High on a throne of royal state, which far
East of the plains of California lettuce farmers or of ancient Eridu: where indeed is this Eden? And did the dreamers of Sumeria look towards the rising orb with the same longing as Steinbeck's lost sons and daughters? Did their fallen state echo with a poignant cry for innocence, passed down five thousand years? Was paradise their hope, their piteous lack or their most embroidered fantasy? Or was there then and equally now a place of unsullied purity wherein the waters of truth and love flow unfettered and the lion lies down with the lamb? For gold and riches of the earth many a ship has sailed forth. But many too have launched their vessel to seek the Blessed Isle or sight the shores of Arcady. Some have risked all in pursuit of Shangri-La hidden within pinnacled shrouds, whilst others have died along forgotten Gobi tracks, lost with the sands of their shifting vision, swallowed in the thirst of their dreams. Has mankind always suffered such longings? Has it ever transferred its bliss to a jewelled garden hovering in the world just beyond its reach?
One of the most intriguing passages to be found in literary archives is that in which Christopher Columbus announced to his royal patrons his supposed discovery of the ascent to the gate of the long lost Garden of Eden. He described an island mountain from whose summit he believed the mighty rivers of Eden came rushing to the sea. Though he felt certain that no one could ever reach this peak without the permission and assistance of God, he was confident that it was indeed the terrestrial paradise and he wrote of the "Mouth of the Dragon" which would have to be braved in approaching it. Navigating just off the coast of Venezuela, Columbus thought that he had reached the fabled Land of Ind (the Indus) which did, indeed, lie east of Eden. But while he mistakenly discovered a new world, Mogul rulers of the fabled land itself were preparing to build pleasure gardens patterned after that which bloomed in the paradisaic poetry of Islam. Set within the confines of a walled square, the four rivers of the world streaming within the carved sandstone channels of such cantons of delight as Shalimar or Naseem Bagh, they would enable at least the consorts of privilege to enjoy a daily blessing of paradise on earth.
Golden Age memories abound in the secret corners of the human unconscious. The idea of paradise is universally stamped in the deepest consciousness of the human race. Often conceived as a walled garden, it has also been sought in a New Jerusalem or, as in the case of the Maori and Celtic peoples, in an Avalon under the sea. Many traditions have persisted in identifying paradise as an island floating on the ocean or surrounded by a lake and rivers. Others have emphasized the mountain at its centre. All point to a condition of primordial innocence or hard-won perfection as prerequisite to their entrance, the former suggestive of a Golden Age state, the latter of a spiritual goal. In the centre of the gardens of paradise there is a tree of life, from whose roots spring the four rivers that extend out in the direction of the four cardinal points. Commonly, this tree grows at the heart of a fountain or lake often situated at the top or base of a perfectly formed mountain. Such gardens are always enclosed or surrounded by something which makes entry very difficult. But within the enclosure all is at peace, animals and human beings speaking one language and all living in harmonious accord. The wall may be invisible and the gate unseen by all except one who has the eyes to see it. Whether called the Promised Land, El Dorado, the White Isle, the Green Isle, Shamballa, Arcadia, the Elysian Fields, Eden, Olympus or Jerusalem, they are all believed to be somehow accessible, somehow within the reach of the heroic few who strive mightily to find them.
The Greek term paradeisos was first used by Xenophon, who borrowed it from the Persian word pairidaeza, which modern scholars say simply means 'around' (pairi) 'mould' (diz), pinpointing the wall enclosing the garden. This lack-lustre etymological designation could be happily set aside, but for now it is more relevant to note the importance of the idea to the ancient Persians and the fact that they, as well as the other peoples of Mesopotamia and the mountainous plateau to the north, had always looked eastward for its location. The old Semitic description spoke of the four rivers, naming the Nile, the Euphrates, the Indus and the Phison or Ganges, and spoke of Hawilah (India), the 'gold-bearing land'. Within the heart of Asia itself people such as the Yakuts of Siberia described paradise as the dwelling-place of the first man, the place of the tree whose crown is the tethering-post of God, They believed that the first man approached the tree to learn the purpose of his life. A female visible within its trunk responded to his unspoken question and told him that he was to become the father of the human race. Among the neighbouring Buriats it was said that a snake called Abyrga waited at the foot of the Zambu tree which rose out of the milk sea of Narvo, from whence sprang the four rivers. Striking parallels spring to mind between these ideas and the story of the goddesses associated with the Yggdrasil tree (under whose roots the serpent Nidhogg abides), causing one to ponder the connection between Siberian and Eddie mythologies. But the similarities persist as one travels even further afield. One is driven again and again to wonder where the idea may have found its genesis, or if it is simply a very complex but universally impressed archetype whose basic elements express themselves repeatedly according to geographical and cultural peculiarities.
Paradise might never have been conceived by anyone had it not been for the deep sense that it has somehow been lost. The bliss and innocence associated with it continue to be seen only in children, who never question their state of being but invariably grow up to suffer a sense of alienation from the wholeness of those happy days. Just as in the Siberian Altaic myth which tells of how there was no sun or moon before the first man ate the forbidden fruit of paradise, so too the child eats of the knowledge of good and evil and loses the carefree bliss of ignorance. The Cheyenne described how this happened to Sweet Medicine, who lived in a paradise of naked innocence before reaching understanding and becoming the father of their race. Once lost, there is nothing left to do but to strive to regain it. All cultures are rich in heroic tales of how it may be regained, and even the labyrinth followed on behalf of scientific discoveries seems to be only another instance of such striving. For has not modern man pinned his hopes upon technology to deliver him the bliss and general sense of shared abundance he so deeply craves? The pathways, be they physical, intellectual or metaphysical, are all pursued out of the same longing. For one man the way may lead to wealth or power, which he believes will buy him the bliss of paradise on earth; for another the search may mean worldly summit after summit climbed, or turning within in order to seek out a Mount Analogue. A common theme is the difficulty and danger encountered in this striving. Apparently, paradise lost is not easily regained and many are the dragons or serpents to be encountered in the effort.
An Icelandic myth tells of the bridge to paradise that crosses the Ganges in India and which, it relates, is guarded by a terrible dragon. The hero Eirek, deliberately wading into "the maw of the dragon" with his sword in hand, finds himself (an instant later) liberated from the gloom of the monster's interior and safely in paradise! How poignant it is that this theme, so similar to the Australian belief that one must be swallowed by a great serpent and spit up again in order to enter into the timeless state of the gods, should be echoed so confidently in Columbus's reference to the Island of Paradise and the Mouth of the Dragon nearby. One wonders if he looked upon the setting with the awed anticipation of one considering the possibilities of an actual quest culminating in initiation, or whether he was merely playing with words and symbols, hopeful of lending greater significance to his discoveries. In truth, the struggle between abdication from a personal quest conveniently supplied by the doctrine of vicarious atonement, and a genuine desire to believe in paradise even here in the world, seemed to have been warring in his breast. Columbus, like so many of his age, had already bitten the bitter crust of scepticism which would progressively sour in subsequent centuries, but he still retained the innocence of true belief, the simplicity of a child let free to explore the world.
In the misty dawn of June 18, 1767, the frigate HMS Dolphin under Captain Samuel Wallis found itself near the shore of what appeared to be a dream. Beyond a shrouded turquoise lagoon, tier upon tier of lushly wooded peaks arose above pillared coconut palms drooping and swaying in myriad-fingered grace over stands of jewelled blossoms and black volcanic sand. Towards the ship came hundreds of beautifully carved canoes "full of tall, brown, conspicuously handsome men", who gazed at them with eager curiosity. The scurvied and unwashed sailors, months out from the dingy dockside taverns of England, gaped and marvelled and wondered if they had discovered paradise. In the six weeks that they stayed in what would eventually become known to the world as Tahiti, many of them came to believe it. So simple and trustingly generous were the islanders, so good-natured and free of disease or want, the sailors were overwhelmed. Even the most cynical of them came to think that they were far happier in their way of life and their idyllic surroundings than they or any other European had ever dreamt of being. This awareness was shared by every subsequent group of Europeans who visited the island. Sadly, it did not prevent them from conducting themselves in ways that ensured the complete destruction of this happy way of life. But even as the natives were being brow-beaten with doctrines of private property and original sin, the idea grew in England and on the Continent that a paradise on earth had been found.
On the eve of his departure for Tahiti, Paul Gauguin painted what he imagined he might find there: a childlike Eve picking fruit from a tree in paradise. He described a later such subject, saying that "the riddle hiding in the depths of her childlike eyes is still incommunicable to me. . . . She is Eve after the Fall, still able to go about unclothed without being immodest, still with as much animal beauty as on the first day,... Naïvely she searches her memory for the 'why' of times past and present. Enigmatically she looks at you." By Gauguin's time much of the carefree ease of everyday life had been badly curbed through the offices of French political and ecclesiastical authority. A century earlier Louis de Bougainville had rhapsodically recorded how he felt "transported into the garden of Eden. . . . Everywhere we found hospitality, ease, innocent joy and every appearance of happiness." Gauguin was fated to seek out the remnants of this under the censorious eye of civilized opinion-makers who had decided that paradise should not be confused with the morally questionable happiness of savages. Despite this prejudice, the idea of paradise in the Pacific lingered, and a steady trickle of artists, poets and writers made their way there from European and American spiritual ghettos to seek a draught from the fount of eternal and innocent perception they hoped to find.
Mamua, when our laughter ends,
Rupert BrookeApart from the happy ease of life, visitors from the grim world outside the South Seas also noticed a childlike quality about the native people. When sailors were flogged as punishment for infractions of rules aboard various ships, the Tahitians wept at the cruelty and begged the officers to desist. But even more at the heart of their simplicity was their inability to live beyond the moment. With little concern for the past or the future, they continued to repeat experiences in a changeless cycle shared by all and passed down from generation to generation. Millennia before, they had set out upon the ocean from Southeast Asia. When they happened upon an island which pleased them, they settled down to a life usually peaceful and always uneventful. Alone through the ages, they ceased to imagine a world beyond the neighbouring islands, and with the climate barely changing through the seasons, they scarcely took note of time. In a world overbrooded by an impersonal Deity with lesser gods and spirits closer at hand, they had no concept of a devil or a hell and felt required only to show reverence to gods through kindness and unselfishness with each other. Possessing everything communally, they knew no envy or avarice but worked and played together in a way that made laughing banter out of both. Thoughtful visitors watched and marvelled at their lack of questioning, their lack of doubt and indecision, of introspection or serf-conscious creativity. Was this the innocence of paradise, the bliss of a Golden Age? If so, then how had the rest of the world to account for the development of discriminating intellect and individuation that had been accompanied by such heightened powers of reasoning as well as increased mental suffering? Did the South Sea Islanders represent a human ideal or had they yet to go through the pain of serf-conscious realization? By the time people seriously asked the question, their innocence and their way of life was already a thing of the past.
I am as free as Nature first made man,
In his inspired epic on the fall from paradise, Milton described Lucifer's arrival at the zenith of the outermost shell of the globe where, directly beneath the stairway leading to heaven, he saw an orifice permitting a passage to the seat of paradise on the way down through the starry orbs to earth. Milton's Heaven of Heavens is quite different from paradise, "where redeemed souls may choose to dwell", and both seem to be either side of an orifice associated with the pole-star lined up with the North Pole of the earth. Many traditions have hinted at a linking pillar or column between the celestial and terrestrial paradise, and some have envisioned the linking axis running from the celestial through the terrestrial paradise down through the globe to the realm of Hades associated with the South Pole. Milton seems to have intuited such a connection when he described how Satan could view the three gates leading to heaven, earth and hell simultaneously. All this would strongly suggest a northerly location of an earthly paradise, and indeed there is no dearth of support for such an idea.
The Chinese, in speaking of the inferior gods surrounding paradise, seem to have been describing the Pleiades that circle the pole-star, while in the Hindu tradition the sacred Ganga is said to travel seven times around Meru in its descent from the abode of the Seven Rishis of the Great Bear. In terms of the Hindu varshas, Bharata describes the subcontinent above which rises the Himavat and a series of varshas culminating in that of Illavrita, which rests at the top of the world. Here, according to the Puranas, Sumeru rises, its four faces of Brahma marking the cardinal points from whose 'mouths' flow the four rivers. Sumeru, the 'beautiful axis', is opposite Kumeru, its 'infernal' counterpart, easily suggesting a polar location for those whom the Greeks called the Hyperboreans. In the latter tradition the idea of Hyperborea, the ultima Thule, fascinated early writers including Homer, whose description of Odysseus' voyage includes a visit to the North Pole as well as to the underworld. Called the 'navel' of the world, which literally means a 'mountain rising', and though its emblem can be found at such sacred places as Delphi, the archetypal form was believed to rise at the umbilical point where the terrestrial and celestial worlds are generationally connected.
A year of mortals is a day and a night of the gods, or regents of the universe seated around the North Pole.
Code of Manu
It is difficult to warm up to the notion that paradise could rest in the icy North but strong arguments do seem to favour it. Where else on the globe could a year of mortals be experienced as a day and a night? One of the most convincing ideas is that which places the axes of these various worlds in alignment, whether one wishes to imagine an actual terrestrial paradise or one hovering midway between heaven and earth. In considering other locations on the globe, one wonders if they are simply analogues that have lived vividly in people's minds and even shifted from time to time with migrations and new ideas. Or are there truly sacred places in the world, perhaps closer to the equatorial belt than we would think, where one might suddenly find oneself in the presence of eternal bliss and innocence? In the Semitic tradition Eden is usually identified with the Plain of Eden in Babylonian times. Could it have been located at Eridu, a city of magical virtues containing a famous oracle tree? Was this the place that inspired Enoch's dream, or was that dream drawn only from the Akashic realm where timeless bliss commands? All the myths of creation, paradise, the Fall and the Flood found in the Semitic tradition are of Babylonian origin and can possibly be traced back further through the Sumerians.
It is likely that the name of the Akkadian capital, Akkad, provided the inspiration for the Greek term 'Arkadia' and acted as a channel through which these ideas flowed into the western Mediterranean. But this would merely be a relatively recent transmission and many other linguistic and symbolic clues point to an older, more easterly, origin. The earlier non-Semitic Sumerians might have brought such ideas with them when they came into Mesopotamia from India around 4000 B.C. For it is among them that the story of the god Yaw who planted a garden in Eden to the east seems to have first originated.
Paradise was in the Orient . . .
St. Thomas Aquinas
It is, perhaps, significant that in China and Southeast Asia the Pure Land of paradise is assigned to the west. None of the Asian peoples of the Far East looked out over the Pacific in hopes of glimpsing its sacred tree and mountain. Like an enclosing ring, the myths and lore of people throughout Asia, Siberia, the Middle East, eastern and northern Europe, all point to a location somewhere near the Himalayas or in Central Asia to the north. If the evidence for a super-terrestrial paradise at the North Pole is strong, that for the location of a worldly paradise somewhere in the Himalayan region is overwhelming. A few scholars have drawn some interesting connections between names like Sumeru and Sumer, pointing out that the ancient Sumerians are believed to have come from the upper Indus River, whose name, Yav-Ya, simply means 'River of God'. The cuneiform writing on certain seals from the Harappan civilization as well as from Sumer tell of Kanwe, a Brahmin priest-enchanter, and of the great mountain Meru. Harappan records were later substantiated by Alexander the Great and Aristotle, who both spoke of an Indus-Nile hydrographic system wherein the Indus and the Ganges swung variously through Lemuria and Arabia to feed into the Tigris and the Euphrates as well as the Nile. This, it could be argued, might account for the inclusion of the Mesopotamian rivers in the four originating from paradise. Other linguistic evidence traces the name Eden back to the Sanskrit Gau-Edin associated with the vale of Kashmir. This is particularly fruitful, as a proliferation of closely related words seems to have spun off into Tibet (Gan-Edin), Egypt (Gin-Aden) and Persia (Gan-Hedon) through the Sumerian-Akkadians (Gu-Edin), The Greeks, picking up the term Hedon from the Persians, gave the world the idea of 'hedonism', coming from their word for pleasure, an interesting if rather double-edged cultural transmission.
While Gan-Hedon refers to a 'garden of pleasure', pairidaeza is assumed merely to emphasize its surrounding wall. There is, however, a much more significant possible origin for this latter term. The ancient Parthians, using the word 'Parada' for 'Bharata', referred to Kashmir as the Land of Parada and called its kings by that name. In the Indian epics Kashmir was considered to be the home of the wise Maga who carried their arcane teachings to the four corners of the world. According to Indo-Sumerian records, these were 'Tire worshippers', the Magi of the East who brought their religion to the Middle East long before the time of Zarathustra. Tradition claims that they travelled to far distant lands and that their influence was responsible for the striking similarities in paradise myths as far flung as Scandinavia and Japan. In any event, the name for the Celtic Elysium, Mag-Mar, is certainly suggestive of a reference to them if not to their actual presence.
This is the Land of Uttarakuru, the Land of the Blessed so beautifully described in the Mahabharata. The great classical Sanskrit poet Kalidasa wrote of it in the "Cloud Messenger", sketching in limpid words a mount-encircled lake wherein clouds like heavenly wings in reflection floated. "Now on the mountain's side", he penned, "behold the city of the gods impend. . . . Thy goal behold where Ganga's winding rill skirts, like a costly train, the sacred hill." Of Kailas the poet writes, and Lake Manasasarova at its foot. Just as the Yambo tree of life was said to grow to the south of Mount Meru, so also the soma tree was said to grow in the middle of the lake south of Mount Kailas in the trans-Himalayan chain. It is difficult to know whether the upper Indus associated with the possible home of the Sumerians refers to the Land of Parada (Kashmir) or to the Himalayan valleys southwest of Mount Kailas. That a mythical and religious connection exists between Kailas and Meru there can be no doubt.
It is also clear that the four great holy rivers of the world have been thought to have their source in Manasasarova Lake. Given the barrenness of the Himalayan valleys leading towards Kailas, it would seem plausible that, in more recent millennia at least, the Garden of Paradise was indeed identified with Kashmir, while its mountain and lake was and still is believed to be represented by holy Kailas and Manasasarova.
The four rivers of paradise in the trans-Himalayan tradition are the Indus, the Ganges, the Tsanpo (Brahmaputra) and the Sutlej. They flow from the mouths of the four sacred animals: the lion, the cow, the horse and the elephant. In the Semitic scheme the Nile answers for the Indus, and the Tigris and Euphrates for the Tsanpo and Sutlej. The sacred animals are once again represented, the Phison (or Ganges) pouring forth from an angel's instead of a cow's mouth, and the Nile being associated with the lion, as would seem consistent if the reports of Alexander the Great and Aristotle are to be given any weight. Of no small interest is the physical fact that the Indus and the Sutlej do indeed take their source at Kailas, while the Tsanpo makes its beginning but a short distance away. The Ganges flows with roaring freshness from Gomuck Cave (the Cow's Mouth) on the southern side of the Himalayas, removing its immediate source from the Kailas range, but the glacier from which it gathers its force is but a cloud itself, barely shifted from the mirror of Manasasarova's waters. Thus in the mundane world the reflection of an ideal realm is impressed. It is not difficult to understand why so many have risked life and limb and even sanity in order to seek out the sacred precinct in which this is believed to reside. The harrowing journeys over icy and desolate mountain passes, the close calls with bandits, starvation, altitude sickness and madness - none of these things have deterred those whose eyes ever seek for paradise. Over the next mountain pass, over the next range - surely it will be found there!
Neither by taking ship,
It is in the heavenly lake of the soul that the tree of soma grows. And the mountain within rises up above it between thine eyes, Lanoo. There on that mountain of paradise Shiva dwells. Locked in meditation he bears within his cosmic mind the timeless, pure innocence of unsullied and eternal Truth. There, above the storms of longing, the obsessions with finding paradise in the world, He resides in perfect calm. O poor humanity, poor wayfarers who trudge the roads and seaways waiting for the vision to burst suddenly upon their senses. How many lives have been spent in this search and how little it has garnered. But do not doubt of paradise, for it surely exists. Like Lucifer in Milton's poem, man can mount to the gate of the celestial world and there view the entrances to heaven and paradise and hell. One may find this at the foot of Kailas or within one's closet in secret, for that which exists in the realm of archetypal ideation finds its reflection in the world. What is critical and requires the highest powers of discrimination is the ability to recognize the noumenon mirrored in the reflection and to avoid being caught in the psychic rapture of the image itself. A wise man avoids the paradise of the physical senses because he knows it is short-lived indeed. He avoids also the paradise of the astral senses with its sweetly dreaming devachan. The paradise he seeks is the bliss of unwavering Truth, the pinnacled state of ever being consciously one with that which is in harmony with every intelligent monad in the cosmos. He is the tree in paradise whose fruitful wisdom lies beyond good and evil and from whose watered roots flow forth the rippling echoes of the Divine Word.
To the gate of Paradise I would go