The four continents

The life of this world is your lower self, your passions and your natural inclinations. That is what is meant by this world. -- Al-Jilani (12th c. Persian Sufi)
The world was then divided into four great continents: The Eastern Continent of Superior Body, the Western Continent of Cattle-gift, the Southern Continent of Jambu and the Northern Continent of Kuru. This book deals only with the Eastern Continent of Superior Body.  -- Journey to the West
A side-view of he Buddhist cosmos with the three worlds, Hells, Earth, Heavens, and Mt. Meru.
A bird`s-eye-view of the Buddhist cosmos showing the four continents around Mt. Meru: Jambu, Kuru, Purvavideha (Surpassing the Body')
and Godaniya (Enjoyer of Cattle)





















The four continents in the Journey to the west are the four continents of the Buddhist cosmos. We know that the physical world doesn`t have four continents; the Buddhist cosmos symbolizes a man`s psychological world rather then the physical world. The four continents represent the division of a man`s lower self into four different parts.

There are four minds or centers, which control our ordinary actions: intellectual mind, emotional mind, moving mind and instinctive mind. -- Gurdjieff (20th c. Fourth Way spiritual teacher)
The four centers are four different functions of the lower self. This is where the Journey to the West, the Journey to Divine Presence takes place. The common deck of playing cards contains esoteric knowledge. Each deck represents one of the four centers.
The four different suites of the deck of cards, representing the four lower centers

Each center is further divided in three parts; a mechanical part represented by the jacks of the deck of cards, an emotional part represented by the queens, and an intellectual part represented by the kings. Responses from the mechanical part are thoughts, emotions and actions that happen automatically and one`s attention is not connected to these responses. Responses from the emotional parts are connected with one`s attention but it doesn`t require an effort to sustain this attention; the attention is sustained by interest in, or attachment to the subject at hand. Responses from the intellectual part are intentional and it requires an effort to sustain one`s attention. As soon as one relaxes one`s attention, the intellectual parts stop functioning.

The Four Heavenly Kings or guardians are symbols of the four kings of centers that are educated in relation to the quest of enlightenment. They represent intentional action, thoughts or emotions in relation to this quest. Each of them is standing on a demon symbolizing that they can control the lower parts, the jacks and queens, when they interrupt efforts to be present. This is also represented by the sword that each the Kings of the deck of playing cards is holding.

The four Heavenly Kings or Guardians, 8th Century, Todaiji Temple, Nara, Japan

In Buddhist lore it is said that the Four Heavenly Kings live halfway down the four sides of Mt. Meru and each one protects one of the four directions and one of the four continents. They are commanded by Taishakuten (Skt. Indra), Lord of the Center who lives on top of Mt. Meru.

The four Heavenly kings with Taishakuten, Hasedera, Kamakura, Japan

The Eastern direction or continent symbolizes the emotional center. The king of hearts, the intellectual part of the emotional center, usually simply called the heart, is the part in man that becomes interested in awakening one`s Higher Self.

By heart I do not mean the piece of flesh situated in the left of our bodies, but that which uses all the other faculties as its instruments and servants. -- Al-Ghazali (11th c. Persian Sufi mystic)

When the heart is educated with the tools to reach Divine Presence it is called the ruling faculty, king, deputy of God or steward. In the above image, Taishakuten represents the steward. In the scriptures of all esoteric traditions the founder is a symbol for the steward and all events in their lives describe characteristics of the steward. The steward is born in the heart, in the Eastern continent.

My heart is a beautiful Mary with a Jesus in the womb. -- Rumi (13th c. Sufi mystic and poet)
The heart is the palace of the deputy of God where the secrets are kept, and it must be proper and in order.
-- Ibn Arabi (13th c. Andalusian Sufi mystic and philosopher )

In the Khuddaka Nikaya sutra, Buddha (the steward) decides when, where, in what family and from what mother he will be born. Here, India symbolizes the emotional center.

Buddha then made the observation concerning the continent. Looking over the four continents with their attendant isles, he reflected: "In three of the continents the Buddhas are never born; only in the continent of India are they born." Thus he decided on the continent. -- Khuddaka Nikaya (Buddhist Sutra)
The king is a pyramid, he protects; he is the east. -- Pyramid Texts

After learning magic (symbolizing the knowledge and tools needed to awaken) from his teacher, Sun Wukong, the Monkey King (who also symbolizes the steward) has become proud and vain, and he can only preserve his life - his efforts to reach the state of Divine presence - if he returns to the Eastern Continent of Superior Body, the intellectual part of the emotional center.

"I come from the Water Curtain Cave in the Flowers and Fruit Mountain in the land of Aolai in the Eastern Continent of Superior Body," replied the Monkey King. -- Journey to the West
This book deals only with the Eastern Continent of Superior Body. -- Journey to the West

Studying knowledge and learning the tools needed to awaken is in the beginning an intellectual pursuit. To awaken, it has to become emotional. One needs to see in oneself, that when one receives this knowledge, one starts to feel better than other people because one has this knowledge, which most people don`t have. This is one of the many pitfalls in the journey to awakening. Seeing this in oneself and working on it means that it has penetrated one`s emotional center.

Return to Chapter 2