the universal and the transcendent. Nevertheless, to substitute this conception for the egoistic without an adequate base of knowledge may lead to the substitution of new but still false and arbitrary ideas for the old and bring about a violent instead of a settled disorder of right values. Such a disorder often marks the inception of new philosophies and religions and initiates useful revolutions. But the true goal is only reached when we can group round the right central conception a reasoned and effective knowledge in which the egoistic life shall rediscover all its values transformed and corrected. Then we shall possess that new order of truths which will make it possible for us to substitute a more divine life for the existence which we now lead and to effectualise a more divine and puissant use of our faculties on the life-material of the universe.
    That new life and power of the human integer must necessarily repose on a realisation of the great verities which translate into our mode of conceiving things the nature of the divine existence. It must proceed through a renunciation by the ego of its false standpoint and false certainties, through its entry into a right relation and harmony with the totalities of which it forms a part and with the transcendences from which it is a descent, and through its perfect self-opening to a truth and a law that exceed its own conventions,—a truth that shall be its fulfilment and a law that shall be its deliverance. Its goal must be the abolition of those values which are the creations of the egoistic view of things; its crown must be the transcendence of limitation, ignorance, death, suffering and evil.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Good stuff from Aurobindo, although his style always throws me. I find myself saying “what did he just say?”, and having to reread again the sentence of paragraph. Aurobindo is like a rich meal… have to digest slowly (and have a good dictionary at hand). Terms like “puissant” (Aurobindo seemed to particularly like that word) or phrases like (above) “the human integer”

      • donsalmon says :

        yes, he likes “puissant” (he also seems to love St. Paul’s description of God as “he in whom we live and move and have our being” – you can find variations of this throughout his writings)

        There’s a simple trick. Don’t read it like prose. Don’t read it simply as if he is conveying an idea.

        try reading it – seriously – as a guided meditation, of sorts.

        Take this sentence for example: “That new life and power of the human integer must necessarily repose on a realisation of the great verities which translate into our mode of conceiving things the nature of the divine existence.”

        “new life and power” – if this resonates at all with something within, let the mind and interpreting intellect be completely quiet and allow it to plant a seed and grow. Above all, don’t make any effort to “understand” (at least, not initially).

        (reading “intuitively” rather than attempting to understand in the ordinary sense) – “a realization of the great verities” – feeling the Shakti, the power in that phrase, and then “feeling out” how our ordinary “mode of conceiving things” results in a mistranslation of the nature of the Divine existence.

        I imagine it sounds like I’m contradicting myself – I start by saying dont’ make an effort to understand than it looks like i”m analyzing.

        I don’t think I can make clear the difference in a short note, but if you start without even the “intuitive” attempt I made above, and just start with a radical openness, much like “lectio divina” and allow the words to sink in without any effort at understanding, there slowly emerges an interesting dialectic between the silent mind and a soft, slowly growing intuitive understanding.

        Another much simpler way of saying this is read it as if it is sound music, and just enjoy the flow of sound. Understanding will naturally emerge over time.

        Finally, still another way – whatever you are able to understand of the vision of All as the Divine, imagine that Aurobindo’s writing is a theme and variations, always the main theme being there is nothing but the Brahman. Imagine his prime – maybe only – intention is to lead you gently but firmly to seeing/feeling/knowing this all pervasive Divinity.

        All different ways of engaging with his writing, which he himself described as emerging effortlessly out of a silent mind “drowned” in the Divine.

      • LittleBigMan says :

        “Good stuff from Aurobindo, although his style always throws me.”

        Me, too 🙂 No doubt, Sri Aurobindo is deep, but I don’t get his presentation style 🙂

        • donsalmon says :

          Sometimes he’s pretty straightforwardly mystic (if that’s not an oxymoron). This is from his Isha Upanishad commentary:

          Lift your eyes towards the Sun; He is there in that wonderful heart of life and light and splendor. Watch at night the innumerable constellations glittering like so many solemn watchfires of the Eternal in the limitless silence which is no void but throbs with the presence of a single calm and tremendous existence; see there Orion with his sword and belt shining…Sirius in his splendor, Lyra sailing billions of miles away in the ocean of space. Remember that these innumerable worlds, most of them mightier than our own, are whirling with indescribable speed at the beck of that Ancient of Days whither none but He knoweth, and yet that they are a million times more ancient than your Himalaya, more steady than the roots of your hills and shall so remain until He at his will shakes them off like withered leaves from the eternal tree of the Universe. Imagine the endlessness of Time, realize the boundlessness of Space; and then remember that when these worlds were not, He was, the Same as now, and when these are not, He shall be, still the Same; perceive that beyond Lyra He is and far away in Space where the stars of the Southern Cross cannot be seen, still He is there.

          And then come back to the Earth and realize who this He is. He is quite near to you. See yonder old man who passes near you crouching and bent, with his stick. Do you realize that it is God who is passing? There a child runs laughing in the sunlight. Can you hear Him in that laughter? Nay, He is nearer still to you. He is in you, He is you. It is yourself that burns yonder millions of miles away in the infinite reaches of Space, that walks with confident steps on the tumbling billows of the ethereal sea; it is you who have set the stars in their places and woven the necklace of the suns not with hands but by that Yoga, that silent actionless impersonal Will which has set you here today listening to yourself in me. Look up, O child of the ancient Yoga, and be no longer a trembler and a doubter; fear not, doubt not, grieve not; for in your apparent body is One who can create and destroy worlds with a breath.

          • LittleBigMan says :

            Oh, wow! That second paragraph really brought together the meaning of the first paragraph……and I actually understood the whole thing 🙂

            He is indeed pretty straightforward here. Thank you for posting that excerpt from Sri Aurobindo.

  2. abdulmonem says :

    In the origin were everything. In the original book of the universe all are outlined, the faithful and the the faithless, the two selves and this is the trial. Do people think that they were created in vain and they were not put to trail in order for the origin , the divine to know who are truthful and who are liars. As it is well-known, Ismail has been put aside by the Jews and even falsified history saying Issac is the first born and he is the one who undergone the story of the sacrifice as you quoted. The four rivers are used by both the faithful and faithless. We are living in a trying time where truth raises its voice anew and the story of the prodigal son keeps narrating itself over the human specie, till we into Him return.

  3. LittleBigMan says :

    Too many pearls, diamonds, and nuggets to mention. Really, a wonderful, enlightening essay, and for you to make all this accessible to all the world in the most understandable way, speaks volumes to your divine brilliance and generosity. Thank you for such priceless work.

    “The whole point of the life and teaching of Jesus was to reveal the infinite hid within the finite and the eternal hid within the hour………”

    And the assault to keep us away from that teaching is also ever-present. There is hardly a day or a moment that goes by that something doesn’t happen to distract us from that teaching – or so it seems. Hunger, thirst, pain, ebbs and flow in emotions, thoughts and obsessions, society, economy, the news, etc. all of these constantly bombard us with an attempt to steer us clear from the infinity within.

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