Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Is There Life After Death, and Is It Always Light and Love?

A friend recently wrote me about Near Death Experiences (NDE) after seeing the moving Heaven is For Real. Here is my response:

I saw the movie, Heaven is For Real, and found it very interesting. I have some ambivalence on this topic of life after death. On the one hand I am enthusiastically interested in compiling evidence for the reality of ongoing consciousness; but on the other hand, I see the phenomenon as easy to "cash in on" by anyone who has some unusual experience of altered consciousness. Human history is rife with people who make money off of the supernatural and the promise of certainty regarding life beyond the grave. I am really more fascinated by the fact that so many of us take the topic seriously--pro or con. I see no skeptics working feverishly to refute the existence of Santa Claus or Tooth Fairies. There is "something" more substantial to this NDE stuff. But mystery and room for doubt is also significant. The ambiguity seems to coincide with a soul-making cosmology—lots of room for doubt, yet ultimately right and wrong choices to be made. I lean toward being a believer--partly because of my own experiences.

Also, I was glad the author included the "negative" side of NDE and afterlife stories. I had something like a NDE in 1994, but the persons who came to me were not friendly. They were glowing 3-D holographic light persons who came to show me the terror of dying in a state of unresolved despair. Their message, in part, was: "If you die now, you will enter into a state of unimaginable suffering." It was clear that such a state was not due to some divine decree for my sinfulness, but rather a necessary concomitant of my state of mind and life at the time. It was more like the Buddhist Bhardo found in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, or the Duat of Egyptian mythology, or Dante's Purgatorio, or the characters on the bus in C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce. The beings were comprised of dazzling light, but were messengers of terror. They called themselves Middlings--beings caught between paradise and hell; and their mission was to help people "on the edge" make a decision about which direction they want to take--into deeper darkness or into light. After meeting with them, I was "scared straight". They literally scared the existential hell out of me, causing my soul and life to change radically. In addition, N.D.E. expert P. M. H. Atwater's The Big Book of Near-Death Experiences: The Ultimate Guide to What Happens When We Die makes it clear that many return from NDEs with messages of judgment and terror--however, such accounts do not typically sell very well.

So, if I take the "stages of consciousness" theory as a true paradigm, then the possibility (if not sure reality) of a kind of stage three disintegration has to be included in the post-life equation as well as this life. The Mary Poppins optimism of the New Age folks is just as disturbing to me as the Christian (Muslim) consignment of all non-believers to eternal hell. A life of soul-making in a world of moral choices and evolving human freedom requires consequences for all conscious choices. This fact has been a quality of every ancient mythology (not just Christian). The Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims,, Egyptians, Mesopotamians et. al. have a terrifying place for those who have lived badly and chosen selfishly. The Greeks had Hades. Even the mythical skeptical philosopher Plato spoke of an above and below in his Republic: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myth_of_Er  I do tend to think the terrible aspects are remedial and purposeful, but just as necessary as the light and butterflies. 

Bottom line: the topic fascinates us, and people seem to have a psycho-spiritual category (brain gurus would call it a neural niche) for this stuff. That tends to give the phenomenon more than a little credence as cosmologically possible if not probable. C.S. Lewis noted that there is no yearning within natural human consciousness which does not have the possibility of being filled--i.e. hunger, thirst, sex, material gain, fame, etc. The quest goes on. 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

What in the Hell Does "Psycho-Spiritual" Development Even Mean?

Let's pause for a moment in order to explore this fuzzy phrase, "psycho-spiritual development." First off, this is my provisional label which is more or less a synonym for soul-making. The phrase indicates that the developing human being is influenced by much more than just neuro-chemical and socio-political factors. Each of the words (psyche/soul and spirit) identify aspects of what is always occurring within ordinary human consciousness, moving us toward individuation and maturity.
The word soul refers to the rich and baffling dualistic drama that is played out moment by moment within each of us--the incompatible instincts that assail us, the inexplicable shifts in mood, the conflicting desires and sudden revulsions, the puzzling dreams, hallucinations and fantasies, etc. Soul designates the fields or patterns of transhuman archetypal ideas, emotions and actions into which each of us is immersed at birth. These universal psychological patterns enfold us long before they begin appearing in our individual identities.  

The word spirit on the other hand recognizes and identifies that innate universal sense that life ought to be fair and problem free. The term spirit identifies the transhuman propensity to feel a kind of entitlement to order, good health, meaning, knowledge and especially joy. But in the midst of our spiritualizings, soul (psyche) collides with spirit reminding us that this world does not often comply with our sense of entitlement to joy, order and happiness. The war is on, and from it comes a unique individual. This, in part, is the significance of the Chinese Yin/Yang symbol. Each side (psyche and spirit) is telling us a part of the truth about reality, but unless both are merged, as in the term psycho-spiritual, we do not have a balanced view of human existence. Human and cultural development require both factors. Forgetting one side or the other always ends in bad politics, disappointing religion and impossible relationships. As the Tao Te Ching (poem 22) says, "We live in a perfectly imperfect world."

Finally, I do suspect that our instinctive compulsion to crave joy and wholeness exists because it actually is the ultimate goal our existence--but it arrives at the end of the soul-making endeavor--and not likely while in this earth school. Move forward and through life's challenges--toward and into increasing joy. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The role of humor in soul-making

Humor always pokes fun at that which is elevated or forbidden--opposite ends of the psycho-social poles. The word "poke" is important here, since the bubble of the developing self is always in need of being poked, in need of deflation prior to re-inflation, in need of being pushed outward or of being burst asunder. Humor is a universal psychological function native to the psyche, reshaping the soul's boundaries by either pushing the gaunt soul outward, beyond it's comfortable boundaries, or alternately, bursting the rind of the inflated pompous ego so that it might deflate in order to re-inflate. Both experiences allow for the infinite contents of the Unconscious to flow in and transmute the self. Humor is a chief form of soul-making.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Lady Gaga, The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street: Room for All

I read the other day that Lady Gaga is on her way out because she can't "be herself". The fact is, she has no "self". She is a kaleidoscope of selves--a walking mood disorder—a public display of cultural schizophrenia. Don't get me wrong, she is very entertaining and I love some of her music. She has played a critical and creative role in pop culture. But she is a neon symptom of a culture without a center. 

However, I think it can be argued that Gaga’s purported demise is a symbol of the death of the aimless postmodern American mind----the death of a narcissistic relativity, of "being my-self-obsessed-self," of the value of no values, of trying to make ugliness beautiful and of convincing us that up is down, male is female and that good is evil. Such a world view may serve as a necessary corrective when we get stuck in thoughtless conservative structures, but never works in the long run. Human nature is more fixed and conventional than many of us would like to admit. We crave order and meaning, ultimately.
We want a story with a real hero and a happy ending. Without real law and order we become inhumane animals and depressed victims, incessantly whining about our “rights” while abdicating our responsibilities. The end game of a postmodern attitude is naked chaos--pandemic addiction and political anarchy in the guise of "social justice". Some of the so called "oppressed" occupying Wall Street were secretly wishing they could be living in Penthouses and driving a Lamborghini. For God sake, wake up—the Hollywood “social justice” entertainers ARE living in Penthouses and driving Lamborghinis!  Most of them are hypocrisy personified—bewailing the plight of the oppressed while living like the wealthy hypocritical pigs in Orwell’s Animal Farm. As I shall argue, there is a time and place to occupy Wall Street, but there is also a time and place to seek an occupation on Wall Street. And to be fair, there are some in the Tea Party who would like to force their version of "freedom" on the masses if they could. The Theocratic minority within the Christian church would argue that God demands the death penalty for adultery and homosexuality--and let's not forget gathering wood on the Sabbath (Numbers 15:32-36).

The fact is that human nature is a mixture of conservative wisdom and progressive evolution—requiring both values for a fully embodied humanity. We are each an amalgam of greedy beast and altruistic angel, self obsessed victim and empathetic hero. When a culture focuses on one side alone, the other will emerge with a compensatory vengeance. That is why the first organizers of the new American nation tried to create a Constitution and Bill of Rights that
would allow for both sides of our enigmatically opposed human nature to live in a nerve-racking tension—providing maximum freedom under a system of minimal laws. Their system of checks and balances, when actually followed, can maintain this tenuous condition of the human soul. Jefferson and Madison made room for a free and fair media, and a creative pop culture that could correct the inevitable imbalances of human nature. They knew that we needed both the North and the South, both Little House on the Prairie and Lady GagaLeave It to Beaver and Homer Simpson. They knew there was room for both the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street—one side pointing to the greedy corruption of the entire political system, and the other to the endemic corruption of an increasingly greedy economic system. Some of us see the brilliance of both protests—and will not be forced by a polarized media, driven by ratings and money, to choose one side over the other. We will not be bullied by the rhetoric and legislated tyranny being foisted upon us by conservative and progressive politicians, in the forms of dictating whom we can marry or from whom we should purchase our health care. Both sides are using the sledge hammer of laws and regulations to force external changes in a country that has always allowed room for internal transformation through debate and the free and unhindered exchange of ideas and commodities. More and more people are getting fed up with “legislated compassion and enforced social justice” coming from both sides of the political, and religious, aisles.

So, Lady Gaga is a purposeful sign. Those loyal fans who want her to give them a more or
less consistent product are symptomatic of a culture tired of nauseating novelty. Alternative always becomes mainstream--human nature demands consistency as much as it desires novelty. And Lady Gaga may retire in protest so she can go become herself. But you can bet she will take most of her money with her, and I would not be at all surprised if in ten years she will be doing a lounge act in Vegas, or raising a family in the Midwest, hopefully sans any bad romance.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Necessity of Exiting and Entering the Mandala: How Buddhism and Christianity Contribute to the Soul-making Process

“If there is a soul, it is a mistake to believe that it is given to us fully created. It is created here, throughout a whole life. And living is nothing else but that long and painful bringing forth.” ~ Albert Camus

"Formation. Transformation. Eternal mind's eternal recreation." ~ Goethe

            The aim of  this paper is to briefly and generally explore the mandala symbol as it is found in Vajrayana or Tantric Buddhism and the Christian Garden of Eden. Each of these mythical "philosophies" employs the image of a circle (mandala) depicting their belief in the essential nature of Reality. The circle is composed minimally of a center, a perimeter and an external reality beyond the periphery. As we shall see, the two views are radically different. However, while this paper will sketch these basic differences, my main aim is to propose a depth psychological reconciliation of these dissimilar cosmologies. This mythical rapprochement will utilize the theme of developmental psychology--a view that places psycho-spiritual processes at the center of human existence. Mine is not an endeavor to make either "view" adopt the teachings of the other or jettison any of their own ideological distinctives, but is a depth psychological exploration suggesting that psycho-spiritual truth is most often a mosaic of various mythical perspectives.

            The English term mandala is from the Sanskrit word for "circle" (मण्डल) and most often refers to a Hindu or Buddhist ritual symbol that represents the composition and significance of the Cosmos. Most Tibetan Buddhist mandalas are square with four gates inside a circle with a center point. The term mandala has become a broad term for any plan, chart or geometric pattern that symbolically represents a microcosm of the universe.

Buddhist practitioners often employ mandalic images for focusing the attention of aspirants and adepts in order to establish a 
sacred space, and as an aid to meditation
. The basic and final aim of such meditation is to comprehend and eventually experience an existential “emptiness", often described as the cessation of duality, the cause of all suffering. In this Buddhist view the individual human being is born into the illusion of being an isolated and alienated self (ego). This ego-self falsely generates impressions of mental, emotional and material separation. The Buddha described this experience as dukkha, sometimes translated suffering, but better understood as dislocation or separation. Psychotherapist Mark Epstein in Thoughts Without a Thinker describes dukkha as "pervasive unsatisfaction", writing:

From the very beginning, the human infant is vulnerable to an unfathomable anxiety that survives in the adult as a sense of futility or as a feeling of unreality. Hovering between two opposing facts--one of isolation and the other of dissolution or merger--we are never certain of where we stand. We search for definition either in independence or in relationship, but the ground always feels as if it is being pulled out from beneath our feet. Our identity is never as fixed as we think it should be. (46-47)

This chronic experience of futile searching and hovering between two opposite facts is the source of all human suffering. The goal of Tantric Buddhism according to Dr. Malcolm: "is to overcome duality by sewing the complex reality of human experience into a single, unified whole…”[1] (Eckel). One practical tool that is employed to facilitate such a union is the mandala.

The mandala symbolizes the endless Wheel of Life, the endless samsaric cycle of moving from one (re)incarnation to the next due to karmic acts of dualistic unconsciousness. Mandalas serve as visual or kinesthetic maps of a larger Reality--demarcating a sacred space for the contemplation and transmutation of consciousness. The mandala map may help awaken the practitioner to a "realer" Reality beyond the dualistic illusion of egoic thinking--helping him or her to move from ignorance to enlightened wisdom and union. The circular diagram often contains four quadrants or positions frequently denoting the four directions--north, south, east and west--while the center of the mandala forms the central fifth point. The four quadrants may be occupied by any number of significant Buddha images,[2] depending on the practitioner's specific psycho-spiritual needs, while the peaceful and all wise Buddha Akshobhya[3] most often occupies the heart of the mandala.

Akshobhya Buddha at the center
Akṣhobhya is the personification of awareness or wisdom—of truly knowing the difference between what is real and what is illusory. He represents the eternal Buddha-mind, illuminating the darkness of ignorance and confusion that characterize humans caught in the painful cycle of existence on the outer edge of the mandala. Psychoanalyst Mark Epstein says the mandala is a symbol of the Wheel of Life, "...a representation of the possibility of transforming suffering by the way we relate to it" (Thoughts 40).

Once the mandala is drawn, delineating a sacrosanct ritual space,[4] the practitioner mentally and/or physically circumambulates the perimeter of the circle, courageously encountering the dualities and psychic disturbance found on the circumference. Here one's intention is to move from fragmentary illusion into the center of integrated fundamental reality--another term for the emptiness of non-duality. Eckel writes: "A mandala…draws a circle around space and suggests to us that the movement of our consciousness, perhaps the movement even of our physical journey is to go around the mandala, encounter its diversity and then unify reality by going right straight to the center" (ibid.). The outer illusory periphery of the mandala represents the fragmented and disturbed consciousness from which one desires relief.[5] Putting this into common language we might imagine that the circumambulation of the four quadrants and the outer edge of the mandala might help one to see through and transmute everyday life situations like financial worries, debilitating addictions, dysfunctional relationships and other pathological delusions which are generated by the oblivious ego self. The way to transform or heal these distressing mental and emotional instabilities is to move to the unitive center in order to experience Akshobhya Buddha, the unshakable One. “In the Tantric tradition, you dissolve the distinction between the Buddha and your self” (Eckel 15). The result is one of integrative enlightenment, freedom from all dualistic thinking, and emptiness, an idea further elaborated in the Tibetan Book of the Dead,:

How mistaken is the one which dualises subject and object…How debilitating is the view which dualises good and evil! How pitiful we are, clinging to purity and impurity! We confess this transgression within the expanse, which is free from the duality of good and evil. (143).

That is the goal--freedom from the duality of good and evil, terms we shall encounter in the Christian mandala. One might sum up the Tantric mandalic ritual as a process of moving from the outer edges of the circle to the inner center--from painful subject-object separation to complete union, from alienated judgmental ignorance to integrated wisdom.

            Now moving to the biblical myth of Eden, we find something very similar to a Buddhist mandala. The Garden of Eden is also a sacred space with a very prominent center containing four rivers rather than gates, a periphery and a world outside the boundaries of Eden :
Now the LORD God had planted a garden...in Eden; and there he put the humans he had formed...In the center of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge... A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. [God said to the human]...you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die... (Genesis 2:8-15)
At the center of Eden are two trees containing life and divine knowledge--and four rivers dividing the garden into quadrants.  

Like Akshobhya  Buddha at the center of the Tantric mandala, Adam and Eve are in a blissful state of non-duality, with the man "united to his wife..[as]... one flesh...both naked...[with] no shame" (2:24-25). So then both Tantric Buddhists and biblical Christians portray the center as a place of peaceful union. But as we read further into the biblical narrative, we begin to discover conspicuous differences. First off, the Buddhist human begins on the outside edge of the mandala and moves into the center, whereas the Christian begins in the center of the Edenic mandala and moves to the outer edge. The trajectories are completely opposite one another. In Genesis we read of the first humans beginning in the center of the garden, only to encounter a divnely appointed crafty trickster (serpent) who convinces them to become wise by experiencing the dualism of good and evil perception:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the Lord God [cursed and] banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life. (Gen. 2:15-3:24)

While the Buddhist mandala finds the ignorant human on the edge of an illusory existence, the Christian mandalic Eden locates the ignorant human at the center of a perfect existence. The two views commence from opposite sides of the mandala.  While the Buddhist teacher implores humans to cease eating from the illusory tree of dualistic sensory experience, the Christian serpentine instructor, appointed by God, implores humans to eat from the sensual tree of dualistic perception which is "good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom". Where the Buddhist begins with a desire to escape the painful duality of good and evil, the Christian begins with a desire to discover the painful duality of good and evil. It is true that in both versions the goal is to have one's eyes opened to wisdom, but Buddhist wisdom eradicates duality while Christian wisdom introduces duality. In Buddhism the movement is away from the ignorance found on the samsaric periphery and into the peaceful center; while in the Christian Eden the movement is from the peaceful center outward onto the troubled and cursed edge of existence.
            While both views agree that ignorance is the original human situation and fundamental existential problem, the two views radically disagree about the way to solve the problem of ignorance. In Buddhism ignorance arises from "duality consciousness," a complete lack of awareness of True Reality which unifies all pairs of opposites. Here, psychologically speaking, the problem is that of being an independent self--of being a separated distended ego. The Buddhist must empty him/herself of all dissonant mental perceptions, including "a dualistic perception of subject and object; all appearances of inherent existence; all appearance of conventionalities; and all forms of conceptuality. A genuine direct realisation of emptiness is non-dual, in that it is free from...[all] forms of dualism" (Tibetan 461). However, it is quite the opposite in the Christian philosophy (at least for some). For some Christian theologians the goal of existence is to move from the state of an unindividuated spark of divinity--a state of complete ignorance--into a state of duality consciousness that allows for discursive experiences and self-individuation. This is the impetus of the biblical myth which sees human evolution as a process of moving from the center of the Edenic madala outward, while the Buddhist philosophy sees the human moving from the periphery back into the center of the mandala. Many would see these radical differences as irreconcilable, concluding that one must adopt either a Buddhist or a Hebrew perspective. However, from an archetypal point of view may we not imagine them as ultimately compatible?

            The first step toward reconciliation is to acknowledge the possibility of a developmental approach to psycho-spiritual consciousness, proposing that human beings evolve through worldly time, space and circumstances. This was Jung's approach to therapy, writing that: “Personality is a seed that can only develop by slow stages throughout life” (C.W., 17,171). This implies that an ego-seed must be planted and grown before it can be harvested--inflated before it can be deflated. Edward Edinger sums it up well:
It is generally accepted among analytical psychologists [Jungians] that the task of the first half of life involves ego development with progressive separation between ego and Self; whereas the second half of life requires a surrender or at least a relativization of the ego as it experiences and relates to the Self. The current working formula therefore is, first half of life: ego-Self separation; the second half of life: ego-Self reunion. (5)       

By utilizing the circular mandala imagery found in both Buddhist and Christian philosophies, we might suggest that a person must first grow a distinct ego-identity by proceeding from the Edenic center outward into the world of "cursed" afflictions, traversing the neurotic fragmentations found on the journey around the periphery, and finally moving back into to the center as propounded so masterfully in Tantric Buddhism. This notion of spiritual evolution is not a new idea. Nearly 2,000 years ago the Christian theologian, Irenaeus of Lyons (c.130-c.202 C.E.), interpreted Genesis as an epic narrative of psycho-spiritual development. Irenaeus believes that humans, represented by Adam and Eve, are immature children placed in the cosmos in order to grow and mature into the likeness of God. He wrote in his work titled Demonstration of Apostolic Preaching: "...for there was in them [Adam and Eve] an innocent and childlike mind, and it was not possible for them to conceive and understand anything of that which by wickedness through lusts and shameful desires is born in the soul" (13). He believes that the material world with its imperfections has been created to "ripen" the human seed in order that it will flower into immortality. Irenaeus writes:
 In the previous books I have set forth the causes for which God permitted these [material] things to be made, and have pointed out that all such [souls] have been created for the benefit of that human nature which is saved, ripening for immortality that which is [possessed] of its own free will and its own power, and preparing and rendering it more adapted for eternal surrender to God. And therefore the creation is suited to [the wants of] man; for man was not made for its sake, but creation for the sake of mankind... (Against, V,29,1 italics mine)
Note that he calls the soul's movement to immortality a ripening, and recognizes the human ego moving through this world of fragmentation and duality as the means for making each soul "more adapted for eternal surrender to God". This is where Buddhism enters, finding the confused and troubled soul on the edge of the soul-making mandala, providing tools for re-entry at the end of the individuation process.  The modern theologian John Hicks calls Irenaeus the first theologian to develop a soul-making perspective.[6] When Irenaeus reads Genesis 1:26, which says: "Then God spoke, 'Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness...,'" he interpreted it as the declaration of a divine soul-making process with a distinct beginning and end. Irenaeus argues that the Hebrew word "image" indicates divine potential while the word "likeness" points to divine completion (Against II, 24-26), imagining these verses to indicate a process of psycho-spiritual expansion that began with the original Adam and culminating in the Christ. He takes his idea from the Apostle Paul in the New Testament letter to the Corinthians:

The Body that is sown a natural body is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man. (I Corinthians 15:44-49)[7]

Irenaeus viewed the expulsion out of the mandalic garden center and into the world of subsequent dualistic pathological struggles to be normal and necessary, "This, therefore, was the [object of the] longsuffering of God, that man, passing through all things, and acquiring the knowledge of moral discipline...[must learn] by experience..." (Against III, 22).

            I recognize that Buddhists typically find such metaphysical conjecture about a "beginning" to be useless speculation. This is seen in the introduction to Lady of the Lotus-Born, The Life and Enlightenment of Yeshe Tsogyal:

[In]…the general Buddhist view…the mind-stream, as it occurs in every sentient being, is something endless and beginningless. It has no assignable origin…Grounded in the deluded notion of self, sentient beings seek to achieve their aims, to find happiness and avoid suffering, according to the dualistic interplay of ‘I’ and ‘other,’ self and external phenomena. But because phenomena are impermanent, this situation is intrinsically unstable. Beings therefore pass through an unending sequence of states, more or less protracted, cognized as pleasure or pain, all transient and all incapable of bringing lasting satisfaction. This process is not only unlimited, it is uncontrolled and unpredictable even though, within certain broad parameters, it is endlessly repetitive and devoid of purpose. This is the definition of samsara. As the experience of unenlightened beings, it has always been the case and, left to itself, it will continue forever. (xviii italics mine)

Two very different cosmological notions are revealed in this paragraph when comparing Buddhism to the myth of Eden found in Genesis: First, samsara or the endless cycle of painful existence for the Buddhist is "beginningless" while Genesis states that in the beginning God created the heavens, the earth and the entire world of conditions for the process of moving from the Adamic ego to the completed Christ self. Secondly, for Buddhists this dualistic worldly existence is "a process...devoid of purpose,"  while in the Irenaean view there is intentional purpose in all processive experiences of duality. Both the Buddhist and Christian would agree that the ego's propensity to discriminate between opposites causes pain and suffering.  However, the Irenaean view differs in that it views all pathological experiences as normal and necessary in order to transmute the nascent human ego-pod toward individuated completion. Irenaeus writes:

...how, if he [a human] had no knowledge of the contrary, could he have had instruction in that which is good?...For just as the tongue receives experience of sweet and bitter by means of tasting, and the eye discriminates between black and white by means of vision, and the ear recognises the distinctions of the sound by hearing; so also does the mind, receiving through the experience of both [good and evil]...But if anyone shuns the knowledge of both kinds of things, and the twofold perception of knowledge, he unawares divests himself of the character of a human being. (Against 39, 1 italics mine)[8]

            The Christian story seeks to find a cosmological explanation and reason for suffering whereas the Buddhist approach begins with the basic experiences of life's myriad afflictions. From Irenaeus' perspective, the human ego and soul-making process is conceived at the moment of dualistic perception, and the subsequent world of opposites provides a kind of gestational womb for the creation of a new kind of being. Here the human psyche has an actual beginning, experiencing stages and states of transformative develops toward a destination--akin to Aristotle's entelechial process. For most Buddhists the goal is also transformation from a state of ignorance to that of enlightenment, but there is no clear beginning or telic individuation.

            Irenaeus teaches that humans commence the soul-making process with a basic animal nature that is in need of humanizing and divinizing into a final God-like form. The human creature must move out of the garden of unconsiousness into higher realms through various experiences before he/she can reach completion. Irenaeus writes: "But if the Spirit be lacking in the soul, he who is such is indeed [comprised] of an animal nature, and being left carnal, shall be an imperfect being, possessing indeed the image [of God] in his formation, but not receiving the likeness through the Spirit" (Against 5, 6). This notion of humans containing and intermingling animalistic, humanistic and divine qualities shows up again in another mandala-like image in the Book of Revelation. The Apostle John sees a vision with the throne of God at the center surrounded by four living creatures:

In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.” (Revelation 4:6-8)

 This Christian Tetramorph is a common Christian symbol,  reminiscent of Tantric

Buddhism's six realms of being, including an Animal Realm, a Realm of Gods and a Human
Realm. These realms comprise the outer edge of their cosmic mandala or Wheel of Life,
and represent the state of the incomplete human mind. Mark Epstein suggests that we view 
these six realms “less literally and more psychologically” (17), with each of the six realms
being concerned with returning a missing piece of the human experience, restoring a         
bit of the neurotic mind from which we had become estranged. This concern with            
repossessing or reclaiming all aspects of the self is fundamental to the Buddhist notion of
the six realms (Thoughts 18). It is possible to see a beautiful symmetry between the
Christian and Buddhist views when one recognizes that exiting the mandala for personality
development is as important as reentering the mandala.

            But not everyone is willing to admit the possibility of this amicable mythical diplomacy. Most obvious are the fundamentalist Christians who allow no spiritual or psychological cross pollination between Buddhists and Christians. But even the brilliant mythologist Joseph Campbell seems to miss the larger soul-making metaphor of the mythical Eden story, calling it "a museum piece of a misinterpreted folktale" (The Mythic 147).  Campbell pokes fun at the idea of Yahweh placing cherubim with flaming swords at the entrance to Eden in order to keep Adam and Eve from getting back to the tree of life. Campbell, the ex-Catholic, calls the biblical Yahweh an "unilluminated legend...the archetypal mythical 'Hoarder,' holding to himself the gift of his grace, and his mythology...of man's exile to an earth of dust..." (147). He goes on compare what he calls this Edenic "bit of nonsense" to the Japanese Buddhist  temple-gate in Nara which is guarded by two frightening wooden statues which serve as:

...the counterparts, in the Buddhist mythic image, of the cherubim placed by Yahweh at the gate of Eden to guard the way to the tree of life...in the Buddhist world the worshipper is instructed to walk right between those two gate guardians and approach the tree without fear; whereas, as told in the Book of Genesis, our own Lord God put his cherubim there to keep the whole human race out...One is not to be intimidated by the death threat of those guardians, but to cast aside the fear of death and come through to the knowledge of one's own Buddhahood-- or...in biblical terms: one's own Godhood...it is our own attachment to our temporal lives that is keeping us out of the garden. (202-04).

Campbell seems to miss the mythical and psychological significance of the biblical cherubim by assuming that because the images bear certain similarities, they are identical "counterparts".  But if our earlier view is granted merit, then the flaming swords serve as beneficent guardians who "encourage" the journeyer to move "through the valley of the shadow of death" before returning to enter as a transformed person. These cherubim might be likened to the mother who stands at the door shouting at her teenage son, "And don't come back until you have a job!" Before one can re-enter the mandala by obliterating the ego, one must exit the mandala and develop an ego. Or in the words John Keats, "How then are souls to be made? How but by...a World of Pains and troubles...to school an Intelligence and make it a Soul...A Place where the heart must feel and suffer in a thousand diverse ways" (Keats). In this view, the cherubim with the flaming swords symbolize the psychological necessity of moving forward rather than backward. In point of mythical fact, the biblical Tree of Life is found again in the Book of Revelation at the end of the Christian narrative, where journey is associated with the alpha and the omega, a beginning and an end to the heroic adventure.[9] Both the biblical Eden myth and the Buddhist mandala are correct, but encountered at different points along the soul-making journey. The way back to the center originates from the center and moves forward by progressing out of and around the circle before returning. Jung made an error similar to Campbell's when he first encountered the Gnostics in 1918-19, elevating spirit over matter. Jung wrote, "Weakness and nothingness here [on earth], there [in the realm of spirit] eternally creative power. Here nothing but darkness and chilling moisture. There wholly sun" (Drob 25). Later in life, however, after recognizing the crucial role of living a physical life on this earth via the myriad relationships that facilitate one's personal individuation Jung wrote in Liber Primus, "this [earthly] life [of relationships] is the way, the long sought after way to the unfathomable, which we call divine. There is no other way. All other ways are false paths” (Drob 25-26). James Hillman refers to these necessary experiences of suffering as pathologizing which he describes as "the psyche's autonomous ability to create illness, morbidity, disorder, abnormality, and suffering in any aspect of its behavior and to experience and imagine life through this deformed and afflicted perspective" (Re-Visioning 57).  The Edenic story provides a mythology for pathologizing. The cherubim with the flaming swords blocking the gate remind us that once the ego separates from the Self, the way is not back, but forward and through a world of dukkha. Hillman also addresses the tendency of Westerners to disparage the archetypal value of pains and troubles by reducing Eastern psychology to a means of escape:

If I have disparaged the transcendental approaches of humanistic and Oriental psychology, it is because they disparage the actual soul. By turning away from its pathologizing they turn away from its full richness. By going upward towards spiritual betterment they leave its afflictions, giving them less validity and less reality than spiritual goals. In the name of higher spirit, the soul is betrayed...The archetypal content of Eastern doctrines as experienced through the archetypal structures of the Western psyche becomes a major and systematic denial of pathologizing. (Re-Visioning 67)

            In summary, I am suggesting that the combined mandala images of Tantric Buddhism and Edenic Christianity are complementary. The movement in a soul-making paradigm is outward from the undifferentiated hub of the cosmological circle, where the nascent ego enters into a world of duality on the edge, moving around and around the cyclical perplexities of life, eventuating in a re-entry back to the center as a transformed entity. In the words of Goethe:

As great, everlasting,
Unyielding laws
Dictate, we must all
Complete the cycles
Of our existence.

Das Göttliche (The Divine) (1783)

[1] The Vajrayana teachers say that a genuine experience of this radical notion of emptiness, or freedom from duality, would even erase the differences between samsara and nirvana.
[2] For the mandala, especially germane deities would be selected. The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Introductory Commentary by His Holiness The Dalai Lama, has a preparatory section titled, “Natural Liberation of Negativity and Obscuration through [Enactment of] the Hundredfold Homage to the Sacred Enlightened Families”.This ancillary chapter, actually containing 110 Peaceful and Wrathful Deities, requires one to physically prostrate him/herself to each of the deities with the instructions that one should “mentally admit and feel remorse for all one’s negativities and obscurations, which have been, are being and will be accumulated” (95).
[3] According to the "Scripture of the Buddha-land of Akṣobhya", a monk wished to practice the Dharma in the eastern world of delight and made a vow to think no anger or malice towards any being until enlightenment. He duly proved "immovable" and when he succeeded, he became the buddha Akṣobhya, the Immovable Buddha.
[4] Mandalas can be as simple as a plate with lines on it to hold grain offerings, to intricate colored sand mandalas, all the way up to a large tract of land. Tibet itself is understood as a Mandala with the sacred center in the capital city of Lhasa. To work this Mandala one must go on a lengthy pilgrimage, circumambulating the whole vast realm by visiting the shrines that mark the sacred locations in the Mandala and eventually making your way into the central monument in Lhasa.
[5] It must be noted here that the word “relief” is used rather than the word “escape” since Tantric or Vajrayana Yoga does not advocate escape, but rather transmutation of consciousness through moving into and through the painful experiences. Some forms of Buddhism and Gnosticism would support the notion of escape, as they view the realm of matter as a prison incarcerating spirit or mind, but that is not what Vajrayana Buddhism teaches. This is a critical distinction.
[6] Irenaeus did not develop a Soul-making theodicy per se, but as John Hick notes, "It is permissible and convenient to name this approach after Irenaeus, as its first great representative, in spite of the fact that it has not been maintained and developed in a continuity of teaching linking its origins with the present day." Evil and The Love of God, 219.
[7] Jung devotes a whole chapter in his autobiography, Memories, Dreams and Reflections, titled 'Late Thoughts," to pondering and developing the idea of Christ as the completion of the story begun in Adam.
[8] The most famous modern proponent of a similar soul-making view was Freidrich Schleiermacher in his book, The Christian Faith, where he says that the development of God-consciousness can be stimulated in us not only by pleasure, but by pain (pp. 240-245).
[9] "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city." Revelation 22:13-14