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Numbers in the Journey to the West

Numbers are the thoughts of God. The Divine Wisdom is reflected in the numbers impressed in all things. The construction of the physical and moral world alike is based on eternal numbers.
-- St. Augustine (4th c. Christian saint)     

Like all scriptures, the Journey to the West also uses numbers, to symbolize certain ideas. For example, the somersault Monkey learns from his Taoist teacher, can cover a specific distance.

With one somersault you can go one hundred and eight thousand miles. -- Journey to the West, chapter 2

One can find the number one hundred and eight in all Eastern religions and it refers to controlling the passions. In Buddhism, it refers to the idea of the one hundred eight defilements. The Journey from Chang`An in China to Vulture Peak in India, where the Buddha lives, is also one hundred and eight thousand miles, which symbolizes that if one controls the passions, one can reach presence.

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. -- Journey to the West, chapter 14
The Pure Land (Amida Buddha`s Pure Land, symbolizing the state of enlightenment) is not far from here, for the distance in mileage is 108,000, which really represents the 'ten evils' and 'eight errors' within us. 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 Partriarch of Zen Buddhism, 7th c.)      

The passions, symbolized by the demons in the Journey to the West, refer to the many desires from the lower self that prevent us from being present. When one pursues the passions, the desire to be present has no chance to manifest itself. Therefore, one needs to learn to control the passions. A few examples of passions are negative emotions, judgement, vanity, imagination, over–indulgence in eating food, attachments etc.

A person who obeys the passions of his lower self needs spiritual training, purification of the lower self, and dedication to the practice of remembrance. -- Al-Jilani (12th c. Sufi)

The remembrance that Al Jilani speaks about, is the Self- Remembering, which Gurdjieff spoke about. The Sufies called it remembering God. Since the inner meaning of God is the state of presence, Self-remembering and remembering God mean the same thing, remembering to be present.

The number 72 also refers to the passions.

Forgive the seeker if he strays off the path for the seventy-two creeds are constantly calling him.
-- Hafiz (14th c. Persian Sufi poet)
The Monkey king practiced and trained until he mastered the seventy-two earthly transformations.
-- Journey to the West, chapter 2

The number 36 also refers to the passions.

The man in whom the thirty-six streams of craving flow strongly towards pleasurable objects, the waves of passions carry him off. He is of confused vision and evil thoughts. -- Buddha
On this morning of actions completed and Buddhahood attained, the thirty-six kinds of dust from the past are washed away.-- Journey to the West, chapter 98

The number 9 also refers to the passions. (Thirty-six, seventy-two, eighty-one and one hundred and eight, are all multiples of nine.)

Casting her eyes over the record, the Bodhisattva quickly said, “In the Buddha's school 'nine nines' are needed before one can come to the truth. The eighty ordeals that the holy monk has endured are one short of the full number. “Go after the vajrapanis,” she ordered a protector, “and tell them to create another ordeal.
-- Journey to the West, chapter 99
When the Nine Nines are complete the demons are all destroyed. -- Journey to the West, chapter 99
Prince Ninehead showed his might. In the monster's nine heads were eighteen eyes shining bright as they looked in all directions. -- Journey to the West, chapter 62
Monkey and Pig, fighting a nine-headed demon
- by Chen Huiguan
Monkey and Friar Sand, fighting a nine-headed lion demon - by Chen Huiguan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




In chapter 24, Sanzang and his disciples arrive at a temple located on the Mountain of Longevity, which has a miraculous tree. The inner meaning of longevity is a prolonged state of presence.

Monkey picking a manfruit - by Chen Huiguan
Ginseng root


The temple had a rare treasure, a miraculous tree that had been formed when primeval chaos was first being divided, before the separation of Heaven and Earth. Only thirty fruit were formed each ten thousand years, and they were shaped like newborn babies,complete with limbs and sense organs. Anyone whose destiny permitted him to eat one fruit, would live for forty-seven thousand years.
-- Journey to the West, chapter 24


The Chinese characters for manfruit are 人参 (renshen), which is pronunced as ginseng in English. Ginseng root has the shape of a human body.

There are thirty manfruit on the tree, because the number thirty has a special meaning.

Horus entering the Narrow Gate with 30 stars,
Going forth by day (Egyptian book of the Dead)
The number thirty, understood with reference to the spiritual life, signifies the practice of the virtues.
-- Maximos the Confessor, Philokalia (Greek Orthodox Christian text)
Out of thousands of birds that set out on the journey, only thirty birds from the outer world contemplated the face of God in the inner world.
-- The Conference of the birds, by Fariduddin Attar


As said above, God refers to the God within oneself, the state of Divine presence.

Man’s virtue is that by which he seeks eagerly for God, and when he finds him, holds to him with all his might.
--Bernard of Clairvaux (12th c. French abbot)
Call the stars virtues. --Bernard of Clairvaux
As the sun journeys each day from east to west, thus making one day, while when it disappears night comes, so each virtue that a man practices illumines the soul, and when it disappears passion and darkness come.
-- Peter of Damaskos, Philokalia (Greek Orthodox Christian text)

A virtue is that by which one eagerly seeks for the state of Divine presence. The thirty manfruit, thirty virtues, thirty stars or thirty birds, all refer to thirty reminders to be present. For example, while reading this paragraph, one reminds oneself to be present by saying read, which means read with presence. Each image shows a different aspect of the state of presence. Manfruit is shaped like newborn babies, implying that one must get rid of all one`s attitudes and opinions and be empty-minded like a newborn baby, when one tries to be present. A virtue is a useful or desirable quality in a person, and presence is the most useful and desirable quality in a person, because this state is out of time and immortal.

Alice: How long is forever? White Rabbit: Sometimes, just one second. -- Alice in Wonderland

In ancient times, the stars were the main means of navigation at sea during the night, guiding on to one`s destination. A star is a symbol for a reminder to be present; a spark of light in the state of darkness that man spends his waking hours in, guiding him to the state of enlightenment. The image of a bird implies that the state of presence is as different from the normal state of man, as flying is from walking.

Thirty gods of the 30 days of the months, 1566 AD, Daihōji Temple, Toyama Pref.
Thirty gods of the 30 days of the months, 1572 AD, Daihōji Temple, Toyama Pref.
O Unas, look!
O Unas, hear!
O Unas, be there!
-- Egyptian Pyramid Texts

These two scrolls show thirty gods from Japan. They are called 30 Gods of the 30 Days of the Month, one for each day of the 30-day lunar month. There exist ten different groupings of these Gods in Japan, some related to Buddhism and some to Shintoism, each protecting one day. A day symbolizes a breath.

You will find the day spoken of as the breathing.
-- Bernard of Clairvaux (12th c. French abbot)

These thirty gods also symbolize reminders to be present. Each reminder is timed with one`s breath, so that one is present for one breath.

To breathe consciously means passing from one breath to the next in presence, not in heedlessness. Do not allow a single breath to be drawn empty and heedless of God. -- Kashghari (15th c. Nakshbandi Sufi) 

In the following quotations the numbers three, four, six and ten all refer to a spell or a mantra to reach a state of prolonged presence. They are all explained in conscious schools, where one can learn how to use these spells, under the guidance of a teacher.

Six square and four circular terraces – 9th C, Borobudur, Indonesia.
Great are the Three Jewels, and honoured be the Way;
The Four Kinds of Life and Six Paths are all explained.
-- Journey to the West, chapter 12
When you are awakened you will surpass
the Ten Stages and the Three Vehicles,
And stop the Four Kinds of Life and the Six Ways.
-- Journey to the West, chapter 8


The ten oxherding pictures showing six steps of action and four steps of rest. (Tomikichiro Tokuriki)
Ten steps that lead one up to heaven; Ten steps through which a man knows God. The ladder may seem short indeed, but if your heart can inwardly experience it, you will find a wealth the world cannot contain.
-- Theophanis the Plato (4th c. BC Greek philosopher)
Six large and four small Jizo Bodhisattvas, Meaka-Fudoson Nankokuji Temple, Tokyo
Four Jizo Bodhisattvas, Meaka-Fudoson Nankokuji Temple, Tokyo











Learned Audience, if you constantly perform the ten good deeds, paradise will appear to you at once.
-- Huineng (6th Partriarch of Zen Buddhism, 7th c.)

The six paths, ways or disciplines, refer to six steps or six syllables to help one be present. In the quotes below they are also symbolized as a day, a dragon or a bowl of tea.

There are six ways that lead to Liberation. -- Milarepa (11th c. Tibetan yogi)
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work. -- The Bible, Exodus 20:8-10

As said above, a day symbolizes a breath, the day is the inhalation and the night is the exhalation. One tries to stay present breath after breath.

You will find the day spoken of as breathing. -- Bernard of Clairvaux (12th c. French abbot)
Hexagram #1 'Heaven' or ''he Creative' (Qian) from the I Ching
The holy man who understands the mysteries of creation inherent in end and beginning, in death and life, becomes superior to the limitations of the transitory. For him, the meaning of time is that in it, the stages of growth can unfold in a clear sequence. He is mindful at every moment and uses the six stages of growth as if they were six dragons (the image attributed to the individual lines) on which he mounts to heaven.This is the sublimity and success of the Creative as it shows itself in man. -- I Ching (Commentary on hexagram #1, the Creative. p 371 in the Wilhelm/Baynes edition)

The Monk Kuya, saying Amidha Buddha`s name six times – Kyoto, Japan 13th C.
Six men, pulling the boat of the Egyptian Sun-God Ra, through the underworld, Tomb of Meresankh III (Giza) (4th Dynasty, Egypt)











From the most ancient times till today, this is not empty talk, but the sequence of the Great Way in the true method of producing an eternally living and immortal spirit and holy man..... When the conscious spirit has been transformed into the primal spirit, then only one can say that it has attained an infinite capacity for transformations and, departing from the cycle of births, has been brought to the sixfold present, golden genius.
-- Commentary on the Secret of the Golden Flower (Chapter 2 of the edition of Richard Wilhem)

Six Angels climbing up to God the Father, Bath Cathedral, England

The first bowl moistens my lips and throat;
The second bowl banishes all loneliness;
The third expelled the dullness from my mind,
Inducing inspirations born from all the books I’ve read;
At the fourth cup, I begin to perspire –
life's troubles evaporate through my pores.
The fifth cup cleanses my entire being.
Six cups and I am in the realm of the Divine.
Seven cups - ah, but I can drink no more:
I can only feel the gentle breeze blowing through my sleeves,
wafting me away to the Isle of Immortality!
-- Lu Tung, 8th century Taoist poet

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