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However absurd, even moronic, the following proposition may sound to you, please take it seriously, and please invite it into your heart as a genuine subject of meditation, for, however inadequately it may be expressed, it contains within it the Very Secret of the Universe and therefore of your True Self, and thus, it can quite literally liberate you from the apparent restrictions of form, time, and space, and therefore from all desire, suffering, and fear … and, of course, from death: The only constraint by which an infinite or unlimited being is constrained, limited, or bound, is that it cannot see itself in a mirror.
The only constraint by which an infinite or unlimited being — in other words, God — is constrained or limited, is that it cannot see itself in a mirror.
Thus, being infinite and eternal, there is nothing God cannot do, except observe His/Her reflection in a mirror.
When you and I stand in front of a mirror, and gaze into it, we experience no difficulty whatsoever distinguishing our reflection in the glass from the reflection of the wall behind us, or of the chair next to us, or the potted plant behind us. Try it. Notice that the mirror, being a mirror, spontaneously reflects not only ourselves, but whatever happens to be around us. And notice too that despite the potential for confusion, we immediately recognize which is which – which part of the reflection is us, and which is the potted plant. Neither are we in any doubt about which us is the ’real’ us: the one outside the glass, or the one inside. Instantly and instinctively, we know; we do not even have to think about it.
But to an infinite being, to God, this simple experience you and I take thoroughly for granted time after time, day after day, first and last thing every morning and evening as we brush, and who knows how often in between, even every time we walk past a plate glass window downtown or in a mall, is an impossible and unthinkable task. However powerful it may be in its omnipotence, an infinite being is powerless to see itself in a mirror. And here’s why: By definition, an infinite being encompasses, or includes, or is, everything that there is, and therefore there exists — there can exist — no thing, no where, and no when, which it is not. Whatever is, it is. That is what being infinite means: Having no limits of any kind. No beginning and no end, no fixed center and no circumference. No boundaries of any kind, neither in time nor in space, or in any other dimension; no specific form, either physical or conceptual, no name, no shape, no home — even, in that sublime image of the New Testament, “Nowhere to lay his head.” Come to that, no head.
There is nothing metaphysical, spiritual, supernatural, occult, or spooky about this concept; it is logic, pure and simple. Infinite means having no limits, and having no limits means beginning and ending nowhere, encompassing everything everywhere always. Therefore, from the point of view of an infinite being, nothing exists but it; it is totally, absolutely, and unconditionally everything and all that there is. To an infinite being, there are no others, not even the concept “others”. No “me”, no “you”, no “we” no “they” no “this”, no “that”, no “these”, no “those”. There is only ’I’. In all the Universe, there is only one identity, and it is ‘I’. And, mind you, this is not about polytheism or anthropomorphism or anything of that kind. Those are all fine concepts, and they serve well in their place; but not here. Rather, here, it is that, no matter how many things may seem to you and to me to exist, from the point of view of an infinite being, there exists only one thing, in only one place, at only one time, and all of that is and always is wholly itself, I.
So, as perceived by an infinite being, the answer to every question is the same. Thus, “Who are you?” I AM. “Who is he?” I AM. “Who is she?” I AM. “Who are they?” I AM. “Who am I?” I AM. “What is that?” I AM. “Where is here?” I AM. “What time is it?” I AM. “What is death?” I AM. “What is life?” I AM. “Who is alive?” I AM. “What is the purpose of life?” I AM. “What is going on here?” I AM.
Now suppose that such an infinite being, with no sense whatsoever of a separative self, were to decide it wanted to know itself, to consider its nature, to see itself in a mirror, how would it proceed? Obviously, as we observed above, in order to make proper use of a mirror, a viewer must be able to distinguish himself or herself from everything else reflected in the glass, not to mention from the glass itself, and the room in which it is located, and the time and the space in which the reflection is occurring. But how can you stand beside a thing when your sense of who you are includes the thing? How can you see yourself in a mirror when you perceive yourself to be the mirror? To get something of the sense of this, consider the eyeball. Here is an organ capable of seeing very nearly everything there is, except for one thing: itself. You can see my eyeball, and I can see your eyeball, but neither of us can see our own eyeball. Now, suppose, in an admittedly absurd image, that all of the universe existed, not around and about you as it seems to do now, but rather immediately behind your eyeball. No matter what turns or contortions you might attempt, the universe would follow suit, and remain immediately behind your eyeball, out of sight. Consider that predicament. You might know that there existed a universe, diverse and extraordinary; in some ways you might even experience its existence; but you could not see it.
This is God’s Dilemma This is the conundrum that besets God every day. And, being in effect a riddle, it has a riddle’s solution, something that resolves the dilemma, but that has no real meaning of its own.
The solution God devised is the apparent reality you and I each call ‘my life’. That’s right, the entirety of human experience, individually and collectively, is nothing more than a gimmick solution to the identity crisis inherent in being infinite. God had a problem, a dilemma we have articulated here as ‘How does God see Himself in a mirror?’ and we are the answer. We are how God sees Himself in a mirror. An infinite being can see itself in a mirror only by pretending to forget it is infinite, and that, in a word, perfectly describes you and me. Fortunately, as outrageous and heretical as this proposition may sound, there are documents to prove it.
Every spiritual tradition, every cosmology and mythology from every culture, offers its own explanation of how God resolved this puzzle, and each is equally beautiful, equally inspiring, and generally speaking, equally misunderstood. In the Judaeo-Christian context, it appears early in the very first book of the Bible, in Genesis, in a passage that has come to be known as The Fall. The orthodox interpretation of The Fall, as it has been taught to countless millions for endless centuries, completely misses the point of the story, and accordingly makes no sense at all.
Thus, the traditional telling of the events in Genesis is that, shortly after God created Adam and Eve, when they could not have been more than a few hours old, He placed them alone, unattended and totally defenseless, in a garden inhabited by a mean-spirited, venomous snake and a poisonous apple tree, both of which He created and both of which He put in the garden; and the full extent of His divine guidance and parental advice was, “Don’t eat the apples, and don’t get bitten.” And then, when the predictable inevitably happened, and they got bitten by the snake, and they took a bite out of an apple, what did He do? Did He apologize to them for having abandoned them, for having failed so miserably as a caretaker, for having forgotten about the irrepressible urge in children to put into their mouths anything and everything they can get their hands on? Did He promise to make amends, to look after them better in the future? Did He at least hug them, and hold them to Himself, allay their fright and assuage their confusion? No, He did not. On the contrary, He scolded them. He blamed them, and what’s worse, He punished them. According to this extraordinary interpretation of the beginning, the unavoidable outcome of God’s inexcusable behavior was the children’s fault, our fault, your fault and my fault, and we must pay for it, and feel guilty about it the rest of our days. And all of this took place in Paradise, where parents are perfect, everything is protected, and bliss is epidemic. Nice Sunday school story.
Happily, that is not the way it was. The garden was not poisoned. The snake was not a scoundrel. The apple tree was not forbidden. Adam and Eve did not disobey God, and God is not angry at us. What’s more, God is not a failure as a Father. Not then, not now, not ever.
Here’s what actually happened: Determined to resolve the problem we have identified here, God did in fact create a garden, and in that garden, He did place a tree, a tree He developed for this specific purpose, whose special fruit He fully intended to eat. This was, just as we have been taught, the tree of knowledge – the knowledge of a self separate and distinct from other selves. We might call it a perception-limiting tree, for the fruit of this tree contains a “substance” which disables the sense of being infinite. As we have seen, before eating of the fruit of this tree, God is totally incapable of perceiving differences anywhere, or of distinguishing between or among anything, and therefore of knowing Himself as a self or any other distinct thing.
But the moment God takes a bite, immediately distinctions come into focus. Names, shapes, and forms appear. Lines and boundaries arise. Colors and shades of colors divide and separate this from that, these from those, now from then, here from there, mine from yours. The One, which is one, and will always be one, suddenly perceives itself as many: As man and woman, adult and child, creator and creature, black and white, gay and straight, Christian and Hindu, Arab and Israeli, tall and short, fat and skinny, rich and poor, rocks and vegetables, cats and dogs, alive and dead. In Lao Tzu’s wonderful phrase, as “the ten thousand things.”
Precisely as intended, God’s tree of knowledge chops the infinite up into bits and pieces, so that now, finally, as Adam and as Eve, as you and as me, God can stand in front of Himself as a mirror, and observe, and not be confused by Himself as a potted plant. The scheme works. The fruit of the tree of knowledge creates the ego which says, “I am me, and you are you,” thereby establishing a sense of being some thing, and, at the same time, of not being other things. And so, suddenly, there are others: other people, other species, other places, other times. It is a remarkably effective drug, we might say, and why not, considering the Pharmacist Who created it.
But there’s more: Limiting His sense of awareness so that He could know Himself as a separate, distinct self, is only the first half of God’s plan. For the undertaking to be successful, God has to be able to transfer the sense of self- awareness gained in the state we call our lives, to His Natural Condition. After all, the idea of this exercise is not simply to become self-aware in an apparently limited environment, but rather to export or impart that sense of self-awareness to the infinite environment. Thus, this process is about creating God’s Sense of Self-Consciousness, the self-consciousness of an infinite being. Remember, this dance was choreographed because God the Infinite One seeks to Know Himself as the Infinite One. That was the focus at the outset, and it remains the focus. So, God creates the apple, and takes a bite from it. Instantly, as planned, He perceives Himself as us. Now, comes our part.
Our creation as separate and distinct individuals in a separate and distinct reality is not the result of a random accident in a random universe, but rather to fulfill a specific, two-fold function. First, we are here to enjoy our lives. That sounds a little silly and pretty easy; in practice, it is neither. It means we must be willing, even eager, to live our lives fully and unconditionally, their ups and their downs, their beginnings, middles, and endings, welcoming and experiencing every moment for its own sake, relating responsibly and cheerfully toward every other person, every other event, and every other thing we come across — every other, whatever form it may take — however beautiful or ugly he, she, or it may seem to us. Further, it means, whoever and wherever we happen to find ourselves at any given time – literally or figuratively, in our personal lives, our social lives, our professional lives, our spiritual lives – to be that without hesitation, without reservation, and without regret. It means being fully aware of ourselves as we live our lives in this way; observing our actions and our reactions. It means, in a phrase, living joyfully and alertly. Far from easy or silly, this is an awesome assignment.
Secondly, we must commit ourselves to the spiritual process in whatever manner or form seems appropriate to us. That is, sooner or later, one way or another, here or somewhere else, we must set out upon the spiritual path leading to Self-Realization, which position, in this context, we might label ’God as Finite Us Now Remembering His Truly Infinite Nature’. And we are to do that precisely so that the sense of self-awareness each of us develops while living our separate and distinct egoic lives in the mature manner just described, will be transferred to the One in Its Undivided Infinity. That is, our ability as separate individuals to say “I know myself” serves God only if, through Self-Realization, we transfer it to Him, so that then He can say it.
Thus, our lives are not ours! Contrary to what most of us assume, our lives are not for us but for God. And Self-Realization is likewise not for us, but for God. Remember, in a way we cannot now understand, God and we are one and the same, and always have been, and therefore, when we undertake the spiritual path, so too does God (whatever that might mean). And, likewise, if Self-Realization is good for us, then it must be good for God too (whatever that might mean). The important thing to remember here is that the distinction we continually draw between ourselves and God is false. So, if the phenomenon you and I each call ’my life’ is how God experiences living separatively, then it follows that the culmination of that process — Self -Realization — must serve God too. Perhaps, as we are suggesting here, it carries the awareness of self from the finite environment to the infinite environment. If so, then the entire process is, and always has been, for and about God. And why not? God is all there is, so who else!
What about the snake? Unfortunately, like all perception-altering drugs, the fruit of the tree of knowledge has a down side: It’s addictive. That is, even though we whine and complain about them tirelessly, the fact is you and I are addicted to our lives. We are hooked on the finite bodies we perceive ourselves to be. We love the good parts of separative existence, and evidently we love the bad parts, too, for we keep repeating them, over and over again, even seeking them artificially through books and movies and other forms of entertainment. Indeed, we love our lives so much we ridicule or persecute, and if necessary prosecute, those among us who seek to remind us that our lives, our being human, are not an end in themselves, but rather they have a purpose beyond purely physical pleasure and excitement. Fortunately, God, being God, foresaw this eventuality, and provided for it.
You will recall that in the traditional interpretation of The Fall, the serpent in the garden is the enemy. Well, as kids say these days: Not! In fact, the serpent is the fail-safe instrument in the Plan. The serpent is a symbol for that aspect of God which, throughout the process of intentional self-forgetting we have just described, remains aware of What Is Going On and Why. The serpent in the garden represents not evil (What does it say about us and our own value systems that we have so little difficulty convincing ourselves that God would place an evil serpent in Paradise to torment us?) but rather the spark of infinite divinity that resides within each of us, and that never forgets What Is: who and what we truly are, and what we are supposed to be doing here. It is the serpent’s function tirelessly to remind us of our role in God’s scheme, and, once we have heard that call, to facilitate our spiritual reawakening, to guide us and provide for us along the spiritual path. Accordingly, Jesus, who surely was familiar with this story, tells us, “Be wise as serpents,” and, likewise, in the Hindu tradition, the spiritual force within each of us, the kundalini, is symbolized as a serpent, coiled at the base of the spine. Most of us, of course, are afraid of the serpent, just as we are afraid of the Teacher; but we are also fascinated by it. All of that is so, precisely because we know what it represents. We know what it means, we know what it requires of us, and we know what it promises.
Reality check: Was there ever actually a garden, a serpent and an apple tree? No, of course not, and searching the globe for relics of them, as adventurous archeologists do from time to time, is like looking for signs of Santa’s home at the North Pole. Of course it exists, but that is not where you will find it. In fact, the Garden of Eden exists in the very same place where Santa Claus lives: In your heart and in my heart. Both the Eden story and the Santa story are myths, meaning that they are true but not exactly as told. That is, just as we tell our children the story of Father Christmas as a way to explain to them the inexplicable nature of selfless love and motiveless generosity, so too we tell ourselves the story of the Garden of Eden to explain to ourselves the inexplicable nature of creation generally, and, as suggested here, of the creation of Cosmic Self-Consciousness specifically.
Further, not only was there never really a garden, but neither is God now, nor has God ever been, incapable of seeing or knowing Himself. By definition, God lacks nothing. Besides, God is not the product of a process. God now and always is wholly, absolutely, and changelessly Perfectly God. Once again, the purpose of the garden story, or of this interpretation of the garden story, is to attempt to paint a picture of a subject which is formless, and which, therefore, cannot be depicted – to give meaning to something (our reality) which may seem meaningless because we are conceptually unable to see it in its magnificently simple entirety.
The problem is, the Truth is too big to grasp. As Lao Tzu said it, “existence is beyond the power of words to define,” and Sri Nisargadatta, “Words are made by the mind, and are meaningful only on the level of the mind.” For this reason, many Teachers offer their Teaching only in silence, either for a period of years, like Sri Ramana Maharshi, or even indefinitely. There is nothing to be said, and so they say nothing. In the words of the Old Testament, “the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.” Similarly, in Zen, silence reigns. And in many other traditions, the Most Secret cannot be spoken, in part from reverence, but also because those who Know, know that there is no word or set of words, no label or definition, that can rightly say, “this is True and that is not.”
All the same, be these stories myths or failed explanations or even simply futile gestures, knowledge empowers us. And there is nothing wrong with your life or my life that cannot be fixed with the knowledge resident in the story of the Garden of Eden. Recognizing who we are and why we are here releases us from our attachment to the bodies we seem to be inhabiting, and frees us to be what we truly are. When we understand the Secret of the Intensely Intimate Relationship we Share with the Omniscient Omnipotent Infinite One God, nothing can threaten us or frighten us. The truth is, there exists nowhere in the entire physical or metaphysical universe a greater force for healing than this knowledge, for it releases love, which illuminates, liberates, and makes whole every thing. Seek it. Trust it. Abide in it.