"The ego has created a problem that it cannot resolve within itself because of these two values of freedom and goodness that it has not been able to integrate, and in order to resolve the problem, we have to return to the understanding that the only source of goodness is God.”
So, I was asked to speak about goodness tonight. I think that’s a good place to start. It’s always good to speak of goodness.
First of all, let me ask you a question. In the Book of Genesis, Bereshit, it is written that the original sin was the eating from the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil”. But why would knowing the difference between good and evil be a sin? Don’t we want people to know the difference between good and evil? What made that into a sin that would cause them to be expelled from the Garden of Eden? Today, we consider it a virtue—probably a rare virtue, in fact.
Who has some ideas? Yes, Carolyn.
Questioner: I think that everything was good until they ate from that tree and then they chose to live a life of duality.
OK, beautiful and profound answer. Before they ate of that tree, they realized that everything was good; there is no evil. Because everything is from God. And so, it was the belief in evil that created evil—that’s why it was a sin. They brought evil into the world by the belief that there is such a thing. That’s why we have to be very careful of what we believe in. Because this is our dream, and our belief will produce a self-fulfilling prophesy.
In ancient Greece, the philosopher Plato, who was a disciple of Socrates, who in turn was a disciple of a great woman sage named “Diotama”—or “Diotima”, she’s sometimes pronounced, but I think it’s Diotama. But in any case, she was a teacher who was one who came through both the Pythagorean and the Orphic mystery schools. And therefore, was very deeply in a state of wisdom about the nature of nonduality. Now, we owe a great debt to Plato for writing down these teachings, because he declared that the name of God is “the Good”.
Now for him, God was not like the Judeo-Christian God; God is the One, God is beyond any images, or cannot be considered either personal or impersonal, but God is the One beyond all dualities and, therefore, of all differentiation. But the name of God, the essence of God, is Goodness. All goodness comes from God. Now, Christ said the same thing in one of the gospels that called him good, and he said, “Why callest thou me Good? Only the Father is Good.” So, it is clear from both traditions that goodness derives from one Source—all goodness.
Now, the problem that happened in Western culture is that Plato’s disciple [Aristotle] betrayed his teachings. Aristotle betrayed the teachings of Plato. Aristotle looked at this idea of the Good and he said, “This is nonsense!” He says, “What use is it to us to know that God is the Good. That doesn’t tell us anything, because we don’t know God, so what we have to know is, what is good for us humans? What should ‘we’ do, how should ‘we’ live?”—all of that.
And so, instead of the “Good” being a noun that signifies God, it became an adjective: “this would be good. That would be good. It’s good to do this. It’s good to do that.” And goodness became reduced to a pragmatic reflection upon actions that were considered only within the phenomenal plane. And goodness was cut off from the Source. It became relativized. The same as happened by the eating of the Tree of Good and Evil.
Aristotle ate of that tree and caused a deviation within Western culture, because Aristotelian logic was what was followed. Plato was repressed for a long time in the West, whereas Aristotle retained his influence. But it wasn’t really until Marsilio Ficino translated Plato—that was brought by the Arabs into the Western world, that was the beginning of the renaissance—that Plato was again available in Europe. So, we have to understand why this is so important.
But once the Aristotelian modality, and once the modality of the question of good and evil became, in the Bible, linked with God—because if you follow the Commandments you’re good, and if don’t you’re evil. This created a dualistic conscience in which everyone felt bad—if not evil—because they couldn’t live up to all of those Commandments. Once they were in an ego state of consciousness, it was not possible to “love thy neighbor as thyself”. And it wasn’t possible to “love God with all thy heart and all thy soul and thy might”, because you were loving other things, on the ego level. And in fact, you couldn’t even love God, because God was unknowable. And to the ego, you can only love what you know and you can understand. And so, that left God out, and, therefore, it left absolute Goodness out of the picture completely.
But there’s an interesting story that is told, that originally all of the angels were created by God, naturally, but God gave the angels free will, because free will—freedom—is a part of goodness. And of God’s freedom to grant free will—otherwise we would be robots, right? Without free will, what would life be?
So, the angels were all created with free will, and some of them—a lot of them—chose freely to become autonomous from God. They chose to use their free will to gain freedom from God. And they became known as devils. Devils are fallen angels. What are they fallen from? From obedience to God.
So, the angels who remained angels, were angels because they freely chose to give up their autonomy to become obedient to the supreme One. And that obedience is a truer freedom than the illusion of autonomy.
But the desire for autonomy became the leading motivation of the ego. And that became autonomy from goodness—from God—even from law, even from morality. And that is what has led to the ever steeper fall down the mountain of goodness into a state of evil, where human beings would abide with and as the devils.
So, the question of autonomy became one of the leading subjects of reflection throughout the period of medieval culture—and modern culture, of course—that valorized it as the ultimate principal of a life to choose freedom—to even choose your own essence, because existence precedes essence with the existentialists. And we choose how we’re going to live. We are autonomous, we make our own decisions.
But the problem for the ego is, it doesn’t decide when it’s going to be born, or to whom it’s going to be born. The soul may have some say in it, but even then, it’s a matter of karma. The soul doesn’t really have free will to choose. The only person—according to, at least, Christian myth—who is ever born in a state of autonomy was Christ, because, of course, he was his own father. And so, he chose Mary as his partner and then became the son. That doesn’t happen to too many of us.