I sometimes forget that in the book of Genesis, the story of “The Garden of Eden,” there was another tree aside from “The Tree of The Knowledge of Good and Evil.” The second tree in the garden was called “The Tree of Life.”
You may be wondering what this has to do with the Tao Te Ching, an Eastern Taoist philosophy. Well, I will tell you. It has everything to do with it.
The similarities between what Lao Tzu was teaching and those which are in the Old and the New Testament is, in my opinion, eye-opening.
Eye-opening, because as a westerner born into a Catholic family, but with more profound Christian beliefs, my lens sees through this vail of the Bible as the great Holy book.
Good or bad, that is just the way it is for me.
However, a significant revelation has come to me because of this lens.
The Garden of Eden story always left me feeling rather sad, as if we were destitute and without a saving grace once we ate of the Tree of Knowledge. And in the lens of Catholicism or even Christianity, we were, that is, of course, until Jesus showed up and whammed all that crap into the grave, right?
Here is the amazing thing that came to me. Jesus taught forgiveness, letting go of our anxious lives, and living with faith and trust in a loving creator. That we are the source and the creation. We are sons and daughters of God. To forgive because, we were all in need of forgiveness. Because we all ate of the Tree of Knoweledge. We all knew right and wrong and because we judged the many things we would then be judged. Having to be judged we needed ultimate forgiveness, a clean slate. So that was the saving grace of Christ.
Lao Tzu taught something very similar. He put it like this.
When the world knows beauty as beauty, ugliness arises
When it knows good as good, evil arises
Thus being and nonbeing produce each other
Difficult and easy bring about each other1
Long and short reveal each other
High and low support each other
Music and voice harmonize each other
Front and back follow each other2
Therefore the sages:
Manage the work of detached actions
Conduct the teaching of no words
They work with myriad things but do not control
They create but do not possess
They act but do not presume
They succeed but do not dwell on success
It is because they do not dwell on success
That it never goes awayTTC 2 (Lin)
The long and short of Chapter 2 is the story of the “Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.” And what follows about the Sage’s is an account of, if you look closely, how Jesus went about teaching.
But, it doesn’t stop there. Lao Tzu teaches us precisely how to get back to the Garden of Eden, so to speak.
I find that I continue to eat of the Tree of Knowledge, day after day. Because I believe this knowledge will allow me the ability to do only good and produce in my life all the things I desire. Yet, the opposite is true.
Because I plan to do Good, Evil arises, and thus I have done nothing but bring about judgment, which entraps us back into a moral cage. One in which many religious people find themselves.
The Good news is that I do not have to continue to eat of the “Tree of Knowledge,” knowing what its fruit bears— being thrown from The Garden and living in a dangerous wilderness.
So, here is what Lao Tzu says on how to get back.
End sagacity; abandon knowledge1
The people benefit a hundred times
End benevolence; abandon righteousness
The people return to piety and charity
End cunning; discard profit
Bandits and thieves no longer exist
These three things are superficial and insufficient
Thus this teaching has its place:
Show plainness; hold simplicity
Reduce selfishness; decrease desiresTTC 19 (Lin)
Here in Chapter 19, Lao Tzu tells us how to put down the fruit of The Tree of The Knowledge of Good and Evil and pick up the fruit of The Tree of Life.
When we again become like little children in a mindless state of unknowing the outcomes of any actions we live once again in the Garden, to be in the Garden is to be directly connected with The Source of all or The Tao.
He didn’t just leave us there tho, in chapter 20, he continues to tell us how to put down our finite ways of life and pick up eternal life.
Cease learning, no more worries1
Respectful response and scornful response
How much is the difference?
Goodness and evil
How much do they differ?2
What the people fear, I cannot be unafraid3
So desolate! How limitless it is!4
The people are excited As if enjoying a great feast
As if climbing up to the terrace in spring
I alone am quiet and uninvolved
Like an infant not yet smiling5
So weary, like having no place to return
The people all have surplus
While I alone seem lacking
I have the heart of a fool indeed—so ignorant!
Ordinary people are bright
I alone am muddled
Ordinary people are scrutinizing
I alone am obtuse6
Such tranquility, like the ocean
Such high wind, as if without limits7
The people all have goals
And I alone am stubborn and lowly
I alone am different from them
And value the nourishing mother8TTC 20 (Lin)
I hope anyone reading this can appreciate the full beauty of this in context with Genisis in the bible.
We eat of the Tree of Knowledge, and we are thrown from immortality and into disgrace away from the loving source of all creation. We scrutinize and analyze life now in this way and become cruel and discerning, thinking we have everything, treating one another as though we are higher or lower.
But Lao Tzu speaks in poetic language about what it looks like to be fully connected to the source. It looks different than all these intelligent people. It looks different than adults, busy with a judgemental and analyzing life. It seems more like that of a life of a child. Not knowing that what they are doing is good or bad, it just is—not knowing that they should feel that they need to do something to help them grow better. They just grow.
The last line says’s “And value the nourishing mother.” I see this as I eat willingly from the tree of life.
Thus we have a superb choice upon us. We can live in the harsh wilderness, full of the knowledge of Good and Evil. Or, we can pick up the nourishment from the Tree of Life and live once again in the Eternity that was always available to us.
This is why the Tao Te Ching also says, “In acquiring knowledge, each day something new is added. In learning of the Tao, each day, something is lost.”
We unlearn so that we may live in the eternal now. There is a Zen saying, “do not let the left hand know what the right hand is doing.”
Meaning we live in a perpetual state of The Unknown, which is the truest state of faith in something greater than I. To remain there is to live again in the Garden of Eden.
The only way to unknow anything is to do the opposite of what you know to do.
I heard Alan Watts say, “In the zen teaching of “Wu Wei” (The way of no way), we do not make plans; making plans is like telling the Devil what we are going to do. Never tell the Devil your plans.”
The Devil, in this context, is seen as Self-awareness; when we are aware of self, we are aware of the Good and The Bad of things. Thus the Devil can be seen as the lower power telling us all the reasons as to why our plans will not work.
Sure, we can use a powerful self-will to push through these lower self issues. However, I have found in my own experience, being overly self-aware because of the way we understand knowledge leads only to misery, as the outcomes we strive for come to fruition in the ways we could have never imagined.
For instance, let’s say we want to write a book, so we go about writing the book. Still, underlying writing a book is the purpose of writing the book, which is to become rich and famous, and so what we write is not of service to anything other than a means to becoming rich and famous. We are attached to a certain outcome and because of that attachment we can not be grateful for the incredible accomplishment of writing a book that transformed us and may help others.
Because, we knowing anything of anything can not make a right or good decision, because there is always the inverse in that right or good decision. So, we must make decisions without knowing that we are deciding anything and that there is no outcome of our knowledge as a child or a dull person would. Not knowing that we are producing an outcome is the only way to produce a truly virtous outcome, and to do that is to unlearn everything we have ever known.
We must become again like naked children in the garden and choose this time to remain eating from the Tree of Life.