Since the beginning of time, every culture has taught the path to enlightenment, but the old models are not proper for today. This is why so many of the ancient teachings are in metaphors and myths, which transcend cultural changes in beliefs and ideologies. When we understand the deeper meaning of mythology, folklore and religion, we begin to see beyond the barriers of social conditioning that the psyche holds. This is really quite paradoxical given that the culture itself is the creator of the social conditioning that we then use the mythology to overcome.
According to the book of Genesis, the “original sin,” was Eve, being tempted by the serpent, plucking the fruit from the tree of knowledge and giving it to Adam. Was this story intended to be historical or mythological? In order consider this question with accuracy, we must first understand that to “sin” actually means to miss the mark. In other words, it is not about morality, it is about making an error.
The Original Sin
From the perspective of mythology, then, the original sin was Eve (the individual self) making a mistake by accepting from the serpent (human ego) that one piece of information (the apple), was absolute truth. Moreover, original sin is to make the mistake of believing we are separate from source energy, or “God.” It is identifying with the “me” rather than with the absolute, of which we are inseparable. The way to discover this is to have a quiet mind and experience the ultimate dimension of reality, rather than the historical dimension, which is to say, to experience reality in the eternal now, rather than in the past/future thinking of the split mind.
The serpent is often used in stories of creation because it is so bound to the earth, and because it is such a primal example of life killing and eating itself. Consider watching a snake eat its prey, and how conspicuous it is to see the body of the prey moving through the body of the snake. In addition, the snake sheds its skin and is reborn much like the moon shedding its shadow to be reborn. According to Joseph Campbell, who is one of the most respected authorities on ancient mythology, these are all symbols of the process of life. “Life lives by killing and eating itself, casting off death and being reborn, like the moon,” wrote Campbell. This is us. We are life!
We Are Being Guided How to Live Today
What I am suggesting here is that, like so many other ancient teachings from around the world, the Bible is teaching us how to live today, in the here and now, rather than merely providing us with a history lesson, although there may be some of that as well. Indeed, according to Campbell, “Heaven and hell are within us, and all the gods are within us… They are magnified dreams, and dreams are manifestations in image form of the energies of the body in conflict with each other. That is what myth is.”
Campbell’s view on mythology can be seen in cultures from all around the world, dating back thousands of years. In addition, much of the mythology provided by varying philosophies is strikingly similar. For example, in Hinduism, dating back to as early as 3000 B.C., the concept of “guna,” which is Sanskrit for string or thread, and virtue, merit, or quality, depending on its context, is portrayed as the three underlying forces of the universe; namely, “sattva” (goodness, constructive, harmonious), “rajas” (passion, active, confused), and “tamas” (darkness, destructive, chaotic). In other words, they are the manifestations of creation, preservation, and destruction in the universe, and they are present always, in everyone and everything, with only the proportion being different.
Freud and the 3 Gunas
Interestingly, the three gunas are comparable to Freud’s ego, which is postulated to be made up of three theoretical aspects of the psyche; namely, the id (instinctive drive), the ego and the superego. In Freudian psychology, the id is like tamas energy in that it is insatiable and self serving, therefore, it can be viewed largely as destructive. The superego is like sattva energy and viewed as the overarching moral standards that can stop the id from doing what it wants to do, therefore, it is seen as constructive or “goodness.” Finally, the ego is the mediator between the two, which makes it like rajas energy, because it is “active,” and can be swayed in either direction, as it can become “confused.”
The three gunas referred to above are said to come from “Aum” the sound vibration that reverberates throughout the universe. In the Bible a similar concept is referred to as “the Word of God.” Campbell described it thusly:
“‘AUM’ is a word that represents to our ears that sound of the energy of the universe of which all things and manifestations… When you pronounce this correctly, all vowel sounds are included in the pronunciation. Consonants are here regarded simply as interruptions of the essential vowel sound. All words are thus fragments of AUM, just as all images are fragments of the Form of forms. AUM is a symbolic sound that puts you in touch with that resounding being that is the universe.”
The Mythology Behind the Trinity
These three gunas are given the Godhead trinity name of Brahma (Creator), Vishnu (Preserver), and Shiva (Destroyer). However, it is helpful to realize that Shiva is also described as “dissolution-restoration,” which comes with much more positive, life-giving connotations than “destroyer.” In addition, according to Campbell, the creator aspect of Brahma became merely the means or “creative agent” of Vishnu. Therefore, there are two basic Hindu camps, one in which Vishnu is worshiped and the other in which Siva is worshiped. Although it may seem strange that people would want to worship the “destroyer,” when coming from the perspective that it is Siva that releases the soul from time-bound form into eternal bliss, which removes one from samsara (suffering), the reasoning becomes quite clear.
With this in mind, we can see how the Hindu trinity is comparable to the Christian trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with the “Father” representing the Creator, the “Son” representing the Destroyer (dissolution-restoration), and the “Holy Spirit” representing the Preserver. Indeed, in Christianity the Father is seen as the Creator. It does not seem like much of a reach to see the parallel between the Preserver and the Holy Spirit, especially given that the Holy Spirit is typically viewed as Spirit working through us, or the creative spirit of God that inspired the prophets and messengers. Furthermore, considering that the overarching Hindu belief ascertains that the creative aspect of Brahma (Creator) became the creative agent of Vishnu (Preserver), the similarity becomes more evident. Indeed, it could easily be stated that what is presented in the Bible makes it clear the Holy Spirit is viewed as the “creative agent” of God.
I am reminded of sitting by the fire once and seeing the parallel between fire and the three faced aspects of existence described above. The fire itself is the Creator (consider the term “Father Sun”). Indeed, many of us have witnessed fire being used to create by shaping metal, glass, clay, and the like. The burning wood is likened to the Preserver, as the fire can be maintained by adding a continual supply. In addition, when fire (Creator) is combined with wood (Preserver) we have one force, which is comparable to the combining of Brahma and Vishnu by the Hindu belief system. Finally, the burning of the wood releasing smoke, ash, and carbon dioxide into the environment becomes the Destroyer (dissolution-restoration), and when it comes to the energy contained in the wood, it also becomes the liberator. This is much like the “Son” helping us to burn up the ego to free the Spirit within.
The Power of Mythology
In speaking of mythology and religion Campbell wrote, “The virtues of the past are the vices of today.” The author suggested this is due to the rapidly changing life in which the old models are not proper for today. This is why so many of the ancient teachings are in metaphors and myths. They transcend the cultural changes in beliefs and ideologies. The author went on to write, “What the myths are for is to bring us to a level of consciousness that is spiritual.”
Campbell suggested that a “myth is like a public dream, while dream is like a private myth.” He went on to posit that if our private myth is not in accord with the public view we’ve got problems as we would be “neurotic.” In answering whether many visionaries, leaders, and heroes are neurotic Campbell said they are. He wrote, “They’ve moved out of the society that would have protected them and into the dark forest, into the world of fire, of original experience.” After reading that I realized that is exactly what I have been attempting to do in my life experience. In a sense, I am stepping out of the programming and planning of society and into the mysterious world of unconditioned life experience.
Ancient Teachings Apply Today
When attempting to decipher the meaning of the ancient teachings, it is important to realize that the stages of human development are the same today as they were in ancient times. According to Campbell, this is where myths and stories come into play. They help us to make the transitions as smoothly as possible by providing a map of the territory. For example, when we are children we are basically totally dependent upon other humans to take care of us. We are raised with discipline and develop the psychological self by having the mind conditioned by those who bring us up.
As we begin approaching adulthood we must begin to break free of this mental conditioning and become self-reliant. Eventually we must shed this new self as we age and transition from adulthood into a new role as an elder. If we are unable to make these transitions successfully we are likely to develop neuroses. However, if we simply keep in mind that we are not the psychological self but the authentic self, the witness of it, we will be more likely to make a successful transition. Indeed, Campbell posed the question, “Am I the bulb that carries the light, or am I the light of which the bulb is a vehicle?” Which would you rather be, the bulb or the light?