Home : Literature : The Seventh World of Chan Buddhism
 » A Working Model of the Psyche [Chapter 7, Page 3 of 5]
Back   Index  Forward to Chapter 7, Page 4  
Kannon (Guan Yin)

A Working Model of the Psyche, Cont.

5. Heroes

(There are basically four sequential projections of the Hero Archetype: Trickster, Superman, Human, Savior-Bodhisattva.)

Punishing 'bad' behavior is one side of the coin. The other side is appealing to the 'good.' As a child of three, four or five, the boy continues to find that he is frequently reprimanded for being disobedient, greedy, or disruptive. But the rat, coyote or snake in him need not remain in perpetual disgrace. It can be rehabilitated.

The dynamics of normal family life are such that members strive to maintain a benign or civilizing balance. Mutual support means mutual reliance, and each member of the unit must behave responsibly. Laziness, selfishness, deceit and all forms of behavior which breach security, cause dissension or squander assets are obviously detrimen- tal to the family's welfare. So the child must tame his own desires, subordinating them to the collective desires of the unit. He must learn to be ethical in his dealings with other people. He must learn to follow a prescribed moral code that is designed to enable him to function successfully in larger, more diverse, groups.

Large societies offer distinct survival advantages: the larger the social group, the larger the gene pool; the bigger the army, the greater the variety of skills; and so on. But this increase in security and cultural enrichment is not automatically yielded. It is gained by the cooperation and contribution of all members. In short, the benefits of a civilization accrue according to the degree of organization and inspired participation of the citizenry.

The Hero instinct inspires the child to become a better person, as decent, loyal, honest, generous, skilled, industrious, courageous and responsible as he can possibly be. This is a great deal to expect, but that we all grow up to be the sterling citizens we are attests to the relative ease with which the difficulty is surmounted. The Hero is extremely powerful.

This civilizing or 'ennobling' process commences when Mother and Father begin to tell our model child marvelous stories about Heroes. They will start with the first Hero figure, the Trickster.

We have all met the naughty but likeable Trickster. He is Loki, the fire god who is so troublesome to control; he is Bugs Bunny, who steals the farmer's crops; he is noisy Woody Woodpecker. Since all Hero projections are generated in the same manner, we can see how this amazing instinct works in all its sequential forms by considering a myth that Navajo parents tell their children. (They recite this story slowly and with great seriousness.) The Navajo Trickster figure is called Coyote:

Coyote was always getting into trouble. He would forget to do things that he had promised to do; he would fall asleep when he was supposed to stay awake; and sometimes when he had received specific instructions, he would decide that he knew a better way and he would really mess things up. Everyone laughed at Coyote and nobody would trust him with even the smallest job. Very sad, he went to the Great Spirit and asked for a chance to redeem himself. "Please give me a job to do so that I can show everyone that I have learned to be responsible," he said.

At first Great Sprit refused, but Coyote begged and begged until Great Sprit felt pity for him and relented. "Here is a job for you," he said. "By tonight, I have to pay a debt to Great Bear who lives on top of a distant mountain. Can you take this pouch of sparkling stones to him as my payment of the debt?" "Of course," said Coyote. "I'll run and run and I'll get it to him before nightfall." Then Great Spirit tied the pouch with a rawhide cord and gave it to Coyote. "Make sure this pouch doesn't come untied or the gems will be lost." Coyote was very grateful for the chance to prove himself. "Oh, thank you, Great Spirit, and do not worry," he said. "I'll take good care of the pouch." He put the pouch in his mouth and ran off.

Pretty soon he got hungry and as he ran, the ends of the rawhide cord rubbed against his nose and lips. The cord smelled so delicious that he thought he would nibble on the ends just to ease his hunger. By the time he got to the base of the mountain he was very hungry and had begun to gnaw the cord and by the time he was half way up the mountain he was chewing hard. Little by little he chewed-up and swallowed the cord. Poor Coyote! He never noticed how much he had eaten. When he got to the top of the mountain he discovered that the pouch had opened and all the precious stones were gone. He was so ashamed. "I ate the cord," he confessed. "I'm so sorry." Great Spirit was very angry. "Do you see what your disobedience has caused?" Coyote cried and begged for forgiveness.

When Great Spirit saw that Coyote was truly repentant he took pity on him. "I will forgive you but I never want you to forget the lesson you learned here tonight!" And saying this he waved his hand and all the sparkling stones that had been lost on the mountain flew up into the sky. And that is how the stars were created. And to this day, every evening as the stars come out Coyote is reminded of his mistake and you can hear him cry, "Oooooooooh... I'm sorry! Oh..Oooooooooh I'm sooooo sorry!"

Legends, myths, and fairy tales do not merely entertain. They instruct, encourage and reassure. They tell the child that mother and father know how hard it is to become responsible. They let him know that when he errs, if he is repentant and sincerely tries to improve, he will always be forgiven. Such stories are lessons in social awareness and in expanding consciousness. Throughout his life, tales of the Hero will inspire him to greatness. Without these role models, maturity is difficult if not impossible to attain.

As the child grows, the Hero stories change. He has learned obedience. Now he needs courage and skill. He next learns about the second Hero figure, the Superman, that half-man, half-god creature who protects the good and summarily vanquishes the evil. These superhuman Hero figures have extrordinary powers - sometimes they can fly, see through solids or swim underwater without needing air. At the very least, they can jump higher, throw farther, run and swim faster, shoot their arrows more accurately and outwit anybody else. Their exploits excite and inspire.

Father now begins to teach the child how to farm, fish, hunt, and fight. He instructs him in the use of the axe, knife, net, bow and spear. He has a very willing pupil. Our child is infatuated with his heroes and eagerly tries to imitate them.

The Enemy Shadow has also grown in stature. The boy is capable of much greater mischief. He can be duplicitous, dishonest, lazy, irresponsible, and selfish - qualities which will be neatly balanced by his increasing ability to pretend to their opposite.

As the boy's horizons expand and he encounters new and incomprehensible phenomena, he relies upon his Heroes. Supermen know how to deal with all things fabulous and real.

Since the skills that Father teaches must be practiced, the child now develops a particularly close friendship: his best friend or benign alter ego. Such a friend has enormous survival value. With this friend the child can practice his lessons without fear of being mocked or punished for error. He can try out new techniques and engage in constructive competition. The benefits of the Confessional are also his: he can reveal his most personal secrets, fears and aspirations. But above all, whenever he explores new territory or goes adventuring he enjoys the safety of the Buddy system. He and his Best Friend are supportive partners, a team.

As our child, now a boy of ten or so, acquires the virtues of loyalty, trust, and a cooperative attitude, he learns to hunt and kill for food and protection. Animals are not the only threats. There are people whose interests his family regards as being inimical to theirs. He must possess enough anger and aggression in his heart to defend his home, to drive off or kill those who threaten. The Enemy Shadow, rising to the occasion, reduces any human being upon which is it projected to the level of dangerous, irritating, or contemptible animal - one that can be exterminated not only with impunity but with honor. (Three thousand years later even the most sophisticated soul amongst us calls someone he dislikes a rat, skunk, snake, louse, bitch, etc.) In a world of predators, animal and human, this survival strategy is a categorical imperative.

The Enemy Shadow, then, defends our ego from immobilizing disgrace, justifies us in the acquisition of our desires, instructs us in the ways of deceit, keeps us on our guard, and gives us the will and the power to kill in fear and anger. Unfortunately, when the Shadow contaminates another instinct, we have an abusive mother, a sadistic lover, a back-stabbing friend.

The Seventh World of Chan Buddhism
Chapter 7: A Working Model of the Psyche, Page 3 of 5

Last modified: July 11, 2004
©1996 Ming Zhen Shakya (Chuan Yuan Shakya)