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.
A human being`s psychology is made up of many parts. In this picture, we see a head made up of many human beings.
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.
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).
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.
Esoteric Traditions usually use animals to symbolize the many I`s and the lower self.
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.
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)
The infinite cycle of death and rebirth of these six states of mind is called Samsara in Sanskrit, and this idea originated with Hinduism.
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.
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.
© copyright 2009 - 2017 Walther Sell