we don't need to change how we do conservation, we need to change why we do it

Young Buddha Meets Old Buddha, Part-2: What the Tree of Knowledge can Learn from the Tree of Life

A short selection from Essay Forty-six in Darwin, Dogen, and the Extremophile Choice. [YOU MIGHT WANT TO SKIP THIS ON A FIRST READING OF THE TWO BUDDHAS SEQUENCE]

9 … God caused to spring up … the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the middle of the garden …

16 … Then God gave the man this admonition, “You may eat indeed of all the trees in the garden. [Author’s note: She said this in a time of innocence that ended in self-knowledge and the invention of the plough.]

17 Nevertheless of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you are not to eat …”

—Book of Genesis, chapter two [1]

The fruit of an ontogenic tree must disperse. In other words, it must fall, or be eaten for its nutritional value (and not for the DNA information it holds), for only then can it return seed stock (perhaps a little modified) from its genepool design-space to take its expressed and speci-fied place on a non-seeding, non-aging, non-perishing phylogenic Tree of Life.


Knowing about Darwin’s tree of life can help us to see why a creator would say, “from the tree of [judgements] you are not to eat”. When we cling to a belief, even though hypotheses are all the thinking mind can deliver, we are trying to ‘finalize’ that which is already timeless because it changes. Like this Eden myth, which now becomes a lesson telling us it’s OK to make the occasional judgement call, but identifying with our choice out of desire or fear means an attitude “claiming the knowledge of good and evil” is at work. That is, we are being judgemental. So how do we get at the root of our fearful and needy confusion in order to eradicate this species-original “sin”?

The Darwinian Zen version of the creator’s command tells us we must become familiar with our own ‘judgement trees’, and to do this we must take up a tradition of practice: we must look deep inside our ever-changing bodyminds, and learn to catch this rejecting of ‘phylogenic’ change, this settling for unvaried, unexamined, ‘propagation’. The daily choices come and go, but for the ‘tree’ to remain immortal it must not, it-self, ‘set seed’.


It is only here, in the eternal present, that a thought’s or an emotion’s immediate use can be properly distinguished. But if we spend all our time there, where grand propositional sketches are ‘realized’ by, and the life-preserving emotions are readily misinformed by, their more subtle embodiment, then our creative picking at illusion, our verbal ‘mastication’ of concept, becomes naturally reinforced until a stifling finality is achieved. Flourishing dreams become judgementally extracted, and ‘finally’ embodied, when they are verbally chewed and then ‘swallowed’; thus metabolizing our passing thoughts to sustain a lonely, fully in-formed, and fabulously immutable, but ultimately make-believe, self.

OK, that’s a bit tricky, so let me try to bring it down to earth. When we “think outside the box”, what is this “box”? Meditation teaches us our thinking is ‘sticky’ — we’re afraid to let go of our thoughts the way Nature lets go of its organisms because, since they are of the same nature as our overt actions, being essentially covert rehearsals, we ‘identify’ with them. And in our self-defensiveness we refuse to ‘commit’ them to a critical, culture-genic, interrogation.

So let’s be cautious even here: when I say “this is what it means to be human”, you should know I don’t mean any of this to be final, proclaiming a mere ‘seed’ to be immortal. I don’t want a monster to rise out of this fragmenting, and literally disembodied, text.


1. “Moses” (the Yahwist tradition). 1968. Genesis, various trans., in Alexander Jones, ed., The Jerusalem Bible, Reader’s Edition Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, p. 6.

Leave a Reply