For better or worse, I was raised a Methodist but am no longer practicing. I always seemed to find the enormous tree growing just beyond the altar’s stained glass windows far more revealing than anything the cordial pastor had to say.
Still, I’ve always had a healthy interest in the eternal battlements of men’s souls, my own included. What forces compel us to know right from wrong? What experiences deter a man from knowing his true self? What does the perpetual “light” truly reveal to us?
There are countless books dedicated to satisfying those questions, from Lao-tse “Tao Te Ching” to L. Ron Hubbard’s “Dianetics.” In 2004, Don Miguel Ruiz released his book “The Voice of Knowledge” as part of his “Four Agreements” series, a short collection of alternative literature based on the Toltec traditions of central Mexico. After a recent rediscovery, I couldn’t help but feel compelled to share what Ruiz had to say.
Truth be told, I’ve attempted but failed miserably to avoid the strictly political, mostly because the vast majority of Americans have seemingly chosen to stop listening or reading any viewpoint that does not satisfy their own. I think it’s called, in the common vernacular, “chasing your own tail.” We have become, by any measurement, a nation of echo chambers, of private choruses, of self-fulfilling prophecies. With that in mind, I’d like to offer a brief portion of Ruiz script which speaks openly to the Biblical story of original sin and all it may show of eternal human nature. Quite surprisingly, it also seems to speak directly to the bitter nature of our current national discourse. Of course, I may be “chasing my own tail” but I hope you might find it worthwhile.
“The legend says that in the middle of Paradise stood two trees. One was the Tree of Life, which gave life to everything in existence, and the other was the Tree of Death, better known as the Tree of Knowledge. The Tree of Knowledge was a beautiful tree with juicy fruit. Very tempting. If you remember the story, you can already guess who lived in that tree. The Tree of Knowledge was the home of a big snake full of poison.
“The story says that the snake who lived in the Tree of Knowledge was a fallen angel who used to be the most beautiful one. But for who knows what reason, that fallen angel no longer delivered the truth, which means he delivered the wrong message. The fallen angel’s message was fear, instead of love; it was a lie, instead of truth. In fact, the story describes the fallen angel as the Prince of Lies, which means that he was an eternal liar. Every word coming out of his mouth was a lie.
“We went to that tree, and we had the most incredible conversation with the Prince of Lies. We were innocent. We didn’t know. We trusted everyone. That fallen angel talked and talked and talked, and we listened and listened and listened. We believed the fallen angel’s story, and that was our big mistake. That is what it means to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Humans ate every concept, every opinion, and every story the liar told us, even though it was not the truth. After we ate the fruit, we felt guilt and shame. We judged ourselves as no longer good enough, and of course we judged others the same way. With judgment came polarity, separation, and the need to punish and be punished.
“For the first time we were no longer kind to one another; we no longer respected and loved all of God’s creation. Now we suffered, and we began to blame ourselves, to blame other people, and even to blame God. It was a lie. It was not true, but we believed it, and we separated from God. From this point, it is easy to understand what is meant by “original sin.” The original sin is not sex. No, that is another lie. The original sin is to believe the lies that come from the snake in the tree, the fallen angel. To sin is not about blame or moral condemnation. To sin is to believe in lies, and to use those lies against ourselves. From that first sin, that original lie, all of our other sins are born.”
I share this, not as a political or religious statement, but as a reminder of the deep divisions that lies can sow and resurrect. The same divisions that threaten every aspect of our personal and public lives. The same fabricated divisions we choose to believe in every day. We, as a nation, have chosen to turn our collective backs on truth and integrity. We have done this, I suppose, in the false belief it will somehow resurrect a truthful and potent democracy. However, lies have never resurrected truth. Lies simply beget more lies. A little food for thought from the good book.
PAUL WHEELER, a former member of The Write Team, resides in Ottawa. “The River at Both Ends,” Wheeler’s most recent book of poetry, is available at Prairie Fox Books in Ottawa. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.