“The Adam and Eve story is incomprehensible to me!” I (Paramhansa Yogananda) observed with considerable heat one day in my early struggles with the allegory. “Why did God punish not only the guilty pair, but also the innocent unborn generations?”
Master (Sri Yukteswar) was more amused by my vehemence than my ignorance. “Genesis is deeply symbolic, and cannot be grasped by a literal interpretation,” he explained. “Its ‘tree of life’ is the human body. The spinal cord is like an upturned tree, with man’s hair as its roots, and afferent and efferent nerves as branches. The tree of the nervous system bears many enjoyable fruits, or sensations of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. In these, man may rightfully indulge; but he was forbidden the experience of sex, the ‘apple’ at the center of the bodily garden.
“The ‘serpent’ represents the coiled-up spinal energy which stimulates the sex nerves. ‘Adam’ is reason, and ‘Eve’ is feeling. When the emotion or Eve-consciousness in any human being is overpowered by the sex impulse, his reason or Adam also succumbs.
“God created the human species by materializing the bodies of man and woman through the force of His will; He endowed the new species with the power to create children in a similar ‘immaculate’ or divine manner. Because His manifestation in the individualized soul had hitherto been limited to animals, instinct-bound and lacking the potentialities of full reason, God made the first human bodies, symbolically called Adam and Eve. To these, for advantageous upward evolution, He transferred the souls or divine essence of two animals. In Adam or man, reason predominated; in Eve or woman, feeling was ascendant. Thus was expressed the duality or polarity which underlies the phenomenal worlds. Reason and feeling remain in a heaven of cooperative joy so long as the human mind is not tricked by the serpentine energy of animal propensities.
“The human body was therefore not solely a result of evolution from beasts, but was produced by an act of special creation by God. The animal forms were too crude to express full divinity; the human being was uniquely given a tremendous mental capacity — the ‘thousand-petaled lotus’ of the brain — as well as acutely awakened occult centers in the spine.
“God, or the Divine Consciousness present within the first created pair, counseled them to enjoy all human sensibilities, but not to put their concentration on touch sensations. These were banned in order to avoid the development of the sex organs, which would enmesh humanity in the inferior animal method of propagation. The warning not to revive subconsciously-present bestial memories was not heeded. Resuming the way of brute procreation, Adam and Eve fell from the state of heavenly joy natural to the original perfect man.
“Knowledge of ‘good and evil’ refers to the cosmic dualistic compulsion. Falling under the sway of maya through misuse of his feeling and reason, or Eve — and Adam — consciousness, man relinquishes his right to enter the heavenly garden of divine self-sufficiency. The personal responsibility of every human being is to restore his ‘parents’ or dual nature to a unified harmony or Eden.”
As Sri Yukteswar ended his discourse, I glanced with new respect at the pages of Genesis.
“Dear Master,’ I said, “for the first time I feel a proper filial obligation toward Adam and Eve!”