Detail from The Garden of Earthly Delights
by Hieronymus Bosch
Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
—Mark 8:37, King James Bible
Another vignette by Hieronymus Bosch, with an interesting esoteric meaning for students of the Gurdjieff teachings.
This image is taken from a critical point in the Tantric circle where earthly influences are on the wane and the entire processional is circulating back towards the higher, heavenly influences in the upper area of the central panel.
The three people on horses represent the three centers. Each of the horses represents a feeling, or emotional impulse, that which provides the power or force that drives us forward into our spiritual life. This tells us that the feeling part of our centers is what supports our spiritual work and gives it the force it needs.
The riders are so closely aligned with one another because all three centers are working together. This is part of what has made the turn back towards heavenly influences possible.
Collectively, they carry an upside down, clearly dead blue fish — representing (blue) the earthly world and the ego. (see Bosch Decoded for an explanation of the ego as a fish and paintings by Bosch.) The ego has been killed in the very act of swallowing egoistic temptation — symbolized by the red smaller fish in the larger fish's mouth. The rabbit perches on the fish as a symbol of fecundity, the endless birth of the eternal through God, which has now become possible and is an ascendant influence.
A human being is given a soul, an inward part, which they ought to become responsible for. One might say that one becomes responsible by sensing inwardly; that is, attending to the sensation of the inner self. Yet we always sense outwardly; and we even mistake ordinary outward sensation for the kind of sensation we ought to be having when we attempt to do inner work. So we are always devoted to and even enslaved by the outer world.
Traditionally, what a man owes God in exchange for his soul is prayer and thanksgiving. All religious services understand this and reflected in their process. It is, in fact, a deep inner need that transcends verbal understandings to give thanks and praise to God; and only when our deepest emotional parts, the feeling parts of our three centers, are in harmony and participating do we truly understand the comprehensive nature of this need, which ought to be spontaneous, unplanned, joyful, and perpetually loving.
Once we experience it that way, there is no other alternative to it, and the ordinary rote expression of the form is no longer interesting.
Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.