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The demons

Sanzang caught by a demon – by Chen Huiguan

The demons in the Journey to the West symbolize thoughts, emotions and sensations that interrupt efforts to be present.

Buddha and devil just refer to two states, one stained, one pure. -- Linji (9th c. Chinese Zen master)
The devil, in reality, is a man's lower self and passion.
-- Hujwiri (11th c. Persian Sufi scholar)
The passions are the demons. -- Barsanuphius and John (Philokalia - Greek Orthodox Christian text)

Lin Chi, a Chinese Zen-Buddhist monk, Hujiwiri, a Sufi ( an adherent to a mystical form of Islam) and Barsanuphius and John, Christian monks, are all saying that the devil or demons, symbolize the lower part of a man.

If you want to restore the mind of Tao, it is necessary to first understand the human mind. But to understand it, it is important to see it: Seeing it as a pig, as devilish, is truly seeing the human mentality and how injurious it is. -- Liu Yiming, the Taoist I Ching, hexagram #38, Disharmony
There are various mental phenomena and mental postures that obstruct the potential for true understanding. Because of their harmful and destructive nature, they are called demons or devils. These demons include greed, hatred, conceit, opinionated views, addiction to meditation states, pride in knowledge, desire for personal liberation for one's own sake alone, anxious haste to attain enlightenment, idolizing teachers, rejecting the teaching because of finding fault with teachers' external behavior, indulging in passions, and fearing passion. Anyone who wants to realize Buddhist enlightenment is obliged to examine his or her mind and heart for the devils. -- Muso Soseki (14th. C Japanese Zen master) Dream Conversation

When trying to be present, one keeps one`s awareness on what one is doing and at the same time, one tries to be aware of oneself. In order to prolong this state one can use short words to remind one to stay present, such as Be or Now .

It is truly a miracle that through a single commandment we can ascend straightway to heaven.
-- Gregory of Sinai, Philokalia (Greek Orthodox Christian text)
Why is it that this short prayer of one syllable pierces Heaven? -- Anonymous English Monk

People usually pray for something external such as good health or succeeding in some undertaking. However, the inner meaning of praying is to ask the God within to appear, by using short words to remind oneself to be present, and then making the effort to be present.

The inner meaning of the word 'prayer' in Arabic is 'remembrance of God'. -- Hujwiri (11th c. Persian Sufi scholar)
Conscious awareness is the very spirit of ritual Prayer. -- Al-Ghazali (11th c. Persian Sufi mystic) 

If we start to listen to thoughts that come up, which are symbolized by demons or animals, we forget to keep this double awareness and, because we are no longer aware of ourselves, we do not even realize that we stopped making the effort. Only if we somehow start again, do we realize that we stopped sometime before.

I am the demon warrior Indrajit, hard to see. I fight invisibly, hidden by enchantment from your sight. I attack behind the wild winds of evil thought. -- Ramayana (Hindu text)
The mind that debates with such an intrusive thought will be distracted from remembrance of God, which is exactly what the demons are after. -- Silouan the Athonite (Philokalia)

However, if the Mind of Tao — the Monkey mind inside one —, observes what`s happening, it can again say Be and make the effort to be present. This effort will get rid of the thoughts or demons, and one will experience Nirvana or Divine presence.

A single thought at once disturbs a hundred monsters;
Sweep all causation away and come to nirvana;
Waste no time and destroy the thousand demons.
-- Journey to the West, chapter 78
The body of pure yang was happy in the sun, the yin demons dared not use their might.
-- Journey to the West, chapter 99

Using several single thoughts in a row is even better, because the demons try to interrupt one`s efforts to be present, at every breath one takes.

I've a got a spell called True Words to Calm the Mind. -- Journey to the West, chapter 14

In this image of Daniel in the lions den, the lions are ready to devour Daniel as soon as his prayer, his efforts to be present, start to slacken.

Daniel in the lions den with nine lions — Rubens, 17th C.

Monkey fights a nine-headed lion demon — Chen Huiguan

The stillness of meditation gives rise to evil spirits. -- Journey to the West, chapter 40
Having prayed as you should, expect the demon to attack you; so stand on guard, ready to protect the fruits of your prayer. -- Evagrios the Solitary, Philokalia (Greek Orthodox Christian text)

The demons are very clever and often disguise themselves so they can catch Sanzang. Sanzang represents the desire to be present. A demon catching him, symbolizes that one has become interested in something else than being present and as a result, the desire and thus also the effort to be present have disappeared.

Monkey tries to kill a demon disguised
as a girl - by Chen Huiguan
St. Anthony with the devil disguised as a woman - The Getty Centre, Los Angeles, 15th C.

The splendid evil spirit stopped its negative wind in a hollow and changed itself into a girl with a face as round as the moon and as pretty as a flower.
-- Journey to the West, chapter 27
Satan disguised himself as an intelligent, talkative young man and appeared humbly before the king. -- Persian Book of Kings

These quotes symbolizes one`s lower self, bringing attractive or interesting thoughts, so that we will start to listen to them and thus forget to keep one`s awareness on the present moment. The lower self is not interested in presence, because for the state presence to occur, it needs to become passive and can no longer be in control. The lower self will do anything to get rid of efforts to be present.

God, harden me against myself, this coward with pathetic voice who craves for ease and rest and joys: myself, arch-traitor to my Self ; my hollowest friend; my deadliest foe, my clog whatever road I go.
-- Christina Rossetti (19th c. English poet)

After the demons catch Sanzang they always want to eat him, symbolizing the lower self, trying to destroy the desire to be present. However, Monkey, the mind that is aware of what`s happening, is always able to free Sanzang with the help of a God.

A fake Monkey and Sanzang are put into the steamer - by Chen Huiguan
The devil putting people into a hot pot,
from The Last Judgement
- Cathedral of Bourges, 13th C.

Bring the Tang Priest here and tell the underlings to fetch water, scrub the cooking pot, fetch some firewood and light the fire. When he`s been steamed we will each have a piece of his flesh and live forever. -- Journey to the West, chapter 85

The images Daniel in the lions den, The Last Judgement and St. Anthony with the devil, show the same ideas as portrayed in the Journey to the West. Cathedrals in Europe portray stories from the Bible in sculptures and stain glass windows. Because the inner meaning of all Esoteric Traditions is the same, traditions that are separated by time and space, show the same inner meaning.

The achievement of these scriptures is immeasurable, the Tathagata (The Buddha) said to the Tang Priest, although they are the source of foreknowledge and reflection for my school they are truly the origin of all Three Schools. (Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism) -- Journey to the West, chapter 98

In fact, they are the origin of all Schools, all Esoteric Traditions.

The Fourth Way and Esoteric Traditions⎟ Living Presence ⎟ The Secret of the Golden Flower ⎟

Japanese symbols of Presence⎟ The taoist I Ching ⎟ Being Presence First