We all know the story: God creates Adam and Eve, and does so with such innocence and purity that they do not even feel shame of their own nudity. Until they disobey God’s instructions to not eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, and in doing so cause The Fall of Man. Here we see the creation of Original Sin, or the failure to obey God’s only instruction: do not eat the fruit which will give you the “Knowledge of Good and Evil.”
But what are the concepts of good and evil? They are just that: concepts. They’re illusions instilled in the collective consciousness of the human race, causing us to constantly doubt ourselves and others. Causing us to meet others, and even ourselves, with contempt and hatred when “evil” is committed. But we contradict ourselves by claiming that we could ever feel hatred or contempt in the name of “good.” In order to combat evil, it must be met with its opposite rather than feelings and instincts which lay on the same end of this conceptual spectrum.
One could argue that it is these concepts, this knowledge of good and evil, that separates man from all other animals. This is certainly true. Animals kill, maim, and torture; acts which we humans are willing to control and kill each other for committing. The difference is that their deeds are done out of evolutionary necessity, not morality or immorality. There is no system for controlling these actions, and there are no consequences based upon only the intention of the action.
“At times almost all of us envy the animals. They suffer and die, but do not seem to make a ‘problem’ of it.” – Alan Watts.
I am not saying that complete wilderness is preferable to a controlled system, simply that the Animal Kingdom has its own checks and balances in place without a set structure. In contrast, humans seek justice, and attempt to make man atone for his actions. Yet it is not necessarily death or suffering that is the measure of who is deserving of punishment or consequences. A war general could have the best interests for himself, his family, and his country at heart, yet still take thousands of lives and cause immense suffering without ever being expected to atone. Animals do not seem to have any moral hierarchy, yet they do not wage wars upon one another. Their killing is typically done for individual survival, however graphic or violent we deem their behavior to be.
The story of Adam and Eve could perhaps be the narration of our evolution past our primal instincts, instilling the concepts of “good” and “evil”, hoping that man will cling only to good. However, this is not described as a merit, but rather a sin. Specifically, the Original Sin. After gaining this knowledge, Adam and Eve were ashamed of the bodies given to them by God. After The Fall, man felt that he needed guidelines for right and wrong, and the ability to provide punishment. Man certainly became less free, bound by his own definitions and reliant on external forces to keep his fellow man in line.
However, I believe that this line that has been drawn is imaginary. One cannot know true joy without having suffered, and the same is true on a universal scale. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. We continue to see actions, consequences, solutions, and instincts as “good or evil”, “positive or negative”, “light or dark”, without realizing that these are simply names we’ve given to the basic structure of existence itself.
“Never is man wholly a saint or a sinner. This only seems so because we suffer the illusion that time is something real…And if time is not real, then the dividing line that seems to lie between this world and eternity, between suffering and bliss, between good and evil, is also an illusion…The world is not imperfect or slowly evolving along a long path to perfection…It is perfect at every moment; every sin already carries grace within it, all small children are potential old men…all dying people – eternal life. It is not possible for one person to see how far another is on the way.” -Hermann Hesse (Siddhartha)
We’ve come to describe the duality of man as an inevitability, but have yet to gain the ability to accept it. This idea permeates our culture, our systems of governance, even our individual decisions. We question whether every action is done for the “side” of our being, which is good or bad. But every action, no matter how good and no matter how bad, must work in connection with the actions of our past and the actions of those in the world around us. Each action leads us to the present moment, where all of these decisions are continuously meeting and collectively developing. How can we ensure that the present is as balanced and harmonious as possible? We cannot. This must happen individually within ourselves, as this is the only true control we have.
Many of the greatest teachers and depictions of divinity in history, including Jesus Christ, Krishna, and Buddha, have already come to man with the message of how to solve this existential struggle. How do we accept the knowledge of good and evil and the apparent duality of man, and still strive to achieve peace within ourselves and our world? It’s simple – with love. The Bible, Torah, Quran, Vedas, and many more of the most celebrated and studied religious and historical texts teach us that love is the driving force behind life itself. If we can harness this energy within ourselves, then we can better accept and understand our world and our place within it. There is nothing to gain from our combatant and exclusionary behavior in politics, schools, the workplace, at home, or within any aspect of our daily lives. The answers to the hardest questions in our world can be solved if only we become able to truly love and accept each other and ourselves. It may prove to be a long journey, but one thing is certain: This transformation can only start from within.
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