Jesus Wrestling with Satan

The Brothers Karamazov (1880)
Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881)

Dostoevsky’s story is a perfect example of how people contained in an unconscious paradigm suffer because they accept illusion as truth. Few of us suspect that our delusional beliefs, attitudes and values are the source of our anxiety and misery. Dostoevsky himself was mesmerized by his religion and therefore created characters that were likewise programmed for self-destructive behaviors.

Looking at this story from the perspective of P-A, we see a much different reality than the one seen by the author and his characters. To understand what unconsciousness looks and sounds like we have only to read this novel. Experiencing through Dostoevsky’s characters the madness prevailing in 19th century Russia begs the question of: How have things changed? Since the basic dysfunctional nature of the people in the former Russia remain unchanged, only the details of the collective consciousness have altered—the madness remains. Not just for the Russia of the 21st century, of course.

Dostoevsky is regarded as a master storyteller because he portrays vivid and powerful images of the universal human condition. The Brothers Karamazov (1880) is a mirror that reflects back to its readers, no matter what century they live in, an image that is familiar to all of us.  Observe.

First, an overview of the story reveals that it was, “Plotted as a sensational, intriguing detective story about the search for Fyodor Karamazov’s murderer, it is also a profound inquiry into the great questions of psychology, philosophy, and theology.”[i]  Dostoevsky didn’t realize that his story was an inquiry into the even greater questions of the Where, Who and Why of human existence itself.

It is up to us to uncover those answers for ourselves. What we are looking for transcends mere intellectual questions but the revelation of why humanity has been unable to awaken to the deeper truths of life. “The Karamazov case bares the great difficulty that human reason has in determining truth. The cause of reason’s limitation is the very nature of human beings.”[ii]  As we shall see, we cannot rely on our intellect alone to grasp the significance of this great storyteller.

At the beginning of the story we learn that Fyodor Karamazov is an unfeeling man whose life consists of making money and seducing women. “He pursues money to ensure his security, and he pursues women and drink to ensure his pleasure [sensation] [emphasis added].”[iii]  Fyodor has one son, Dmitri, by his first wife and two more, Ivan and Alyosha, by his second wife. When their mothers died he sent them away to live with friends and relatives.

At the beginning of the novel, Dmitri is a 28-year-old soldier and has just returned to Fyodor Karamazov’s town. Since Dmitri has a claim on his mother’s inheritance, Fyodor is not happy to see him. Ivan, who lives in the town, is called in to help resolve the conflict that Dmitri and Fyodor are having over the inheritance. The 20-year-old Alyosha who also lives in the town is an acolyte (apprentice) to the elder Zosima at the monastery. Alyosha arranges a meeting with Zosima, Dmitri and Fyodor to help resolve the conflict.

At the meeting, Fyodor makes a fool of himself by mocking the monks and telling vulgar stories. Dmitri arrives late and a shouting match between Dmitri and Fyodor reveals that in addition to the conflict over the inheritance they are both in love with and competing for the same woman, Grushenka. Dmitri left his fiancée, Katerina to pursue Grushenka and Fyodor has promised Grushenka 3000 rubles to become his lover. Coincidently, Dmitri stole 3000 rubles from Katerina to finance his trip with Grushenka and desperately wants to pay it back.

Dmitri demonstrates the tragedy of not having a profound contextual narrative to help us understand our own behaviors. “He is impulsively good and impulsively wicked. He is at times brave and generous, yet at other moments he is unable to control passion or anger. He is at a loss to explain his behavior.”[iv]  Dmitri is doomed to suffer because he has no understanding or control over his false-self identity and its reactions and no inkling that he could choose response over reaction and lessen the disaster of his unconscious conditioning.

Next we learn that Fyodor had years earlier fathered a fourth son, Smerdyakov, with a retarded mute girl who lived in the town. Fyodor never treats Smerdyakov as a son and Smerdyakov develops a strange and malicious personality. Smerdyakov enjoys listening to Ivan’s philosophical discussions especially those ideas that the soul is immortal, hence, morality does not exist and that good and evil are irrelevant to human experience.

After the scene in the monastery, Dmitri sends Alyosha to break off his engagement with Katrina. Later Alyosha gets caught in the middle of an argument between Dmitri and Fyodor over Grushenka during which Dmitri throws Fyodor to the ground and threatens to kill him.

The next day Alyosha visits Katerina and finds Ivan there and perceives that they love each other. Alyosha has dinner with Ivan who explains that he cannot reconcile the idea of a loving God with the needless suffering of innocent people (the theodicy question). He recites a prose poem he has written called “The Grand Inquisitor,” in which he accuses Christ of placing a burden on people by guaranteeing free will and the ability to choose whether or not to believe in God.

That evening, Alyosha returns to the monastery to find Zosima on his deathbed. Zosima’s final lesson emphasizes the importance of love and forgiveness in all human interactions. Many monks expect Zosima’s death to be accompanied by a miracle but when his corpse begins to stink, his critics take it to mean that he was corrupt and unreliable in life. Alyosha is upset to see his dear friend, the wise and loving Zosima, humiliated in death.

Alyosha visits Grushenka and a sympathetic understanding helps Grushenka begin her own spiritual redemption. That night Alyosha has a dream in which Zosima tells him that he has done a good deed in helping Grushenka which strengthens Alyosha’s compassion and resolve to continue to help others.

Days later Dmitri finds that Grushenka is not at home and assumes that she has gone to be with Fyodor but does not find her there. He encounters and strikes the old servant Grigory leaving him unconscious. He flees to Grushenka’s house and learns that she has gone to rejoin a lover who abandoned her several years before. Dmitri decides to kill himself after he sees Grushenka one last time.

Dmitri has failed to raise the 3000 rubles that he owes Katerina but inexplicably strolls into a shop with his shirt bloody and a large wad of cash. He buys food and wine and leaves to find Grushenka and her lover. When Grushenka sees the two men together she realizes that she loves Dmitri. Later while Grushenka and Dmitri are planning their wedding the police burst in and arrest Dmitri for the murder of his father. Dmitri says that the money he has was what he had left after spending half of the 3000 rubles that he had stolen from Katrina. Since no one believes him he is imprisoned while awaiting trial.

Smerdyakov tells Ivan that he committed the murder blaming Ivan’s philosophical lessons regarding the impossibility of evil in a world without a God. Consumed with guilt Ivan suffers a nervous breakdown after returning home. Alyosha arrives with the news that Smerdyakov has hung himself.

At the trial, Ivan causes confusion by asserting that he himself is guilty. To help Ivan, Katerina reveals a letter from Dmitri in which he wrote that he was afraid that he might one day kill his father. The jury finds Dmitri guilty and he returns to prison to await his exile in Siberia.

After the trial, Katerina takes Ivan to her house to help him through his illness. Dmitri forgives Katerina and she arranges for him to escape from prison and flee to America with Grushenka. Alyosha’s close friend Ilyusha dies and Alyosha gives a speech to the schoolboys at the funeral. The story ends with the schoolboys giving Alyosha a cheer after he urges them to remember the love they feel for one another and to treasure the memories of their friendships.

Dostoevsky was a “religious” person and some of the absurd behaviors and beliefs of an unconscious person contained in such a paradigm are revealed in his characters. Dmitri exemplifies how a belief in sin can influence one’s life. Dmitri “is dominated by his passions, but unlike Fyodor Pavlovich, he feels genuine remorse for the sins he has committed and gradually comes to hope that his soul can be redeemed through suffering.”[v]

The profound identity one has in P-A precludes a belief in sin and therefore any need of redemption. There is no culpability for anyone in a context of consciousness but rather the reality is that all people do the best they can, given the circumstances of their lives. The true tragedy of a belief in sin is that it is an illusion—and to put that in religious terms, it separates one from God. Only a God incapable of unconditional love would require redemption. The Universe of P-A is perfect in its beauty and flawless in its functioning. In short, the Universe is a friendly place.

Dostoevsky uses Dmitri to represent the human condition which makes Dimitri’s worldview and identity crucial in understanding the central philosophical questions the author wishes to address. “If Dmitri is guilty, then, in a sense, mankind is guilty, and the novel will end in despair. But if Dmitri is innocent, there is still hope, and the novel can end optimistically.”[vi]

The novel questions the moral orientation of human nature by asking whether humankind is fundamentally good and innocent, or evil and guilty or, in effect, whether our identity is that of a True self or a false self. The truth is that in the process of Self-realization all pairs of opposites are transcended. In short, there is no good vs. evil, no sin and therefore no Satan, no Hell and no vengeful god. All of the aforementioned are aspects of the illusion of P-B. An unconscious person like an insane person cannot logically or morally be held guilty for a crime in the ultimate sense. Punishment for breaking the laws of a community is one thing but doctrines such as original sin and eternal damnation are nonsensical in P-A.

Ivan is afflicted with different illusions than Dimitri regarding religion but as with all illusions, they are self-destructive. “Ivan is plagued by religious doubt, and he oscillates between outright atheism and belief in a malevolent God. His forceful arguments about God’s cruelty toward mankind are compelling, but after they lead to the murder of his father, they drive him into madness.”[vii]

The God that Ivan struggles with is, of course, a projection of his own false self and in effect he is wrestling with himself. The suffering of humanity that troubles him is created by that same humanity, a reality that few of us want to take responsibility for. Hence, Ivan flees from himself, a behavior that can indeed lead to madness because we cannot escape our own self-created reality.

Ivan depends on his intellect and logic to answer the questions that torment him, and we know that the intellect is ill-prepared for profound responses to such questions. “Is Christianity or socialism salvation for humanity? Is the church fated to outlive and replace the state, or will the state make the church redundant and obsolete? If there is no God, is everything and anything lawful? Unable to resolve such questions, the intellect alternates endlessly between confidence and doubt.”[viii]

Smerdyakov twists the illusion of religion in still another direction. “He is particularly interested in discussing philosophy with Ivan, whose advocacy of an antireligious amorality paves the way for Smerdyakov to murder Fyodor Pavlovich.”[ix]  Belief in “antireligious amorality” does not make a person “bad” any more than religious morality would make them “good.” Dostoevsky needs an explanation for Smerdyakov’s behavior and does not have the deeper understanding that modern psychology would provide to give a more profound explanation of Smerdyakov’s violence.

Zosima is the healthiest of Dostoevsky’s characters and “is filled with an ardent and sincere faith. And supposedly this faith gives him extraordinary insight into the minds of people he meets.”[x]  Wherever Zosima’s “insights into the minds of people” comes from it isn’t his faith. He seems to have an intuitive understanding of people and an extraordinary empathy.

This is the nature of Zosima himself and he would have that whether he was a priest or an agnostic. Dostoevsky is prone to attribute power to religious faith that it does not have thus distorting his story into a fantasy upon which he projects his own desires—his own fanciful illusions.

Fyodor Pavlovich is one of the most vivid examples in literature of the destructive influence of the sensation center of the false self. “Coarse, vulgar, greedy, and lustful, Fyodor Pavlovich lives a life devoted exclusively to the satisfaction of his senses, with no thought for those whom he betrays or hurts.”[xi]

It is important that we don’t label Fyodor Pavlovich “evil” because, again, he was a product of his environment and his own intrinsic, inherited characteristics, his own combination of nature plus nurture. He did what we all do from earliest childhood as he constructed his survival strategy which included seeking security and power but was dominated by his extreme need for sensation experiences which included affection and esteem and probably multiple process and substance addictions.

In the behavior of Lise Khokhlakov, we see the extreme behavior associated with religious guilt, which can cause paranoia and self-loathing disproportionate to “normal” behavior. “Lise lapses into a kind of self-destructive despair, in which she pathetically crushes her fingernail in a door in an attempt to punish herself for wickedness.”[xii]  Dostoevsky, a deeply religious man, has unwittingly created an indictment of religion—which from the objective viewpoint of a reader not mesmerized by religious faith—can be seen as a source of much human suffering.

Even those who are not “religious” in Dostoevsky’s story are caught up in the reactions caused by religion. Rakitin considers himself above religion but is a person nevertheless “whom Alyosha considers a friend, but who secretly despises him. Deeply threatened by Alyosha’s apparently genuine moral purity, Rakitin secretly longs to see Alyosha become corrupted.”[xiii]  Rakitin’s “religion” is “anti-religion” which is worse since it lacks even the pretense of goodness. His anti-religious delusion is just as self-destructive as the religion-based illusions of each of the other characters.

Many of us identify with Alyosha because at times we sense “goodness” in ourself, which is the essence of our own True-self identity. “Alyosha is naturally good; his love of his fellow human beings is simply a part of his personality, and he rarely has to struggle against temptation or doubt.”[xiv]  In other words Alyosha has experienced the intuitive insight that the universe is friendly—a glimpse, however brief, into the Absolute. He has faith in a friendly, loving God. His non-reactivity to the people and circumstances of his life shows the acceptance of that which naturally leads to the response of compassion because “he tends to react calmly [when] other characters are driven by passion. Alyosha is not judgmental and has an uncanny ability to understand the psychology of others [and] he practices universal forgiveness.”[xv]

Alyosha exemplifies two critical metaphysical distinctions that face all of us. The difference between emotion and feeling and that between response and reaction. As those distinctions become clear to us we know we are making progress in our own process of Self-realization.

Ivan acts as a foil to Alyosha in that he lives in a decidedly unfriendly universe. He has fallen into the classic trap that ensnares many agnostics and atheists. Dostoevsky has created the intellectual who “thinks” himself into despair. “Ivan is a brilliant student with an incisively analytical mind, and his intelligence is directly to blame for his descent into despair. Unable to reconcile the horror of unjust human suffering with the idea of a loving God, Ivan is consumed with doubt and argues that even if God does exist, he is malicious and hostile, and loves to torture mankind. Ivan is trapped in his own logic.”[xvi]

We would say Ivan is not trapped in his own logic as much as he is trapped in P-B. We cannot in any case think our way to Self-realization—it is not an intellectual process. And as Ivan tries to do this he suffers a “subsequent collapse into hallucination and madness.”[xvii]  Ivan is caught midstream in an unconscious attempt to shift paradigms. He senses that the religious paradigm of Alyosha is not profound enough to represent the truth that he is looking for and yet he is unable to find a more satisfying narrative context for himself.

Dmitri, on the other hand represents an almost Oriental worldview. “Dmitri has lived a life torn between sin and redemption and comes to hope that his soul can be redeemed through suffering.”[xviii]  As Buddha recognized, life is suffering and a profound insight into the nature of that suffering can indeed lead to “redemption” but not the redemption that Dmitri envisions and not for the reasons that he believes.

Dmitri experiences a pseudo-redemption, and “Dmitri’s redemption represents the novel’s optimistic conclusion about the nature of mankind.”[xix]  Dostoevsky’s understanding about the nature of mankind was very limited since there is little to be optimistic about concerning an unconscious humanity engaged in ultimate self-destruction. But P-B and unconscious characters make for a wonderfully dramatic story when skillfully told and reveals much about the author, his times and the universal causes of human suffering.

Faith and Doubt

“The central philosophical conflict of The Brothers Karamazov is the conflict between faith and doubt.”[xx]  Dostoevsky is obviously a champion of faith but those of us seeking to become self-reliant skeptics must reject P-B after realizing its toxic effects and be willing to risk changing to a context that scares most of the rest of humanity into psychic paralysis.

One can fear the rejection of religion with good reason. “Doubt refers to the kind of logical skepticism that Ivan Karamazov practices, which in pursuing the truth through the logical examination of evidence, lends itself to the rejection of God, the rejection of conventional notions of morality, a coldness toward mankind, and a crippling inner despair.”[xxi]  Ivan was not ready for the more challenging aspects of Self-realization. He was not yet contained in P-A, nor had he achieved the profound identity necessary to understand why he was having a reaction to the religion of his culture.

“Faith in the novel refers to the positive, assenting belief in God practiced by Zosima and Alyosha, which lends itself to an active love of mankind, kindness, forgiveness, and a devotion to goodness … a life of faith is happier than a life of doubt.”[xxii]  Dostoevsky is mesmerized by his religion, and we all recognize that if faith transformed people in the way he portrays, the world would be a very different place than we experience it today.

In the context of P-A, “awareness” (the Universe is friendly) could be a synonym for faith and “unconsciousness” a synonym for doubt. Awareness has compassion as a corollary because “the more honest a person’s faith is, the more easily that person will understand fellow human beings.”[xxiii]  Truly understanding one’s fellow human beings and why they suffer cannot fail to engender feelings of compassion (literally “to suffer with”).

Doubt can affect human behavior in a particularly self-destructive way. “Whereas Alyosha and Zosima love humankind because of their faith, the doubt that Ivan and Katerina feel makes them fatalistic. They see human nature as unchangeable, and therefore view people’s lives as predetermined.”[xxiv]  A belief in the ability of Self-transformation is at the heart of Self-realization.

The misery so prominent in today’s human condition is driven by the inability to shift to more wholesome beliefs, attitudes and values. “Dostoevsky shows how a kernel of doubt can spread through a person’s character, transforming itself into a defensive pride that renders the person unable to be honest, happy, or capable of pursuing happiness.”[xxv]

Free Will

Dostoevsky is not afraid to tackle the most controversial of philosophical questions. The Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov, Book V, explores Christ’s biblical rejection of the three temptations (plenty, pleasure and power) offered to him by Satan and concludes that Christ was wrong to have rejected them, since his rejection won free will for humanity, but took away security. Free will can be seen as a curse because it places a crippling burden on humanity to voluntarily reject the securities, comforts, and protections of the world in favor of the uncertainties and hardships of religious belief. Ivan argues that most people are too weak to make this choice and are therefore doomed to unhappy lives that end in eternal damnation.

The Grand Inquisitor’s arguments are appropriate for a P-B context but cannot stand up under the heat generated by the light of P-A. Free will, Satan, security and damnation are all illusions in the context of Simple Reality. Dostoevsky and all his characters are lost in the maze of their own inability to see reality let alone accept life as it is. The developmental immaturity of the 19th century has changed little as we enter the 21st.  Free will is attained once we reach Self-realization but it is not the free will of Dostoevsky’s ego. We no longer need the security, pleasurable comforts and the mirage of power offered by the world; and indeed we understand them to be the very source of our suffering.

Religion is also a cause of human suffering because it is rife with unconsciousness. Jesus was not rejecting “securities, comforts and protections” he was rejecting the delusional survival strategy of the false self. Christians do not even understand the most fundamental principles of Jesus’ teaching and consequently do not benefit from the “good news” that was the heart of his gospel.

Most of humanity is still caught up in the Dostoevsky’s worldview whether it’s Ivan’s atheistic cynicism, Dmitri’s sinful guilt or Alyosha’s childish naiveté. Institutionalized religion whether accepted or resisted is a trap that will hold the soul captive and prevent the growth that will lead to true redemption (awareness). We will not find “resurrection” through religious faith but awareness beyond it. Only then will the soul be truly free.

Responsibility, Doubt and Delusion

Now we take a deeper look at free will itself. First in relation to sin, culpability and punishment. Dostoevsky believes that “people should not judge one another, should forgive one another’s sins, and should pray for the redemption of criminals rather than their punishment.”[xxvi]  The reason for this belief is expressed through the character Zosima. “Zosima explains that this loving forgiveness is necessary because the chain of human causation is so interwoven that everyone bears some responsibility for the sins of everyone else.”[xxvii]  Zosima’s worldview seeing humankind woven into a web of interconnected, interrelated and interdependent relationships echoes the Oneness of Simple Reality but, alas, is not the worldview of Dostoevsky.

Neither the atheists and agnostics in Russian society nor the Orthodox believers would have found Oneness an acceptable foundation for their worldview. “The idea of shared responsibility is abhorrent to characters in the novel who doubt God and Christianity.”[xxviii]  In other words the worldview of Oneness threatens the Russian belief in P-B, an unfriendly God in a hazardous Universe or indeed a non-existent God in an indifferent Universe.

Dostoevsky in his novel is trying to make the case for Christian faith and against atheistic doubt. He does this with Ivan who believes that he is responsible only for himself. “Ivan’s arguments counter a belief in mutual responsibility, since he believes that without God or an afterlife, there is no moral law. In a world in which the absence of God makes moral distinctions meaningless, people are logically justified in simply acting out their desires.”[xxix]

And indeed, Ivan exemplifies the almost universal unconscious human being who is “simply acting” the “desires” or “needs” of the false-self energy centers and doing so in a semi-hypnotic state. He comes to believe that he is culpable for the death of his father by giving Smerdyakov the rationalization we have just quoted in the previous paragraph for committing the crime. The truth is that both Ivan and Dostoevsky are wrong but are caught up in an illusory narrative that obscures the deeper truths of human behavior.

The suffering of the false self has not changed in the many millennia since humanity attained self-consciousness. And it will continue unabated until a shift in worldview makes possible “Self” awareness—until we no longer attain our identity from our emotions, our physical body and our thoughts. We are in essence beings of the present moment, free from the material world with the joyous opportunity to recreate the human experience in a way Dostoevsky couldn’t begin to imagine.

Ivan’s religious doubt is, to a limited degree, an acknowledgment of the interconnectedness and interrelatedness among human beings which is fundamental to P-A. Another reason that makes the ultimate punishment (damnation) of human beings nonsensical is that we are all, for the most part, unconscious of the basic drives that cause our behaviors and, furthermore, are contained in a context (society) that, being equally unconscious, enables self-destructive behaviors. Dostoevsky might have agreed that all of humanity must share the responsibility for the human condition.


Being true to the theme of this chapter, Dostoevsky, the artist, intuits a couple profound truths. “A central part of Dostoevsky’s exploration of spiritual redemption is the idea that self-knowledge is necessary for a person to be redeemed.”[xxx]  Self-knowledge is certainly a prerequisite to Self-realization. Dostoevsky’s redemption is not the same as our Self-realization but he is pointing in the right direction.

The second insight is that life is suffering and suffering is transformational. The mystic Eckhart Tolle says that: “All humans have a teacher [and] for 95% it is suffering.” This reality concerning life is hard for most of us to admit and we are ingenious at avoiding it. The psychiatrist, Scott Peck, observed in working with his clients that their neuroses were caused by the avoidance of legitimate suffering.

“The principle way to arrive at that self-knowledge is through suffering. Suffering can occur either through the grief and guilt of sin, or, as in the case of Grushenka and Ivan, through the agony of illnesses that are metaphors for spiritual conditions.”[xxxi]  Being a creature contained in a religious paradigm, Dostoevsky would have to have seen sin as the cause of human suffering. In Simple Reality, we know that all suffering stems from lack of awareness of the true nature of reality and our inability to arrive at a more profound identity within that context.

Detachment and Entrapment

A central principle in the process of Self-realization is detachment or dis-identification. Seeing the illusionary nature of P-B, it is natural to leave behind what is becoming increasingly unreal and shifting to a more profound and vivid narrative. Dostoevsky had strong instincts as a writer. He sensed there was something wrong with the prevailing worldview of his culture and something better was close at hand even if he could only barely “feel” it.

He expresses this burgeoning sensibility through his characters. “Everyone loves Alyosha, for despite his tendency to remain detached from others, he exudes a kind of blissful serenity … Alyosha senses that Ivan is struggling toward an inner goal that makes him indifferent to the outside world.”[xxxii]

Dostoevsky also, without the benefit of psychology as a science, perceives the operation of the functions of the false self. Here is an example of one of his characters who reveal their entrapment in the illusion of seeking sensations. “Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, the father, with his orgies and his abhorrent treatment of his wives and children, embodies amoral, obnoxious Epicureanism—that is, a commitment to seeking pleasure rather than living responsibly or virtuously.”[xxxiii]

The story of the Grand Inquisitor, which is a story within a story, gets to the heart of the dilemma of the human condition. Instead of being the savior of humanity, Ivan’s court finds Christ guilty of sins against mankind. Christ is calling for humanity to awaken from the illusion of the false self, although Dostoevsky would describe it differently, of course.

“The fundamental difference between Christ’s point of view and that of the Grand Inquisitor is the value that each of them places on freedom and comfort. Christ’s responses to the three temptations emphasize the importance of man’s ability to choose between right and wrong, while the Inquisitor’s interpretation of Christ’s actions emphasizes the greater value of living a comfortable life in which the right path has already been chosen by someone else.”[xxxiv]  That someone else is the paternalistic church symbolized by the Grand Inquisitor.

A deeper understanding would be that human nature has mandated the creation of a survival strategy resulting in the three energy centers of the false self. The process of Self-realization would involve awakening to the illusion of this and other aspects of P-B to achieve a transcendent freedom beyond Dostoevsky’s comprehension.

The paternalism of the church in effect advocates keeping humanity asleep for its own purposes which it is unaware of since it is an unconscious institution. The church treats people as children which keeps them in a child-like ego-state even as the church assumes the ego-state of the parent. This relationship makes the attainment of the awakened adult ego state very difficult for the average person. In effect the church calls for faith but does not have faith in humanity itself. “The Inquisitor believes that Christ’s example places an impossible burden on mankind, which is inherently too weak to use its free will to find salvation.”[xxxv]  Self-reliance, which is so important to taking responsibility for one’s life, cannot be achieved in this environment where one is seen as immature and treated as incompetent.

Symbolic Characters

Dostoevsky’s story is so rich in symbols and concepts that whether it is analyzed from the perspective of P-B or P-A it yields many insights into the human condition. From the perspective of P-B we see how the institution of religion provided the context for the human struggle to find meaning in life. Meaning, however can be found only by succumbing to an illusion and repressing those aspects of human expression that did not fit the demands of the culture at large and the specific teachings of the church. A P-A perspective reveals the need to transcend the dysfunctional and self-destructive narrative, construct a new worldview, and assume a new identity. Below are several key characters and what they symbolize from each perspective:

From the Perspective
of Paradigm-B (P-B)
From the Perspective
of Paradigm-A (P-A)
Alyosha faith religion (the Church)
Fyodor selfishness, physical appetite false self (sensation energy center)
Ivan doubt intellect
Smerdyakov evil unconsciousness, the shadow

The Grand Inquisitor symbolizing the Church is an apt symbol for the false-self survival strategy. “He [the Inquisitor] says that ever since the Church took over the Roman Empire, it has been secretly performing the work of Satan, not because it is evil, but because it seeks the best and most secure order for mankind.”[xxxvi]

Christ, ironically on the other hand, according to the Grand Inquisitor, threatens to undermine the Church’s work to lift the burden of free will from mankind. The irony here is two-fold in that the viewpoint of the Grand Inquisitor is more profound than Dostoevsky could have conceived. The Church according to the Inquisitor has accepted the temptations [the false-self survival strategy which is the basis for human unconsciousness] offered to Jesus by Satan. Since these temptations were rejected by Jesus who was also trying to get humanity to accept the free will and self-reliance essential to Self-realization, we find Jesus opposed to both the temptations of Satan and the Church.

It is a bit mind-boggling but let’s review the temptations to see how perfectly they correspond to the false-self energy centers.

    • “Christ was confronted by Satan, who told him that if he were really the son of God, he could turn stone to bread and satisfy his hunger.” [Bread represents the security energy center or material well-being.]
    • “The second temptation was to perform a miracle. Satan placed Christ upon a pinnacle in Jerusalem and told him to prove that he was the Messiah by throwing himself off it.” [This is the sensation energy center wherein humanity seeks esteem and affection and is prone to engage in addictive behaviors to repress the awareness of suffering.]
    • “And finally, the third temptation was power. Satan showed Christ all the kingdoms of the world and offered him control of them all.”[xxxvii]

In Ivan’s story of The Grand Inquisitor, Ivan’s court finds Christ guilty of sins against mankind. Ivan’s character has provided remarkable insight into the nature of the reality of the Church and religion in general.

Miracles and Faith

Alyosha is disappointed that the miracle that will proclaim Zosima’s sainthood following his death does not occur. This to him is “the lack of validation with which the world often rewards religious faith. [Dostoevsky’s message is, however,] that the person who chooses faith must do so in defiance of the many reasons to doubt.”[xxxviii]  Neither consciousness is founded in the higher reality that the Universe is friendly despite appearances. Failure to see those “appearances” as a fundamental illusion means that the dilemma of faith vs. doubt will never be resolved. In P-A the problem disappears as part of the illusion along with the need for miracles to justify faith. There is no evil to cause fear, guilt and shame nor any judgmental God to administer punishment. Miracles are replaced by the realization of the good, the true and the beautiful which are the ultimate reality along with awareness and compassion which define the Universe and indeed human beings.

In his own way Dostoevsky is calling for a paradigm shift. “Ivan’s article argues that ecclesiastical courts should be given authority over criminal prosecution and punishment because if criminals knew they were defying God when they committed their crimes many of them would choose to obey the law.”[xxxix]  Taking Ivan’s (Dostoevsky’s) argument into a modern and secular context we would have something like: If humanity realized that the illusion of P-B caused them to run afoul of natural law or the nature of reality itself (P-A), they would soon change their behavior to escape the self-destructive consequences (punishment).

Even though most people know intellectually that something is woefully wrong with the direction that humanity is headed, they cannot bring themselves to admit it and take action to change course. The principles of the new paradigm must be integrated at the level of feeling (the heart) to become vivid, to come alive within the soul.  He (Ivan) “is so committed to intellectual logic that he is led to advocate ideas he does not believe in his heart.”[xl]


Awareness is seeing reality as it is with clarity and acceptance, i.e., with no resistance. It is the resistance to reality that is the genesis of human suffering. Zosima embodies the principle of awareness as he faces death without fear. “Zosima’s death, as he stretches out his arms to embrace the Earth is a symbol of acceptance and faith, indicating his love of God’s Creation with the last energy left in his body. Zosima’s sincerity and his assent to the will of God [reality] are total.”[xli]  Awareness in P-A is the equivalent of redemption in P-B.

Intuition and Intellect

Another insight that Dostoevsky has involves those aspects of reality that are beyond human comprehension which we can call mystery. Religion, science and the rational mind can only take us so far in our process of Self-realization. Dostoevsky would argue that one must depend on faith in the face of this mystery. Christian rituals and gestures serve to represent this faith in the story. “But none of these gestures can be fully explained, and their ambiguity is a way of challenging the rational paradigm that Ivan embraces.”[xlii]  Self-realization involves transcending the rational and even the process of thinking itself.

Transcending the intellect is difficult for Westerners where the collective worldview is one of scientific materialism. It is the inner wisdom felt as intuition or what we call “feeling” that provides access to more profound principles. Dostoevsky understands this principle although he would choose different words to describe it. “The choice to doubt or disbelieve can be based on a model of rational evidence, but the choice to believe must be more mystical, based on a positive feeling of meaning and profundity that is often at odds with the world as we usually experience it.”[xliii]  Dostoevsky was a remarkable genius who understood that the process of Self-realization was a journey not of the mind but one of the heart.

The Grand Inquisitor

Our interpretation (not Dostoevsky’s) of the symbols in this story within a story are:

Christ                                     Awareness
Church                                   Unconsciousness and the false self
Ivan                                        The Intellect (skeptic)
The Grand Inquisitor          The Ego
Alyosha                                  Innocence

The story of the Grand Inquisitor in Book V, Chapter 5, of The Brothers Karamazov is told by Ivan to his brother Alyosha.

The Grand Inquisitor asks Jesus, who is on trial, a question. “If it were possible to imagine simply for the sake of argument that those three questions of the dread spirit [Satan] had perished utterly from the books, and that we had to restore them and to invent them anew, and to do so had gathered together all the wise men of the earth—rulers, chief priests, learned men, philosophers, poets—and had set them the task to invent three questions, such as would not only fit the occasion, but express in three words, three human phrases, the whole future history of the world and of humanity—dost Thou believe that all the wisdom of the earth united could have invented anything in depth and force equal to the three questions which were actually put to Thee then by the wise and mighty spirit in the wilderness? For in those three questions the whole subsequent history of mankind is, as it were, brought together into one whole, and foretold, and in them are united all the unsolved historical contradictions of human nature.”[xliv]

The three questions being referred to here are the three temptations offered by Satan to Jesus. They represent the three energy centers of the false-self survival strategy. They are important because they represent some of the most basic sources of all human suffering. In the words of Simple Reality, the three temptations are plenty, pleasure and power.

The irony of Chapter 5 has Jesus in opposition to the church represented by the Grand Inquisitor. (The Inquisition of the Roman Catholic Church was part of the Counter Reformation which was a reaction against the Protestant Reformation.) Jesus rejects the three temptations of the false self and is therefore, from a metaphysical standpoint, choosing awareness over unconsciousness. In choosing awareness (P-A), he would have saved humanity from the illusionary refuge of the false self (P-B). In so doing Jesus seeks to free humanity from the delusional behavior which is the cause of human suffering.

However, humanity is not ready for this freedom and chooses to remain unconscious and is enthralled by the false self. The church steps in and champions keeping humanity unconscious by mesmerizing them with what the Grand Inquisitor calls miracle, mystery and authority which also have a correspondence to the three energy centers of the false self.  By refusing to take on the identity of Christ, humanity loses the opportunity to attain Self-realization.

The Grand Inquisitor admits that the church is working with Satan, not with Christ, which is the only way that the church could remain in control of the faithful. Keeping the people in the ego state of children the church has control comparable to that of parents over children. “We shall show them that they are weak, that they are only pitiful children, but that childlike happiness is the sweetest of all.”[xlv]  The church even encourages the expression of self-destructive ego behaviors for its own purposes. “Oh, we shall allow them even sin, they are weak and helpless, and they will love us like children because we allow them to sin.  We shall tell them that every sin will be expiated, if it is done with our permission, that we allow them to sin because we love them, and the punishment for these sins we take upon ourselves.”[xlvi]

Dostoevsky with a wonderful sense of irony has woven insights both conscious and unconscious into the story of the Grand Inquisitor. Jesus is sentenced to burn in hell for challenging the authority of the church. Here the church is defying the Son of God, hence God himself, which is the ultimate in arrogance. However, seeing Jesus as the prototypical human being, Dostoevsky has realized that the true dilemma facing humanity is to wake up, reject the self-destructive false-self behaviors as Jesus did and attain freedom from suffering (redemption). Since this would involve rejecting the church as an unconscious institution unwittingly encouraging self-destructive behaviors—the church would also have to be rejected and transcended. The story of the Grand Inquisitor is indeed a profound story which challenges humanity to shift perspective in order to attain the insights that are prerequisites for Self-realization.

Jesus Wrestling with Satan

[i]     Magill, Frank N. [ed.]. Masterpieces of World Literature. New York: Harper, 1989, page 107.

[ii]     Ibid.

[iii]    Ibid.

[iv]    Ibid.

[v]     Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov. New York: Spark Publishing, 2002, page 14.

[vi]    Ibid., page 84.

[vii]   Ibid., page 8.

[viii]   Ibid., page 107.

[ix]    Ibid., page 9.

[x]     Ibid.

[xi]    Ibid., page 8.

[xii]   Ibid., page 10.

[xiii]   Ibid.

[xiv]   Ibid., page 12.

[xv]   Ibid.

[xvi]   Ibid., page 13.

[xvii] Ibid.

[xviii] Ibid., page 14.

[xix]   Ibid.

[xx]   Ibid., page 15.

[xxi]   Ibid.

[xxii]  Ibid.

[xxiii]  Ibid., page 40.

[xxiv]  Ibid.

[xxv]  Ibid., page 41.

[xxvi]  Ibid., page 16.

[xxvii]  Ibid.

[xxviii]  Ibid.

[xxix]  Ibid.

[xxx]  Ibid., page 17.

[xxxi]  Ibid.

[xxxii]   Ibid., page 22.

[xxxiii]  Ibid., page 23.

[xxxiv]  Ibid., page 46.

[xxxv]   Ibid., page 47.

[xxxvi]  Ibid., page 45.

[xxxvii]  Ibid.

[xxxviii]  Ibid., page 19.

[xxxix]   Ibid., page 24.

[xl]   Ibid., page 25.

[xli]   Ibid., pages 52-53.

[xlii]   Ibid., page 18.

[xliii]   Ibid., page 56.

[xliv]  Dostoevsky, Fyodor. “The Brothers Karamazov.” The Great Ideas: A Syntopicon of Great Books of the Western World Vol. I., Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1952, page 130.

[xlv]   Ibid., page 134.

[xlvi]  Ibid.


Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry.

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