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The plurality of a man`s being

The first thing to understand about the Journey to the West is that the characters in the story symbolize certain psychological aspects in a human being.

There are definitely no 'gods' or 'demons' outside of yourself. -- Padmasanbhava (8th c. Tibetan Buddhist saint)
Anatomical head - Philip Balbi

A human being`s psychology is made up of many parts. In this picture, we see a head made up of many human beings.

The universe lies in your hands, the ten thousand transformations are born from yourself. -- Huangdi Yinfujing (Yellow Emperor`s Scripture of hidden agreement, Taoist text)
There exist ten thousand worlds, and all these are contained in man, without his being conscious of it.
-- Darqawi (17th c. Moroccan Sufi)
As acquired conditioning runs affairs, mundanity increases and the celestial retreats. Inwardly, the ten thousand thoughts cause trouble, outwardly the thousand things grab one. -- Liu Yiming (18th c. Taoist master) The Inner Teachings of Taoism

Rustum slaying a dragon – Persian miniature, 16th C.

In this Persian picture of Rustum slaying the dragon, the dragons body, representing the lower self, is made up of many faces, symbolizing the many beings that make up a man`s psychology. In esoteric writings these many parts are given the symbolic number 10.000.

Amida Buddha, if I`m not completely sincere, cut me up in ten thousand bits for breaking the laws of heaven. -- Journey to the West, chapter 19
My dear, is it true that your mind is sometimes like a battering ram running all through the city, shouting so madly inside and out about the ten thousand things that do not matter? -- Hafiz (14th c. Persian Sufi poet)

George Gurdjieff (1866-1949) who introduced a spiritual teaching to the West which was later called The Fourth Way, explained that man has four different brains, the emotional, intellectual, moving and instinctive brain. Because the moving and instinctive brains work with the same energy and speed, they are sometimes also taken as one brain. The emotional brain or centre is a function that is capable of feeling emotions and experiencing beauty. The intellectual center is a function that manifests as thought and reason. The moving center controls our movement and enables one to design things. The instinctive center takes care of the functioning of the human body, such as heart beat, growth of the body, activity of the senses, distribution of energy, and so on. It is interested in food, comfort, sex and rest. It is the only center that is fully developed at birth, the other three centers have to be educated. These four centers continually react to stimuli from the environment and these reactions are called the ten thousand worlds. Gurdjieff called them the many I`s because in our normal state of mind, we mistakenly take these reactions as 'I'. We define our identity by the thoughts, emotions and sensations we experience. In contrast, Real I is pure awareness, awareness of the thoughts, emotions and sensations going round in one, and awareness of where one is. One’s identity is in what observes, not in what is observed. One is not concerned with who one is, one just IS (present).

Feel your reality, in the stillness, in the quietness, when there is no mind, no thoughts, no words. Who are you then? You just Are. -- Hindu text
God said unto to Moses, I AM THAT I AM. -- The Bible, Exodus 3:14
I am not this body, I am not this mind, I am not these emotions, I simply observe, I am the eternal witness.
-- Zen master
Wheel of fortune – Holland, 15th C.

These thoughts, emotions and reactions from the four centers are very brief and constantly changing. However, since we are usually not aware of ourselves, and so do not know ourselves, we think that we are the same unchanging person and don`t see we have many different worlds or beings in ourselves. Once we start to observe it, we become aware of the many contradictions in ourselves.

In the image of the Wheel of Fortune we see animals riding around a turning wheel. The animals symbolize the many I`s. which are constantly changing. The one on the top is the 'I' of the moment. Each 'I' mistakenly thinks it is there all the time, however, the many I`s change about every three seconds.

Daily we draw innumerable breaths and have an equal number of fantasies.
-- The Secret of the Golden Flower (Taoist text)

Esoteric Traditions usually use animals to symbolize the many I`s and the lower self.

When the spirit of heaven rules in man, his animal nature takes its appropriate place. -- I Ching (Chinese text)
So long as the soul is in a state contrary to nature, running wild with the weeds and thorns of sensual pleasure, it is a dwelling place of grotesque beasts. -- Theodorus the Great Ascetic, Philokalia (Greek Orthodox Christian text)

The many I`s are often portrayed as animals, because they symbolize the animal nature of a human being in contrast to the unity of his Divine nature. However, the many I`s are not all of the same quality or level. We can have negative thoughts, instinctive cravings for food or sex, or more neutral impulses and if we are lucky a thought that reminds us to be present.

After much observation, I have learned to recognize the difference between angelic thoughts, human thoughts, and thoughts that come from the demons. -- Evagrios the Solitary, Philokalia (Greek Orthodox Christian text)
You are demon and wild beast and angel and man. Whichever you cultivate, that you will be.
-- Kashani (17th c. Persian poet)
Tibetan Wheel of life or Wheel of Reincarnation

Buddhism divides the ten thousand I`s into six different categories. They are referred to as the six states of existence. The outer meaning of this idea is that when a person dies, he will be reborn in one of these realms. The inner meaning is that they represent different `I`s in a person. An 'I' occurs and then dies, and is followed by another 'I'. The six states are hell beings (e.g. negative emotions and judgment), hungry ghosts (e.g. bad habits and desires), animals (e.g. I`s from the moving and instinctive center), humans (e.g. I`s from the intellectual and emotional center), Ashuras or half Gods (I's related to spiritual work on oneself but not evoking the effort to be present) and Gods (I`s that remind one to be present). The Gods are not immortal and will be reborn into one of the other states. (I`s that remind us to be present are not presence itself)

A life-time is not what`s between the moments of birth and death. A life-time is one moment, between two little breaths. -- Zen saying

Strictly speaking, the duration of the life of a living being is exceeding brief, lasting only while a thought last. Just as a chariot-wheel in rolling, rolls only at one point of the tire and in resting only rests at one point; exactly in the same way, the life of a living being last only for the period of one thought.
-- Buddhaghosa, Visuddha Magga VIII (Buddhist sutra)
Once you have entered darkness, essence is disturbed and life is destabilized; in a single day you are born a thousand times and die ten thousand times. -- Liu Yiming The Taoist I Ching, hexagram #4 Darkness    
Do not allow evil thoughts to arise;
Thus you will avoid all trouble.
Say not that there is no retribution;
Whether you become a god
or a ghost is all determined.
-- Journey to the West, chapter 11

The infinite cycle of death and rebirth of these six states of mind is called Samsara in Sanskrit, and this idea originated with Hinduism.

Samsara is no more than one's own thoughts. -- Upanishads (Hindu text)

To escape this infinite cycle of death and rebirth of the many I`s one needs, according to the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, to be reborn in Amida Buddha`s Pure Land or Western Paradise. This Pure land symbolizes the state of presence. When one is present one rises above the many I`s, one no longer experiences them as 'I', and one can observe them as something outside of oneself. One`s Higher Self is separate from and purified of the thoughts, emotions and associations going around in one`s head.

Buddha under the bodhi tree, 3rd century, Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

When the ten thousand phenomena are reduced to truth they follow a single pattern; It is like the Tathagatha (The Buddha) reaching nirvana under the bodhi tree. -- Journey to the West, chapter 7

In this image Buddha is ignoring Mara`s army, the ten thousand I`s, that try to take his attention away from the present.

The Buddha in the Journey to the West is Amida Buddha and therefore, reaching the Western Paradise and receiving the scriptures from the Buddha symbolizes reaching the state of Divine Presence.

The monk from the great and superior country in the East was going to fetch true scriptures from the Western Paradise. -- Journey to the West, chapter 86
While ignorant men recite the name of Amida and pray to be born in the Pure Land, the enlightened purify their mind. So far as the mind is pure, it is the 'Western Pure Land of one's own Essence of Mind".
-- Huineng (6th Patriarch of Zen Buddhism, 7th c.)

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