“The greatest sin is to be unconscious.” – Carl Jung
In its original meaning, from the ancient Greek and also in Hebrew, to “sin” is to miss the mark, the term drawn from the world of archery. It also has as its meaning, “to be in error.” It is pointing us to the realization of what the purpose of our human life is about – and to miss it is to be in profound error, leading to life-negating consequences.
The 20th Century Jewish theologian and mystic Abraham Heschel spoke of the origin of sin to be “in denial of the sublime wonder of life.” In other words, Heschel is saying that to fail to be conscious of our being in the midst of mystery, of Creation unfolding, and to fail to be deeply present, curious and reverent in approaching this mystery will surely cause us to miss the point of life and will have us behaving in ways that are in error – disrespectful, manipulative, exploitive and harmful. These attitudes form the precondition for egregious behavior, in other words, sin.
From this “sinful” perspective, we will objectify ourselves, others, and all that is in the world, and our relationships consequently will be conflictual and utilitarian rather than respectful and sincere. Careless and thoughtless harm generates from such an attitude. The cause of any action that could be called “sinful,” therefore, is a state of mind that is deeply in error – one that entirely misses the mark of the purpose of our existence as to be in harmony with the miracle that is Creation.
The issue of consciousness becomes relevant here in that when we look deeply at a thing, event, or a circumstance we begin to see detail, subtleties and connections not noticed by superficial looking. What might seem isolated and disconnected, upon deeper examination, may begin to reveal subtle connections, and the more deeply we are able to look, that is, the more consciousness we bring to the investigation, the more subtle and far-reaching the connections reveal themselves to be. From Jung’s depth psychology perspective, and from a Buddhist perspective, to be conscious is to see the event taking place within contexts of infinite connections without which the thing cannot exist.
In illustration of this point, Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh is known to offer the observation that this paper you hold is more than just a paper. It is also tree, soil, sun, rain, the labor and the creativity and effort of the writer, the editor, the printers, the paper millers, etc.; in fact, if you look deeply enough, you can see the entire universe and its evolutionary history happening in this interface of the paper and the person who reads it, who brings consciousness to the event of seeing. We begin to experience mystery, that is, a knowing that is both particular and vast – ultimately beyond our ability to articulate other than perhaps as poetry and metaphor. The deeply observational consciousness of modern science tells us this is true, and the deeply intuitive consciousness of the mystic has told us of this truth for thousands of years.
And so too, what happens when we look deeply at ourselves? Just as when we look deeply at what occurs seemingly outside of us, when we look deeply at and inside ourselves, we begin to be conscious of infinite subtle levels of connection, process and mystery. We begin to be conscious that this seeming separateness is an illusion. We begin to experience that inside, outside, self and other are all happening within one thing, the greatest mystery of all, consciousness itself. Now we are arriving at the definition of consciousness that Jung is addressing – consciousness examining mind happening in consciousness, where that which looks discovers it is looking at itself from across dimensions and is capable of great compassion and insight; even realizing the looking becomes like an act of prayer, a communication with the infinite petitioned by the finite. Sublime wonder and a sense of sacredness begin to arise naturally.
Much of Jung’s work focused on archetypes, that is, symbols and signs that point to deep and universal human psychic experiences, and the entire archetypal concept of God and the reasons religions exist are because of this human capacity for intuiting that consciousness is not some faculty of our separateness, but rather the vehicle of discovering our connectedness with all that is. To be unconscious in this context is to be held by the sway of the myth of our own separateness and the separateness of all that comprises life, and even to create sciences, psychologies and religions that emphasize this separateness. It is from this objectifying perspective, as Heschel observed, that we seek to make more of ourselves, to allay our terror at not being enough, by diminishing and recklessly exploiting what is perceived as not us, and the result is “sin.” The result is the missing of the mark, the great error of living in insatiable hunger to fill a hole in our sense of being, what the 17th Century scientist/theologian Blaise Pascal described as “The God Shaped Hole.”
What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself. – Blaise Pascal, Pensées VII(425)
And we ask, what is this God that can fill this hole? It certainly cannot be the conception of God that creates bloody lines of religious division throughout human history. It has to be the realization of the unity of all things within which, and as an expression of, we exist. It is the wonder that reveals itself when we look deeply enough and find, as mystics of all cultures have with their various meditative arts, that who we are is, as theologian/philosopher Alan Watts noted “the Universe peering into itself, from billions of points of view.” We are consciousness that has a human life, body and mind so as to experience existence, and the natural result of this discovery is profound and sublime wonder. Thus, finally, we reclaim our capacity to hit the mark, to be without error in our experience of this unity.
Only this wonder and discovery can fill the hole. We slowly come to realize that who we are IS consciousness and that like the energy of matter, the energy of consciousness is a fact of the Universe, and that energy of either dimension shares the common property of indestructibility. The form, the vehicle of the energy is impermanent, yet the energy itself is indestructible. We have found and hit the mark. This journey into consciousness, into sublime wonder, fills us and there is no longer a need for coercive morality policing a “sinful” nature for we no longer are in error as to who or what we are. The fear that comes with being unconscious of this truth leaves us. We are each other and we are the world and the Universe itself. There is no abyss except in our mistaken state of unconsciousness, and there is nothing to fill for we already are everything. We are the dust of stars and the consciousness of life itself journeying as a human being discovering we are, always have been and can never be anywhere but home in the vast Universe of here and now. How sublimely wondrous!