Ukiyo-e

Ukiyo-e is a genre of Japanese woodblock prints and paintings produced between the 17th and the 20th centuries. Ukiyo-e (浮世絵) literally means pictures of the floating world. The word ukiyo originally expressed the Buddhist idea of the transitory nature of life and is also an allusion to the homophone ukiyo (憂き世 "Sorrowful World"?), the earthly plane of death and rebirth from which Buddhists sought release. Internally it refers to a man`s lower self. Contrasting this, is the world of the Higher Self, which is out of time and therefore immortal.

Alice: How long is forever? White Rabbit: Sometimes, just one second. -- Lewis Carol, Alice in Wonderland
If you practice for a single breath, then you are a realized immortal for a breath.
-- The Secret of the Golden Flower (Taoist text)

When the Higher Self awakens into the present, it sees the lower self as an interesting stranger. The lower self needs to become passive and certain aspects of it need to die, to enable the Higher Self to come into being. However, the lower self doesn`t want to give up it`s territory and so will do anything to prevent the state of presence to occur.

The lower self tries to protect its realm from pain by covering it with many veils of unconsciousness, imagination and desires. -- Ibn Arabi (13th c. Andalusian Sufi mystic and philosopher)

In the image below, the giant shrimp symbolizes the lower self, while the phoenix represents the Higher Self. A phoenix rising from the ashes, represents the rebirth of state of Divine Presence.

Battle between a giant shrimp and a phoenix (Kuniyoshi, from a series on the theme
of divine beast 1839-41)



I am pure, pure, pure, pure! My purity is the purity of that great phoenix of Heliopolis. -- Egyptian Texts, Going Forth by Day
There is a war that opens the doors of heaven. Happy the warriors whose fate is to fight such war. -- Bhagavad Gita (Hindu text)
Struggle with your lower self. Either you ride it, or it will ride you.
-- Al-Jilani (12th c. Persian Sufi)





The inner meaning of the eternal struggle between good and bad is the struggle between the lower and Higher Self. This struggle is the essence of the myths of all esoteric traditions, fairy tailes and epic stories. Esoteric traditions also use the snake as a symbol for the lower self, in particular to represent the state of imagination.

Mental excretion is represented by imagination, that is, a continuous production of waste images, the by-product of past perceptions, which flow through and out of the brain in a meaningless and unbroken stream. In fact, dreaming goes on night and day, without a break. -- The Theory of Celestial Harmony, Rodney Collin (20thc. Fourth Way spiritual teacher)

In the left Ukiyo-e below, the mind, educated with the tools to reach the state of presence, which is also called the steward, is struggling with lower self. In the right image, the snake (representing the lower self) is trying to distract Adam and Eve (the educated mind and heart) from focusing on the immortal state of Divine Presence,

The way of giving life to humans uses the ordinary father and mother to give birth to the phantasmic body. The way of giving life to immortals uses the spiritual father and mother to give birth to the real body.
-- Liu Yiming, commentary on -- Understanding Reality by Zhang Boduan
The union of the mind with the heart is a union of the spiritual thoughts of the mind with the spiritual feelings of the heart. -- Bishop Ignatii, Philokalia (Greek Orthodox Christian text)

A hero grappling with a huge serpent
by Kuniyoshi

Adam and Eve tempted
by a serpent
(Masolino, Italy, ca.1430)



If we do not admit the serpent's head, which is the provocation of the thought, we will not admit the rest of its body. -- John Cassian (The Philokalia)
The snake is your animal self. Do not expect to oppose it with quietness and sweetness and mere wishing. -- Rumi (13th c. Sufi mystic and poet)





In the images below, the figures hanging upside down represent the mind and the heart under the control of the lower self.

The lower mind (self) is like a strong vassal or fierce general who bullies the feeble emperor and takes the law in his own hands from a far away position. As time passes, the affairs of state are upside down.
-- The secret of the Golden Flower (Taoist text)
Protect the King that he may not be upside down. -- Egyptian Pyramid Texts

The emperor, king or any ruler, symbolizes the mind educated with the tools to reach presence, also called steward.

The human body is like a country, and the mind is like a ruler.
-- Commentary on the I Ching, Liu Yiming (18th c. Taoist master)

A witch, preparing to cut open the belly of a pregnant woman.
(Yoshitoshi)

Tarot card XII, The Hanged Man

The pregnant woman represents the heart pregnant with the spiritual body of effort to awaken the Higher Self. The witch represents the lower self trying to get rid of these efforts.

Hafiz, how did you ever become a pregnant woman? ... I can so clearly see that God has made love with you and the whole universe is germinating inside your belly.
-- Hafiz (14th c. Persian Sufi poet)
My heart is a beautiful Mary with a Jesus in the womb.
-- Rumi (13th c. Sufi mystic and poet)
That baby is born in the heart and is reared and grows there. The heart like a mother, gives birth, suckles, and rears child of the heart. The child of the heart is taught inner wisdom. -- Al-Jilani (12th c. Persian Sufi)

Man`s lower self is a collection of attitudes, dreams, and mechanical habits. He has no unified self; each part in him speaks, thinking it speaks for the whole, while in fact it is only a very small part of him.

Composite man (Kuniyoshi)

Anatomical head (Philip Balbi)



Man is a plurality. Man's name is legion. -- Gurdjieff
There exist ten thousand worlds, and all these are contained in man, without his being conscious of it. -- Darqawi (17th c. Moroccan Sufi)




Esoteric traditions have also used a skeleton as a symbol for the lower self, because Divine Presence is seen as life and the absence of Presence as death.

O thou that sleepest, what is sleep ?
Sleep resembles death.
Ah, why then dost thou not work in such wise
that after death thou mayest retain
a resemblance to perfect life,
rather than during life make thyself
like the hapless dead by sleeping!
-- Leonardo da Vinci

The path from sleep to enlightenment is often symbolized as crossing a river, going from the shore of sleep to the other shore of Presence. To cross the illusionary waters of the world, one needs a boat. The boat symbolizes the emotional desire to strive for the Divinity within, called the heart.

By kuniyoshi

Christ asleep in a boat
(Illuminated manuscript, 12th C. AD.)

The heart is the vital center. It occupies the place of ruler. It is the sacred vessel. Yellow Emperor's Inner Canon, Chapter 8 (Chinese text)
The ship is your heart. Guard it.
-- Macarius the Great, The Philokalia (Greek Orthodox Christian text)





In the upper left image, the lower self has created a storm to try to sink the boat.

With a great roar the evil demons arise, and through the passions raise mutiny and storm in the heart. But by the name of the Lord all this is dissolved and vanishes, like wax in a flame. -- Symeon the New Theologian (Philokalia)

In the left image below, the two rocks symbolize the two Shinto Gods Izanami and Izanagi. They are connected with a rope called Shimenawa, which represents their union. The Japanese characters in the word Shimenawa (注連縄)stand for attention, connect and rope and can be translated as a rope to connect one`s attention. Like the examples above it refers to the educated heart and mind keeping attention focused on the present, from moment to moment, to awaken the Higher Self.

Wedded rocks, symbolizing the two Shinto Gods
Izanami and Izanagi, by Kuniyoshi

Two lions guarding the Sun disk of Ra (the state of presence)
Tomb of Inherkau, Deir el-Medina, Egypt












The six light-rays represent six yangs, six steps to bring back the presence of the Higher Self, which is also called the mind of Tao.

On the left, the hexagram 'Return" with one yang and five yins, on the right the hexagram "Heaven" with 6 yangs

The point where one yang begins to move is when the yang light of real knowledge of the mind of Tao stirs but is not yet very active: only then is a glimpse of the root of heaven revealed. At this time you should quickly set about increasing the fire, gathering yang and putting it into the furnace of evolution., gradually gathering,
gradually refining, from vagueness to clarity, from one yang to complete purity of six yangs. -- Liu Yiming (18th c. Taoist master - commentary on-- Understanding Reality by Zhang Boduan 11th c. Taoist master)

Nio protectors (Kings of LIght) Agyo and Ungyo
(Todaji temple, Nara 13th C. AD, by the Kei school of sculptures)

The female and male lions in the upper right image represent the same as Izanami and Izanagi. The Egyptian god Aker was the deification of the horizon and he was also referred to as Ruti, which means two lions. Between the lions is the hieroglyph for horizon, which is the sun's disc (the state of presence) placed between two mountains or rocks. The two lions are an emanation of the God Aker in the same way as the Nio guardians are said to be an emanation of Dainichi Nyorai (lit. the Great Sun Buddha). They represent the first and the sixth yang of the effort to bring back the Ra`s sun disc.



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