Saturday, May 10, 2008
The story of Adam and Eve: a Vedic origin
Religious and philosophical truths are often explained through parables, stories, so that ignorant people can understand them easily. Since metaphysical concepts are difficult to grasp, either they have to be told in the form of a story or they have to be given the form of a ritual, that is they must find expression as religious acts.
It is likely, though, that, with the passage of time, some stories or rites will become far removed from their inner meaning. Or, it may be, the inner meaning will be altogether forgotten. So it must be that, when new religions took shape abroad, after the lapse of thousands of years-religions not connected with the Vedic faith that is the root-the original Vedic concepts become transformed or distorted.
You must be familiar with the story of Adam and Eve which belongs to the Hebrew tradition. It occurs in the Genesis of the Old Testament and speaks of the tree of knowledge and God's commandment that its fruit shall not be eaten. Adam at first did not eat it but Eve did. After that Adam too ate the forbidden fruit.
Here an Upanisadic concept has taken the form of a biblical story. But because of the change in the time and place the original idea has become distorted-or even obliterated.
The Upanisadic story speaks of two birds perched on the branch of a pippala tree. One eats the fruit of tree while the order merely watches its companion without eating. The pippala tree stands for the body. The first bird represents a being that regards himself as the jivatman or individual self and the fruit it eats signifies sensual pleasure. In the same body (symbolized by the tree) the second bird is to be understood as the Paramatman. He is the support of all beings but he does not know sensual pleasure. Since he does not eat the fruit he naturally does not have the same experience as the jivatman (the first). The Upanisad speaks with poetic beauty of the two birds. He who eats the fruit is the individual self, jiva, and he who does not eat is the Supreme Reality, the one who knows himself to be the Atman.
It is this jiva that has come to be called Eve in the Hebrew religious tradition. "Ji" changes to "i" according to a rule of grammar and "ja" to "ya". We have the example of "Yamuna" becoming "Jamuna" or of "Yogindra" being changed to "Joginder ". In the biblical story "jiva" is "Eve" and "Atma" (or "Atman") is "Adam". "Pippala" has in the same way changed to "apple". The Tree of Knowledge is our "bodhi-vrksa" . "Bodha" means "knowledge". It is well known that the Budhha attained enlightenment under the bodhi tree. But the pipal (pippala) was known as the bodhi tree even before his time.
The Upanisadic ideas transplanted into a distant land underwent a change after the lapse of centuries. Thus we see in the biblical story that the Atman (Adam) that can never be subject to sensual pleasure also eats the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. While our bodhi tree stands for enlightenment, the enlightenment that banishes all sensual pleasure, the biblical tree affords worldly pleasure.
(From the book Hindu Dharma by the Sage of Kanchi)