From The Temptation of St. Anthony, Hieronymus Bosch
I write this entry from Shanghai, China, a country where carp symbolize both profit, strength, and power. Fish have been used to symbolize such abundance in many different cultures; and in the end, what could be more delicious or nourishing than a nice, fat fish?
Hieronymus Bosch used fish in the Temptation of St. Anthony to denote the human ego. I'm working on an interpretation of this painting that will go into volume 2 of my series, The Esoteric Bosch; that work is far from complete, but I spent several hours working on it this morning in my hotel. In the above image, seen on the right hand side of the painting, the fish — which serves as one of the leitmotifs of the painting, inscribing a great circle around the circumference of the activity — has shrunk to a relatively tiny thing, and is dead, symbolizing the vanquishing of ego. The demon who was tasked with supervising its well-being is visibly distressed. One can very nearly hear him saying, oh, crap.
The process which slowly but relentlessly destroys ego, if it becomes active, draws its force, its momentum, and its direction from the emanations of the sun. This process produces remorse in mankind, which is the critical factor in the gradual melting of egoistic impulses.
The process has a particular name, that is, the sacred Aieioiuoa, which appears at first glance to be a made-up word without any specific sense to it.
The reason Gurdjieff chose this word is because it is an objective and universal word and represents, as it happens, the exact nature of the vibration that must arise to accompany the process. It is, in other words, a sacred chant which arises in Being spontaneously, but only under precisely the right circumstances, and must be engaged in wholeheartedly for the period of time in which that exact vibration needs to be active in order to mediate the arrival of solar emanations. This is an art that cannot, unfortunately, be taught; there are no exercises for it, since receiving of solar vibration can only take place under the exact circumstances for a particular individual where the sun is emitting the right kind of emanations, and they are receptive— something which exercises can never produce.
One must simply engage in inner development to a point of vibration where the possibility arises; be prepared; and then participate fully and without hesitation in the chant as it manifests.
It may well be useless to explain this to people, since it is ultimately impossible to understand this particular point of work from an intellectual or theoretical point of view. I do so, I suppose, simply to illustrate the fact that Gurdjieff's book is— like Hieronymus Bosch's paintings —filled with truly esoteric and completely objective facts that appear, on the surface of things, to be entirely fantastic. There is nothing fantastic about them; what appears to be fantasy is, more often than not, sheer pragmatism.
We just can't see it as such in our ordinary state.
In any event, this action of the dissolution of ego, this killing of the fish, is a long process. One is not going to slay the ego with a single arrow, or in a single blow. A long and hearty depth of suffering is needed.
One of the beautiful things about the painting is that it does, comprehensively, blend the earthly and the divine and the suffering that they undergo when their encounter with one another in such a way as to convey not only the pain and terror of that suffering, but the beauty and majesty of it as well.