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Sanzang — The Heart

As the Heart's Nature Is Cultivated, the Great Way Arises. -- Journey to the West, chapter 1

The quote above is the first line in the book and shows what the book is about. The passions are powerful and we easily attach ourselves to them. Cultivating the heart means freeing ourselves of the passions and cultivating the desire to be present.

The imitation monk cutting his chest
- by Chen Huiguan
Occasions give rise to distractive thoughts, thoughts to fantasies, fantasies to the passions, and the passions give entry to the demons. -- Gregory of Sinai, Philokalia (Greek Orthodox Christian text)

In one of the adventures of Journey to the West, a demon wants to get Sanzang`s heart because it is very pure, to make an elixir that would enable him to live very long. Monkey changes himself into Sanzang and goes to meet the demon.

Taking the knife, the imitation Tang Priest cut the skin of his stomach open with the knife in his right hand. There was a whoosh, and out rolled a whole pile of hearts. The imitation Tang Priest then held up the hearts one by one. They included a loyal red heart, a pure white heart, a yellow heart, an avaricious heart, a fame-hungry heart, a jealous heart, a calculating heart, an over-competitive heart, an ambitious heart, an overbearing heart, a murderous heart, a vicious heart, a frightened heart, a cautious heart, a heretical heart and a heart full of indefinable gloom. -- Journey to the West, chapter 80

The many hearts symbolize all the different passions we have, many of which are contradictory. Cultivating the heart means cultivating the desire to be present to one`s life, making presence the most important thing in one`s life.

When passions have been cast out one understands the heavenly state.
-- Wang Yangming (16th c. Chinese philosopher)

The moment one makes effort to be present one has to leave all the other desires and thoughts, one has to leave all other hearts. However, if one sets for oneself the aim to awaken the God within oneself, one will start to see that many parts in one, especially the instinctive center, are not interested in this at all and will resist it. A struggle begins between the part that wants to awaken and the parts that are not interested in it. This struggle is symbolized by war. In all Esoteric writings there are passages about war which all symbolize the struggle between the many I`s in a man, like the Persian image of a battle in a man`s head shows.

Manjoun watching a battle inside a head – Persian miniature

There is a war that opens the doors of heaven. Happy the warriors whose fate is to fight such war.
-- Bhagavad-Gita (Hindu text)
Your master and you disciples have not yet come to the end of the demons you will have to deal with. That is why every kind of spiritual creature has been coming down to earth. It`s right that you should suffer. -- Journey to the West, chapter 66

In chapter 30 Sanzang is captured by a demon. In the quote above he is called The Yellow Wife. The Yellow Wife is a Taoist symbol.

What is the yellow wife ? Yellow is the color associated with the center; wife refers to mother. Ten thousand things are born from earth, so earth is the mother of the ten thousand things, and thus is called the yellow woman.
It also refers to the true will (intent). -- The Book of Balance and Harmony, by Li Dao Chun (13th c. Taoist master)

The ten thousand things are the many I`s, the many hearts. When they are under control, true will (intent) can arise. The character Sanzang represents the heart`s desire or will to be present. The most important thing for him is to reach Vulture Peak (Presence). He is willing to give up everything to achieve this goal.

Sanzang, from the JTW TV series
“When the heart lives,” Sanzang replied, “all kinds of demons come into being; but when it is extinguished, the demons are extinguished too". -- Journey to the West, chapter 13
The stillness of meditation gives rise to evil spirits.
-- Journey to the West, chapter 40

When the hearts lives refers to the desire and the effort to be present. When this desire appears and one makes effort to be present, the demons come into being. Demons refer to thoughts and emotions that interfere with this effort. When one tries to be present, the lower self (the demons) will do everything to get rid of this effort, because when the Higher Self is present the lower self can no longer be in control, but has to be passive.

The next quote is the title of one of the chapters, in which a demon boy captures Sanzang, who is called the Dhyana (meditation) heart.

The Boy Fools with Transformations, Disturbing the Dhyana Heart,
Ape and Horse Return with a Knife; the Mother of Wood Is Empty.

Sanzang is captured again and again by demons on his Journey to Vulture Peak. This symbolizes how when we try to be present, another thought enters, we listen to it and the desire to be present disappears.

Sanzang caught by a demon - by Chen Huiguan

The splendid evil spirit then conjured up a whirlwind in mid-air and scooped the Tang Priest up in his wind. -- Journey to the West, chapter 27
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)

An evil thought is a thought that takes us away from our effort to be present. A good thought is a thought that reminds us to be present. For example, while one is trying to be present, a thought comes up about a friend who didn`t keep his promise. Instead of letting this 'I' pass by, one listens to it, and completely forgets about the effort to be present. I fight invisibly from your sight, refers to the lower self bringing thoughts unrelated to being present. We start to listen to these thoughts without observing what's happening, invisibly from our sight, and the effort to be present stops. This happens without awareness, in a state of psychological sleep and as a result, the desire to be present disappears. This desire, symbolized by Sanzang, is the most important desire we can have and it must be protected.

The heart must be frequently swept,
The dust of emotions removed,
Lest the Buddha be trapped in the pit.
-- Journey to the West, chapter 50

Sweeping the heart relates to observing when I`s unrelated to our effort to be present come, not listening or attaching ourselves to them, but just letting them go and continuing to be present. However, Sanzang is very naive and is caught by demons again and again, because he can`t see through their disguises. This means that our heart takes interest in these thoughts and doesn`t understand in that moment, that to listen to these thoughts is deadly. The demons take different forms, a lovely young girl or an old woman in need, representing beautiful or urgent thoughts. Therefore, Sanzang cannot reach Vulture Peak alone.

The Buddha of the West lives in the Great Thunder Monastery in the land of India, one hundred and eight thousand miles away from here. You'll never get there, just you and your horse, without a companion or disciple.
-- Journey to the West, chapter 14

This symbolizes that the desire to be present alone is not enough, one needs knowledge and tools to get there, because the demons are very clever.

When Sanzang reaches Vulture Peak, he sheds his mortal body.

Gently and strongly the Budhha pushed off the boat, at which a corpse came floating downstream to the horror of the venerable elder. Don’t be frightened, Master, said Monkey. That’s you. It’s you, it’s you, said Pig. Friar Sand clapped his hands as he put in too, It’s you! The boatman gave a call, then also put in, too, It's you! Congratulations! Congratulations! -- Journey to the West, chapter 98

Sanzang shedding his mortal body means that the heart is freed from the passions and only the desire to reach presence is left, so that a prolonged state of Divine presence is reached.

of the spirit is
accomplished because
the heart has first died.
When a man can let his heart die,
then the primal spirit wakes to life. To kill
the heart does not mean to let it dry and wither away,
but it means that it has become undivided and gathered into one.
The Buddha said: When you fix your heart on one point, then nothing is impossible for you
-- The Secret of the Golden Flower (Taoist text).

Both the pyramid and the cone symbolize the transformation of the many, into the point of oneness.

Sandcones in a Japanese garden
An Egyptian pyramid

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