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A Buddhist Version of the Edenic Fall?

While there are several versions of the Fall narrative in ancient Semitic literature, it is not widely known that a mythic memory of a primordial Fall is also recorded in the Oriental world and this phenomenon is especially interesting when examined from the perspective of Jung’s theory of the archetype; i.e., the common and universal patterns of thought that spontaneously appear in the stories and myths gathered from all around the world.

Although the Buddhist tradition does not speak of a Fall in the Western theological sense, it does speak of a state of Original Ignorance that occurred at the dawn of human creation. From ignorance came greed, anger, jealousy, and pride; and from these emotional energies come misdeeds that lead to suffering. The first sin among the ancients that perpetuated the Fall was the prejudice of appearance—those of brighter skin began to look down on those with darker skin. Ignorance led to the formation of gender, which eventually gave rise to desire and passion.

One ancient Pali Buddhist text [known as the Pâli Aggañña-suttam and the Prâkrit Mahâvastu, also known as “Aphorism on the Knowledge of the Beginning”] dating back somewhere between the 5th and 1st century B.C.E., records an ancient memory of humanity’s original spiritual descent that invites comparison to the Fall narrative of Genesis 3:

Then the organ of womanhood appeared in the woman and the organ of manhood in the man. And the woman offered to the man strong drink in excess, and the man unto the woman. And as they did so, passion arose, and suffering entered into their bodies. By reason of the suffering they indulged in the act of sex.[1]

Like the Augustinian perspective, the Buddhist doctrine believes that desire is a principal manifestation of the selfish craving, grasping, or a blind state of want. And it is for this reason, desire is considered to be at the root of human suffering; the ultimate goal of Buddhism since is the extinguishing of all desire. In Judaism, desire in itself is neutral—providing one learns how to sublimate it and master it. Jewish tradition also teaches that without desire, the human race would have died in its infancy.


Notes:


[1] Albert J. Edmunds, A Buddhist Genesis (Chicago, IL: The Open Court Publishing Company, 1904), 211-213.



Discussion

  1. Yochanan Lavie  February 24, 2010

    There are so many Jew-Bu’s out there, attracted to Buddhist spirituality. Yet the 2 creeds are so different. Any comments?

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  2. admin  February 24, 2010

    Hmmm. I think a lot of Jews are disillusioned with country-club Judaism, where congregants see the synagogue–not as a place of worship–but as a place for showing off their wealth and status. There is a self-congratulatory quality that deflates the modern synagogue of its spiritual beauty and holiness.

    Basically, young Jews are tired and fed up with the pretentiousness of our sacred places of worship. We need to reintroduce kavanah and meditation–even soulful music. There is obviously a lot more to be said, but I will save it for another time or posting.

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