Perhaps the most often quoted story in the world is the story of Adam and Eve. One mystery surrounding the story is about the forbidden fruit. Everyone knows Eve offered Adam an Apple but why the apple is enshrined in our culture as the fruit in question may be important. The text actually says it is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, at least eating from the tree gives one knowledge of good and evil. Apparently we couldn’t handle that information, so we inserted an apple. Better visual.
Certainty about what is good and what is evil has plagued religions, cultures and consciences ever since. We fill our prisons with bad people so those on the outside can feel good. Straights know gays are bad, whites are legendary in the pursuit of superiority over darker colors, men and women, define good and evil in charming and vicious ways. These polarities, these good vs. evil conflicts, exemplify what is frequently called dualistic thinking.
Spiritual writers try to break down this certitude that my color/tribe/orientation/gender/religion/ football team is good and yours is therefore if not evil, certainly inferior. I include football team because sports create fanatical (literally, fan is short for fanatic) allegiance because of a primitive allegiance to the good and revulsion for evil. We all harbor a secret wish that everyone would be issued jerseys at birth so we could more easily tell who is good and who is bad. Not only Santa needs to know.
Parables are literary forms that destroy dualistic thinking. They are not moral exhortation or even judgments. Parables force us to be what every therapeutic and spiritual tradition encourages: non- judgmental non-dual thinking. Parables are a different literary genre from stories, even though they appear similar. Stories transport you to an alternate universe think Harry Potter. They can be escapist (my local librarian says 90% of her traffic is for fiction). They can be many genres and have a great deal of value besides the innocent pleasure of exploring possibility without consequence.
Parables are of somewhat sterner stuff. Enneagram students know that each Enneagram style creates a particular model of the universe out of which we operate and show up in the world. Eights know life is a battleground while Sevens enjoy the pleasant conviction that this is a recreational universe. Fours are sure they are just visitors slightly miscast in a melodrama. Parables have as their literary purpose the destruction of a worldview, either of an individual or a culture. They do not create an alternate scenario, they dont irrigate virtue; they just tell us we are wrong. Parables insist on mystery but do not offer clues on how to explore the mystery.
Allow me several examples. The first one everyone sort of knows. If a shepherd has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the 99 and go in search of the one? (Matthew 18:12) In context, the parable is a response to his disciples arguing about who is going to be saved. The parable is a refutation not of one side or view or the other, but of the argument. If you have good and evil, then it is important to know which is which, but in non-dual, non- judgmental thinking, the discussion is meaningless. Everyone is of infinite value, so the shepherd goes after you. If one treats this as advice on how to be a shepherd, it quickly becomes absurd. If you are teaching a class and one student is late and you go looking for him, when you return, all is chaos.
One of the most helpful parables to relate non-dual thinking to Enneagram styles is the parable of the wheat and the tares.
The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from? He answered, An enemy has done this. The slaves said to him, Then do you want us to go and gather them? But he replied, No; for in gathering weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn. (Matthew 13:24-30)
A common dualist understanding would divide the world into good and evil. Present company/church/nation etc. is nicely represented by the good seed and bad people are the bad seed. They are the weeds and will burn in hell. (Technical note: weeds were always burned for fuel, they were not entirely worthless).
But the genius of the parable is that we are the field and we have good and evil alike within us. We are not to try to pull out all our weeds. In Enneagram terms, we are not given the task of not being our Enneagram style. Being our number is neither good nor bad and if we were, by dint of therapy, drugs and muscular virtue, to root out all traces of our Enneagram style, we would destroy ourselves.
The parables intent is to weaken or destroy our dualistic thinking process that would divide good and evil, good and bad people, and good and bad within us. Non-dualist thinking is just opposite of moralizing, exhorting to virtue and promising rewards and threats for our good and bad behavior.
One fine parable that breaks down our expectations and judgments about what is good and what is evil is from the Taoist tradition.
Once there was a Chinese farmer who had a mare of which he was very proud. He was the envy of the entire village. But one day a wild stallion came and took the mare away. His friends all commiserated with him, You are so unlucky, you lost the finest working horse in the area. The farmer merely replied, Well, you never know. A few weeks later, the stallion, along with the farmers mare and three others, came into the farmers corral looking for food. Now his neighbors waxed enthusiastic. You are so fortunate, having so many horses. But the farmer merely responded, Well, you never know. The next day his son went out to break the wild horses and broke his leg in the effort. His friends again lamented, Your son, your helper and delight can no longer work with you. You are the most unfortunate of men. The farmer merely replied, Well, you never know. The very next week a general came in from the front lines where his troops were fighting valiantly, but he was losing. He came into the village and demanded every able-bodied man to join the army. But, of course, with a broken leg, the son could not go. His friends were muttering about his good luck, but the farmer merely said, Well, you never know.
One of the functions of an ego structure, an Enneagram style, is to know what is real and so make judgments about what is good and what is bad, who is good and who is bad. We are up the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
But parables weaken that certitude. They say, We never know.