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Kannon (Guan Yin)

A Working Model of the Psyche, Cont.

6. Persona, the instinct to conform.

As the child becomes a young man he is initated into a rule-filled society. Every activity has its standard of behavior and he must learn how to conduct himself accordingly. He may carouse at a fiesta and play the clown, but when he's selling vegetables in the market, he must at least appear to be sober, honest, and pleasant.

In any stressful encounter, people are reassured by sameness and are uncomfortable when confronted by atypical behavior. Whether our young man is participating in a military exercise, selling shoes, or courting a young lady - an instinctive imperative which will soon manifest itself - he will behave differently according to the role he is playing. He will strive to behave in ways that are calculated to foster social acceptance.

The instinct of conformity is also known as the Persona, a term which originated in ancient Greece when actors wore masks, called personas, that varied according to the role being played. When the performance was finished, the masks were removed. A Persona, like a uniform worn in specific occupations, is supposed to be shed when its user is not engaged in the occupation for which it was designed.

Our young man will leave his personas on the doorstep when he enters his home. He may even define his home as that one place in the world in which he needs no personas.

7. Anima/Animus, the reproductive instinct

To enter society is to enter a gene pool; and in such water our young man wants to be a shark not a flounder. He sees who is at the top of the food chain: musicians, athletes, warriors, priests, physicians, and those fellows whose job description is limited to - but not in any disadvantageous way - simply being rich. It is these men who get the attention of nubile females.

Our young man experiences the next phase of hero projection: the human hero. He picks his exemplar and becomes an understudy or apprentice. Should he have chosen a harpist to emulate, he will, at every unfortunate moment of the day or night, assiduously practice his lyre scales and chords. His appreciative audience will consist of those family members and neighbors who realize that he could just as easily have taken up the drums or conch.

The more he perfects his art, skill, and persona, the more marriageable he is considered. Soon he will attract the girl of his dreams and will project upon her that carrier of his reproductive instinct, the Anima. (In females the instinct is called the Animus.)

When this instinct's hormones enter his bloodstream, he can barely control himself. He plays like Orpheus gone mad, thinking of little else but the young woman upon whom he has projected his dream-goddess Anima. He wants to possess her body and soul.

8. Hunter, the instinct to pursue the prey.

There are times when knowing when to quit may have definite survival value; but in most cases the one who prevails is the one who perseveres. This is particularly true of the hunter.

If "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny" as biologists are wont to say, then surely one of the rungs in our evolutionary ladder is the rung of the preditory carnivore. Nature has programmed us to pursue, to track, and to stalk. When this archetype is engaged, a special emotion is felt, an emotion which is quite apart from any heroic pride or culinary satisfaction.

Whenever our Young Man hunted, he would be driven - not necessarily by hunger, either his own or the hunger of those who depended on him, but by the thrill of the chase. The evidence of this is that in the service of this thrill he may invest far more energy than the captured prize could possibly return.

Even today, a man will spend considerable sums of money buying weapons, vehicles, clothing and camping gear all in an effort to track down and kill a deer for a supply of meat that he could purchase at a market for a few dollars. The same man who at home requires the utmost in refined comfort and safety will travel for hours in order to enter the woods and sleep among insects, spiders and snakes, to go unbathed for days, to eat badly prepared meals of stuff that originated in cans or plastic pouches, and to climb, slide, fall and stumble - all because he is in thrall to the archetypal god in him who enjoys stalking a prey. No inconvenience can counterbalance that ecstatic rush the hunter feels, that singleness of purpose, that concentration and focus that ascend into meditative obsession.

Our model young man may heroically carry home his deer or take his trophy-antlers and leave the meat for scavengers.

If it is a woman he has been pursuing, the dynamics are the same. What he does with her after he stalks and claims his quarry will be up to other gods.

He may, if he's lucky, reach a state of contentment and decide to settle down with his prize. His art will become his hobby. He'll sell his lyre to buy a plow. Hunting for sport will be a luxury he can't often afford. He conforms to his role as responsible husband and head- of-household. Our young man's devotion to his wife must be complete. Children will be coming.

Now he marries and has his own adorable little ones and as the responsibilities of family and community burden him, the sacrifices he must make increase both in kind and in degree. He wants peace and harmony in his home and in his community, he wants and needs law and order. He turns to religion, not because he's feeling anything spiritual, but because he knows the value of rules. Also, he wants to be loved, a desire that is more easily realized when somebody else is the bad-guy who makes and enforces the rules. In short, he supports religion because he needs religion's support.

Organized religions are usually founded upon the last hero figure, the Savior- Bodhisattva. This hero helps to sustain us in stressful times. (The spiritual significance of the Savior-Bodhisattva is not appreciated until the devotee has reached the Eighth World.)

Our model man may frequently be tempted to abandon his responsibilities and to become a philanderer or a spendthrift or an adventurer. He may resent being replaced in his wife's attentions by the children. He may look covetously at a neighbor's wife or daughter and desire to elope with her; but he will fear whatever punishments his priests promise by way of hell, loathesome rebirth, shunning, and so on. More, civil authorities may stake a claim on whatever happiness, freedom, and property he has left. If he has the wherewithal to think things over, he will likely cower and toe the line.

Not only may his truant tendencies be countered by the Savior's good example but he may even be tempted to emulate the Hero who sacrificed so much for the good of his people. The humble Savior also teaches that greatness can be achieved without wealth or power.

Other hero figures had inspired him to individual excellence, but the Savior, through the cohesive medium of organized religion, unites him with his countrymen, adding the force of his arms and his righteousness to theirs. He understands that it is under the Savior's aegis that all are born into the community and that it is under this same aegis that all are as well buried in the community's hallowed ground. The Savior promotes harmony and unity and makes the many, one.

But this is simply the function of religion at its base level. He may feel the need for more. He may be discontented with his entire life, with its superficiality, with its skewed values, with the evaporative pleasures of material acquisitions, with the transience of all existence. Is this all there is, he wonders. He may want to know the meaning of life, the face of god behind the veil of Maya. He may feel purposeless and incomplete.

9. Transformation, the Instinct for spiritual change.

Our model man has now arrived at the place where spiritual life begins, the place where the raw is cut and cooked, where the ore is smelted and the metal shaped. He must now experience the fire of transformation - the hearth and the cauldron, the forge and the crucible. He must now place himself into the hands of the "keepers of the flame", the cook and the smith, mankind's original priests.

No longer may he identify himself as someone's son, brother, friend, student, lover, or father. Before he can discover his true nature, he must become the anonymous mendicant whose wealth consists in the realization that he chops wood and carries water.

Zen training is precisely this: Spiritual transformation achieved through sacrificial fires of ego-immolation, through disciplines anciently formulated in terms of earth, water, fire, air, and space. In the place of transformation, everything is consigned to the flames: fame, family, lovers, wealth and beauty.

This, then, is our model. Man, separated from his divine nature by the force of instinct, subjected to fragmenting ordeal in his middle years, and made whole as a nirvanic conclusion to the years of samsaric travail.

Of course, our model was an exemplary creature living in an exemplary world. He, unlike many of us, had a best friend, had heroes, had a loving wife and family. All of his instinctive drives found suitable goal-line recipients. None was buried alive in his psyche and he was able to mature with few complications.

The Seventh World of Chan Buddhism
Chapter 7: A Working Model of the Psyche, Page 4 of 5

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