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Mountains and Rivers in the Journey to the West

Sanzang and disciples crossing the mountains - by Chen Huiguan

Along the journey, Sanzang and disciples have to cross
mountains and rivers numerous times.

The holy monk long strove to fetch the scriptures,
For fourteen years across the West he strayed.
He journeyed hard and met with much disaster,
By mountains and by rivers long delayed.
-- Journey to the West, chapter 100
They had been traveling for the best part of a month, when the Master and disciples saw a mountain in front of them that touched the sky and blotted out the sun. I’m sure there must be evil creatures lurking on it to catch us, so be on your guard, said the Master.
-- Journey to the West, chapter 40

A mountain is a symbol for the state of imagination which blocks out our internal sun, the state of presence.

The mountain of your imagination amounts to no more than a few crumbs of bread. -- Rumi (13th c. Sufi mystic and poet)

People in the subway in imagnation


As the old saying goes, 'Mount Tai is as easy to move as a mustard seed, but a mortal cannot be dragged away from the earthly dust.'
-- Journey to the West, chapter 99
You see the mountains and think them fixed, yet they pass away as the clouds pass. -- Koran
O Lord, Thou hast evened me, lowering the mountains and hills of my high imagination, straightening my crookedness, and smoothing my rough ways. -- St. Augustine (4th c. Christian saint)


Imagination is a state in which we are listening to the thoughts, the many I`s, in our head without awareness of ourselves or our surroundings. It is uncontrolled mind activity, happening by itself. Sometimes we are our so deep in it, that we don`t even hear somebody calling our name; we don`t have any awareness. This state is the opposite of presence, which means that one`s Higher Self, the sun, is absent.

Tarot card Wheel of Fortune

A river or water, also represents the state of imagination.

Someday, my sweet Hafiz, All the nonsense in your brain will dry up like a stagnant pool of water beneath the sun. -- Mohammed Attar (teacher of Hafiz)

The sun symbolizing presence, gets rid of imagination. In the tarot card the Wheel of Fortune, the turning wheel symbolizes the changing of the many I`s. The wheel is on water, which cannot serve as a foundation, symbolizing that the many I`s are not real.

They came unto a great black river stretching as far as the eye could see. “Disciples,” said the master with delight, “here’s a boat. Let’s ask the boatman to take us across.” The boatman pushed off and rowed straight into the main stream. Once they reached the middle there was a great roar as high waves blotted out the heavens, and a terrible storm blew up. This wind was the work of the boatman, who was in fact the monster of the black river. The Tang priest and Pig disappeared without a trace, and nobody knew where they had been carried off to. -- Journey to the West, chapter 43

The boatman symbolizes the lower self, which uses a terrible storm, also symbolizing imagination, to get rid of the desire to be present. Crossing a river symbolizes going from the state of sleep to the state or presence.

The Dharma is only a collection of words and letters that has to be discarded when we have reached the other shore. -- Gampopa (Founder of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, 12th c.)
This is traveling on the highest path. It is a path that leads to that other shore — ‘the Way to the Beyond.’
-- Buddha
Hexagram # 42 Increase
FOR INCREASE, IT IS BENEFICIAL TO GO SOMEWHERE; IT IS BENEFICIAL TO CROSS GREAT RIVERS. Only when one has dissolved the seeds of compulsive habit of time immemorial will one be able to restore one's original being. Therefore it is beneficial to cross great rivers. -- Liu Yiming (The Taoist Iching, hexagram #42)

Each new adventure of Sanzang and his disciples begins with reaching a mountain or a river that needs to be crossed. Each attempt to reach Vulture Peak, the state of Divine Presence, begins with the effort to free oneself of imagination. Instead of listening to the thoughts going round and round in one`s mind, one simply becomes aware of oneself in one`s surroundings and one lets the thoughts pass by, paying no attention to them. Even though this is very simple, it is the hardest thing a man can do and requires much practice, a strong desire, and most important of all, outside help, so one can escape the prison of sleep.


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