What Do the First Three Chapters of Genesis Really Mean? — Chapter 2, Further Thoughts
This is the eleventh article in a series, following on from an introduction. It will only make sense if you are familiar with at least some of what has preceded, the most relevant being part 9 and part 10, and preceding that part 5. (For links to the whole series, please see this list.)
Here I’m going to offer some supplementary material on chapter 2 of Genesis. For those unfamiliar with what has preceded, here are the most important points to bear in mind:
- Adam and Eve in chapter 2 do not refer to human beings in the normal sense we would understand
- the Garden of Eden is not a place on Earth — the phrase does not even appear in the original text
- Eve does not refer to a woman, rather to the soul or higher self of the spiritual being known as Adam.
What is actually being described in chapter 2 is the gradual transformation of the spiritual Adam, originally encountered in chapter 1 verse 27 (mistranslated there as ‘humankind’ and ‘them’), into a physical human being. With that in mind, here is some further material from my primary source, Shabaz Britten Best.
Let’s look first at verse 7. This is his translation (based on d’Olivet): “and IHOAH fashioned the substance of Adam-Mankind from the sublimation of the most subtle parts of the Adamic elements, and breathed into his intelligence an exalted essence of lives, and Adam became a similitude of the Universal Soul”. He says that this “describes man’s sub-stance as that which underlies his person, and being composed of the sublimation of the most refined elements. These refer to the super-physical bodies, the etheric, emotional and mental, which constitute the lower three-fold self of the personality. The following phrase: ‘And GOD breathed into his intelligence an exalted essence of lives’, suggests that man was also endowed with an innate understanding of his immortal nature, being a ‘similitude of the Universal Soul’, that is the Creative Deity IHOAH”.
One would never be able to arrive at that understanding from the NRSV version: “then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being”.
As Best points out, and as previously discussed in part 9, the literal text of the modern English versions “appears to be geographical, whereas it should be understood as being metaphysical. In order to discern its true significance we must interpret the allegorical garb that veils it”. His alternative interpretation is as follows: “ ‘And IHOAH, the Creative Deity, appointed an organic enclosure, a body of action in the sphere of temporal existence’. This indicates that the first corporate organism, a metaphysical body, was given to man in the early stages of human Involution. The next phrase reads: ‘There He placed Adam-Man, whom he had fashioned for an everlasting end’. This shows that our immortal nature was a divine bequest. The ‘organic enclosure’ (thus the Garden of Eden in modern texts) refers first to the etheric double or ethereal body given to man when he resided in blissful innocence in the higher sphere of temporal existence, the super-physical realms… That was before he developed the dense physical form composed of the lower material elements of the planet. It is therefore evident that primeval man was incarnated in a perfect human form of superphysical and ethereal substance. The spiritual prototype of man as Adam, was an angelic being, who ‘walked in the Presence of GOD’. Later, and accompanying the gradual consolidation of the surface of the earth, the bodies of all living creatures, including mankind, eventually became more condensed and materialised”.
For verse 9, NRSV has: “Out of the ground the LORD God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”. Even from this version it should be obvious that these trees have to be understood allegorically or symbolically. Since they do not exist in a garden of any kind, we can now see that they must refer to something in a human being, whether in the physical body or at some higher level.
Best says: “Recognising the truth that the soul of man is enclosed in an ‘organic body of action’ or physical form, it is evident that the centre referred to in V. 9 must be the spinal column, which is the metaphorical Tree of Life in man”.
In Kabbalism (the primary mystical tradition in Judaism) the ‘Tree of Life’ is the image used in their metaphysical system, describing the gradual process of manifestation from the Ultimate Source downwards into physical form. This is sometimes closely associated with a human body, for example here:
or even more closely here:
As an aside, it’s worth noting that in this diagram the highest being Elohim — the ‘God’ of Genesis chapter 1 — at the next level of emanation splits into two equal and complementary aspects, one male — Abba, which is the name by which Jesus addresses his ‘Father’ in the gospels — and one female (Aima). Thus Elohim is conceived here as being both male and female. This may shed some light on the otherwise cryptic verse in Genesis chapter 1: “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them”.
Returning to my main theme, and hopefully going deeper, in response to the previous article on the creation of Eve, referring to the statement that Eve represents Adam’s higher self, and that “the soul, as ‘psyche’, is feminine, but not a woman”, Wes Hansen, a very knowledgeable Buddhist, responded: “This is referring to the Kundalini in its true manifestation, I’m certain of that”.
This is extremely interesting, because Best says that the Kundalini Force is what is being referred to in Genesis chapter 2. He writes about “the central channel, known as the Sushumna, which conveys the Kundalini Serpent Force from the base upwards. When this current rises up to the cerebrum it awakens into activity a spiritual faculty, whose function is correlated with Illumination and Cosmic Consciousness. These super faculties are completed by the opening of the Crown Chakrum, sometimes called the Thousand-petalled Lotus or the Eye of Wisdom. This extended sphere of comprehension discloses the intrinsic nature of the pairs of opposites, such as GOD and Man, Spirit and matter, Light and darkness, as well as Good and evil. The fuller knowledge of these elevates one to the state of sage or saint.
“The Kundalini force is a vital pranic energy, and is generally awakened in individuals who are highly developed spiritually, but it is likely to cause dangerous results if evoked prematurely, or stimulated artificially. Hence the warning ‘not to feed thereon, lest ye die’. Eventually this serpent power will be more widely developed. The quickening of the pineal chakrum evokes spiritual insight, by virtue of which one may ‘pass into another state of being’, as indicated in verse 17, and so experience the ‘mystical death’ of the lower self”.
In a further response to my article about Eve, Wes Hansen writes: “It seems to me that the creation of Adam and Eve is referring to these subtle body channels, called pingala and ida in Hinduism. The story is all about human transformation which leads to the reunion with source”. In the light of Best’s analysis, it would seem that Hansen is on to something profound here, also that Christian commentators have much to learn from Hinduism and Buddhism.
On the same theme, Best discusses the pituitary and pineal glands: “The real function of these glands is so mysterious that even now western medical science is in doubt as to their actual properties and functions. Yet the yogi and sage of the Orient seem convinced they have the faculty to generate inner illumination, which reveals the knowledge of good and evil as the basic problem of life”. Genesis chapter 2 may well be referring to this. (The vagus nerve, which descends from the pineal and pituitary glands, is also known as the tree of life. See, for example, this video by Kelly-Marie Kerr, where she interprets the Christian story in terms of the human body. Thanks to reader Chris King for drawing my attention to this.)
In this previous article I briefly discussed the four ‘rivers’ of chapter 2, noting that they were not originally intended to be understood literally. As Best says: “The literal description of the Four Rivers mentioned in verses 10 to 14, is a purposeful blind, made in order to hide the more subtle significance that is concealed therein”.
Not wanting to make the article too long, I’ve omitted some of Best’s thoughts on the four rivers. Since it is relevant to the theme of Kundalini, I’ll pick out one detail from his analysis. For verse 13 NRSV has: “The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Cush”. Best’s more esoteric translation is: “And the name of the second emanating principle was Gihon, determining motion, that which encompasseth the whole body of Chush, igneous principle as mind”. He comments that “Gihon means ‘determining motion and energy with movement, giving physical form’, while Chush is ‘firelike’; and Ethiopia, with which it is associated, suggests ‘fire-serpent’. The word ‘fire’ is a recognised symbol for the Mind, and being used in conjunction with ‘serpent’ it implies the purifying stream of the Kundalini serpentine force, by which human intelligence may be transformed into the ‘knowledge of good and evil’ ”.
There is more that could be said, but I hope that I’ve written enough to persuade at least some readers that the true subject of Genesis 2 is the descent of the purely spiritual being known as Adam into physical form. Here is Best’s conclusion on that theme: “By this brief analysis of the symbolical names of the four principles which vivify the organic body, there is unveiled a profound exposition of the higher nature of man, composing body, mind, soul and spirit. This is a consummate feat of entrancing imagery, hidden so naively and astutely under the double veil of name and metaphor. Yet all is contained within the scope of five brief verses”.
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