The biblical story of Adam and Eve, who represent the first human beings, is an allegory of the fall of mankind and remains a mystery until we understand its hidden symbolism. The symbolic meaning of the following words in quotes enables us to understand the part of the story where Adam and Eve are tempted and is indicated by the words in parentheses.
After God has created Adam, He tells him he may freely “eat from any tree” (enjoy any sense) in the “garden” (the body) but must not eat from “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” which is in the middle of the garden, and according to Eve, “must not touch it,” or he will “die” (lose his spiritual life – awareness of his bliss, spiritual power and immortality). However, the “serpent” (temptation) tells Eve, “You will not die, for God knows that when you eat from it (eat fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden) your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Eve yields to temptation and eats some of the fruit, assuming it will make one wise, and also gives some to Adam and he eats it. Suddenly they realize that they are naked and sew fig leaves together to make themselves aprons. (Genesis 3: 1-7)
But they were naked before eating the fruit and felt no shame. Why did eating the fruit cause them to feel naked and want to cover their body?
Eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil caused the first human beings to lose their original, heavenly state of consciousness (Eden) and become almost totally subject to the limitations of the physical body. They felt guilty and ashamed, for they had disobeyed God’s warning and, as a result, suffered a great loss. This part of the allegory can be explained in terms of the ancient scriptures of India, as follows.
A tree with its roots, trunk and limbs turned upside down resembles the structure of the nervous system of the human body, and the “tree of life” in the allegory represents the spiritual counterpart of the physical nervous system, the body’s energy channels (nadis). The roots of a tree symbolize these channels in the brain through which life energy flows into centers of consciousness in the head and spine, and throughout the physical body, enlivening it; the trunk represents energy channels in the spine; and the limbs that extend from the trunk represent afferent and efferent energy channels and nerves. Nerves contain neurons, and each individual neuron has a tree-like structure.
The trees in the garden that God said Adam could eat from symbolize sensory neurons with their branching extensions, but the tree in the middle of the garden (body), which was to be left alone, signifies the neurons that receive sex sensations. When the first humans “ate the fruit” of this tree (stimulated their sex nerves), the powerful kundalini energy, which enlivened their faculties of divine awareness in the “tree of life” (the spiritual counterpart of the physical nervous system), was diverted from these faculties and channeled into the physical tree in the middle of the body. Their awareness of God and of His “image” in them as the love, light, intelligence and powers of the immortal soul was almost completely lost, and they experienced sex sensations. Because they felt guilt and shame for what they had done, they felt naked and wanted to cover their sex organs.
Moreover, they “knew good and evil.” This means that our progenitors judged the things they liked as “good” and the things they disliked as “bad” or “evil.” God is omnipresent, indivisible Spirit in which all things, even those perceived as evil, are united as one, but by judging and mentally rejecting things they disliked they began to perceive separation. This caused them to lose awareness of God – the omnipresent, unifying Spirit in everything – and the soul, God’s image and likeness. By judging things they disliked instead of accepting everything as one, their awareness of God, the soul, and the power of the soul to manifest material things and to experience divine love and oneness was greatly diminished.
Thus the heavenly state of consciousness of the first humans – the paradise of Eden – was lost, and they looked to the body and material possessions for happiness and security. However, in the absence of the love, unity and joy of God, happiness and security can never be found. Instead, fear, greed and hate increased, their bodies became denser, their world changed to reflect their matter-bound consciousness, and pain, sorrow, fear and death became all too familiar to them. This was a tremendous loss, for in their original state of consciousness, their spiritual faculties were functioning, and they could manifest whatever they wanted by the divine power within them. The fall of the first human beings took place long ago, and all on earth are subject to the legacy of dualistic thinking and evil that resulted.
However, in reading the first part of Genesis 3:22, one gets the impression that to know good and evil is godly, for it is usually translated in the present tense: And Jehovah God said, “The man is become as one of us, knowing good and evil… ” But Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible says that “is” should have been translated “was” and suggests that something like the following would be correct: And Jehovah God said, “The man, who was like one of us, is now fallen [knowing both good and evil]… ” This makes sense because it was before they fell and knew good and evil that Adam and Eve were like God, and they fell, knowing good and evil, because they began to lose awareness of God and judged things they disliked as bad or evil, for example, pain, which served the purpose of alerting them to what they should avoid.
Words cannot adequately describe God but they can point us in the right direction, and we can think of God as bliss, love, oneness, and light; as the one Supreme Consciousness, infinite and eternal, beyond time and space; and as the omnipresent, intelligent power that creates and pervades the cosmos. However, by coming to know good and evil, human beings lost awareness of the wondrous powers of the Creator and the soul as the image of God.
Although the Fall would have caused our progenitors – and ourselves by inheriting their traits and way of life – to experience guilt and fear and no longer know the innocence, peace and other divine qualities each of us received when we were created, we should realize that, at the core of our being, we are still divine, for the essence of every soul, the Self, is perfect and unchanging. When we transcend the lower, mortal self, which in spiritual writings is called the ego, we will realize we are the vast, eternal Self. Our consciousness will merge with the infinite consciousness of God, and through loving intentions we will extend God’s perfect creation, rather than desecrating it by seeking only to fulfill personal desires and by fighting with each other. There is hope for humanity, for by following God’s guidance, practicing meditation and moderation, and forgiving and loving ourselves and others, the desires of the physical body will be tamed and transmuted, our soul’s descent into spiritual ignorance and delusion will be reversed, and we will regain awareness of our immortality and oneness with God.
Note: Paramahansa Yogananda discusses the Garden of Eden allegory in much greater detail in God Talks With Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita (pages 28-29, 446, 930-932), published by Self-Realization Fellowship.