(Story begins here) “Anyway, yes the Garden of Eden,” said Augustine, remembering himself. “Not a literal garden with trees, flowers, that kind of malarkey. Eden is the state of everyone having perfect love for each other.” Pete’s jaw dropped slightly. “I know, I know, you weren’t expecting some silly old duffer like me to come out with something like that,” laughed Augustine, “but it’s jolly well true. Back before the fall, the big bang, whatever you call it, there were only unmanifested forms.”
“Forms?” said Pete, puzzled. “But aren’t they what Plato taught?”
“Too right they are old chap. Was a bit of a Neoplatonist myself, a lot of we Church fathers were. Look it up if you like!”
“the big bang is the end of everything. It is the end of unity, the end of perfect love, the end of complete selflessness”
“Quite. So before the fall, all souls lived in bliss, they knew that they were aspects of God, they were God. All beings loved each other to the point that there was no lust, no jealousy or anger. Just a peaceful, heavenly kingdom, a garden if you like.”
“I would call it the unmanifested Tao” said Laozi, conversationally.
“Quite. It could also be called heaven, the body of God, many things.
So the fall…” continued Augustine, pausing dramatically. It’s a bit of a stretch, even for an old soul like me, but would you like to see it? In allegorical form anyway.”
“That would be amazing,” said Pete earnestly. The Huangshan mountains disappeared and were replaced by vivid lush grass, with waterfalls of light cascading all around and flowing through the turf in smooth streams. At the edges of the lawn and stretching into the distance were flowers more beautiful than Pete could have imagined, some vivid, some pastel in colour. In the centre of the lawn was what looked like an apple tree, with pulses of light travelling rapidly just beneath the bark. The garden started to blur, and Pete realised that he had started crying without realising it.
“So… beautiful,” he sniffed.
“Quite,” said Augustine stiffly as he dabbed his own eyes with a large red handkerchief. “Now, watch carefully, something important is going to happen.” A beautiful human couple, completely naked came running across the lawn, the man had his arm around the woman who was giggling gleefully. Augustine nudged Pete “you see? No fig leaves! That was just a bit of prudishness from much later.” Reaching the tree, the man and woman both grabbed a shiny red apple, stared lovingly at each other and bit in. “You see?” whispered Augustine. They’re both as bad as each other, always said so when I was on Earth. None of that misogynist rot about it being Eve’s fault_” But he was interrupted. There was a deep rumbling noise. The tree’s branches shook, apples dropped off. The naked couple looked at each other in sudden fear. The branches of the tree were waving now, there were splintering noises then… Then nothing. The garden simply exploded into nothing, taking Adam and Eve with it. Pete and Augustine were staring at nothing but outer space. The old bishop turned to look at Pete. “You see?” he said gently, “as Lisa said, the big bang is the end of everything. It is the end of unity, the end of perfect love, the end of complete selflessness” Pete thought about this.
“So the garden exploding, that was…”
“That was the start of plurality. It was a beautiful, harmonised creation fracturing like a priceless vase smashing. All the pieces are still there but the destruction is instant yet takes a huge amount of time and work to resolve. Yes, the big bang was everything coming out of nothing. Only it wasn’t nothing. It was coming from a being outside of time. These physicist chaps in your time, they cannot answer the question ‘what happened before the big bang?’ because there was no time before the big bang, it was the start of space and the start of time. But both these things only exist because of the fall. The fall from God. Time and space are vehicles for isolation, subjectivity and the self. It’s why in your House of Lords, you have Lords Spiritual and Lords Temporal, the latter meaning those that exist within time, in other words, not the clergy.” Augustine straightened his hat sadly. Huangshan mountain returned, and Pete was pleased to see Laozi with them once again. “So, the self? Is that such a bad thing?” the young man faltered. Laozi raised a hoary eye brow.
“Honourable Pete, it is a very bad thing,” he said solemnly. “Central to my teaching on Earth was that the self is the greatest misfortune that can befall one.” Pete looked puzzled.
“But, surely we can’t be anything if we aren’t ourselves.” Laozi smiled
“We can be something far better than ourselves, honourable Pete. We can still be, yet… not be.”
“I think we may be baffling our young pal here,” said Augustine. “You see, we can free ourselves of the horror of the self by opening ourselves up to objectivity.”
“How do we do that?” asked Pete
“I would call it… union with the Tao,” said Laozi mysteriously.
“I would call it channelling God’s grace,” said Augustine. “But they’re both the same thing.”
“But, but how do I do either?” asked Pete. Both the older men turned to look at him kindly.
“By loving,” said Augustine gently. He was suddenly rather a different character.
“Yes, by loving,” agreed Laozi. Pete looked between the two of them for further explanation.
“Loving who?” he asked lamely.
“Everyone,” murmured both the older men together, smiling as they heard the other say it.
“How?” Laozi smiled.
“By acting in accordance with the truth, honourable Pete.”
“Which is that you and everyone else are aspects of the same Being. You must act as if there is no distinction between yourself and others. Because there isn’t.”
“Yes there is, I have my body, you have yours… we’re, well, different.”
“I must reluctantly contradict you honourable Pete.” Laozi pointed to a small, oriental looking tree in the mid distance. “Being different is an illusion. Even on the physical plane, that tree is a blood relation of yours.”
“Blood or sap, you might say, old chap,” interjected Augustine.
“Thank you honourable friend. On the physical plane, all life evolved from a single being. All life on Earth is branches from that original trunk. So, you have common ancestors with that tree, from a time before plants and animals split into separate kingdoms. Naturally you are much more closely related to all of humanity. Mitochondrial Eve, who all humans now living descended from lived only two hundred thousand years ago, the blink of an eye. On the scale of physical evolution, humans really are all brothers and sisters, which is why monks and nuns refer to each other as such. This simple act repeated daily is a powerful reminder of the truth, on the full scale of reality, we really are all brothers and sisters and should treat each other as such.”
“Laozi is right,” added Augustine “and the links which you have to everyone on higher levels are much more pronounced. Just as physically everything came from one being, it is the same spiritually. As above, so below. Everyone is a little outpost of God or the Tao or whatever you call Him and should be treated accordingly.” (continue)