Easwaran’s Talks & Writings

Original Goodness

By Eknath Easwaran

Just half an hour’s walk from my home was a lotus pond so thickly overlaid with glossy leaves and gleaming rose and white blossoms that you could scarcely see the water. In Sanskrit this exquisite flower is called pankaja, “born from the mud.” In the murky depths of the pond a seed takes root. Then a long, wavering strand reaches upward, groping through the water toward the glimmer of light above. From the water a bud emerges. Warmed by the sun’s rays, it slowly opens out and forms a perfect chalice to catch and hold the dazzling light of the sun. 

The lotus makes a beautiful symbol for the core of goodness in every human being. Though we are born of human clay, it reminds us, each of us has the latent capacity to reach and grow toward heaven until we shine with the reflected glory of our Maker. 

Early in the third century, a Greek Father of the Church, Origen, referred to this core of goodness as both a spark and a divine seed – a seed that is sown deep in consciousness by the very fact of our being human, made in the image of our Creator. “Even though it is covered up,” Origen explains, “because it is God that has sowed this seed in us, pressed it in, begotten it, it cannot be extirpated or die out; it glows and sparkles, burning and giving light, and always it moves upward toward God.”

Meister Eckhart seized the metaphor and dared take it to the full limits it implies: “The seed of God is in us. Given an intelligent and hard-working farmer, it will thrive and grow up to God, whose seed it is, and accordingly its fruits will be God-nature. Pear seeds grow into pear trees, nut seeds into nut trees, and God-seed into God.” 

“Its fruit will be God-nature”! What promise could be more revolutionary? Yet Eckhart, like other great mystics of the Church before and after him, does no more than assure us of his personal experience. The seed is there, and the ground is fertile. Nothing is required but diligent gardening to bring into existence the God-tree: a life that proclaims the original goodness in all creation. 

The implications of this statement are far-reaching. Rightly understood, they can lift the most oppressive burden of guilt, restore any loss of self-esteem. For if goodness is our real core, goodness that can be hidden but never taken away, then goodness is not something we have to get. We do not have to figure out how to make ourselves good; all we need do is remove what covers the goodness that is already there. 

To be sure, removing these coverings is far from easy. Having a core of goodness does not prevent the rest of personality from occasionally being a monumental nuisance. But the very concept of original goodness can transform our lives. It does not deny what traditional religion calls sin; it simply reminds us that before original sin was original innocence. 

That is our real nature. Everything else – all our habits, our conditioning, our past mistakes – is a mask. A mask can hide a face completely; like that iron contraption in Dumas’s novel, it can be excruciating to wear and nearly impossible to remove. 

But the very nature of a mask is that it can be removed. This is the promise and the purpose of all spiritual disciplines: to take off the mask that hides our real face. 

This excerpt is from the Winter 2015 Blue Mountain Journal.