Journey of the Prodigal Son

Although I have posted on this topic earlier, it’s occasionally worthwhile to review the parable of the Prodigal Son and what it means. In a few words, it not only explains the origins and real meaning of what we call “religion”, but even the history of the human species itself. Humanity’s one “universal religion” is the attempt to reconnect with Origin or the Source or with some dream of a Lost Paradise. And in that sense, indeed, as William Blake put it in his manifesto, “All religions are one” (There is NO Natural Religion).

And more than that, many things and human activities we don’t call “religion”, and which even look to be the contrary of religion, are, in fact, religion even if they are called by another name.

So, with that in mind, let’s dive once more into the parable of the Prodigal Son.

As the parable goes, the Prodigal Son, as narrated in Luke 15,  once lived in a resplendent kingdom, until one day he decides to depart his homeland and go on a journey of discovery. Taking his inheritance, he journeys into a distant land and faraway country where he begins to squander his inheritance in riotous living until he is finally bankrupt, and ends up trying to make a living as a swineherd amongst swine, now ever hungry and even envying the swine their already poor and meagre fare.

At the nadir or lowest point of his existence, (or what we call “the rock bottom”) he “comes to remembrance of himself” (or “to his senses” as some translations put it) and begins the journey back to his Origins, anticipating and fearing the wrath of his father for his past sins and his wanton and profligate ways. But instead of wrath, he is welcomed back with jubilation and feasting.

The Prodigal Son is the ego-consciousness (or body-mind, the selfhood, the identity, or as the Buddha put it, “the I am conceit”). The journey of the ego-consciousness into the “faraway land” is the sense of estrangement, alienation, separateness, apartness or exile from Origin — a loss of remembrance of who and what one really is. The wealth and riches that the Prodigal Son squanders along the way are his spiritual inheritance — spiritual powers and talents that have atrophied through abuse and distraction.

The lowest point of his existence is the maximum selfhood or egoicity, when the connection to the life-giving centre is fully severed, at least to the sense of the ego-nature. This is called “the kali yuga” or dark age, or what the Greeks called the Age of Iron. It is also the spirit or Zoa that William Blake calls “Urizen”.

This nadir or low point is what Eckhart Tolle refers to as “the pain body” in his book The Power of Now. And, in fact, The Power of Now is a pretty good illustration of the meaning of the parable of the Prodigal Son itself. This pain body or nadir then becomes the stimulus for the Prodigal Son to begin the recovery of the remembrance of himself, and he begins the journey back from the state of dis-memberment (dis-integration) via re-membrance (re-integration). Re-membrance is re-collection, which is the meaning of the word religion (re-ligare, to re-connect).

In fact, it’s probably safe to say that everything in the New Testament is simply a footnote to the parable of the Prodigal Son.

You may also surmise from this that Jean Gebser’s Kulturephilosophie of the origins and history of consciousness, as presented in his Ever-Present Origin, is a more elaborate exegesis on the parable of the Prodigal Son, and that the integral consciousness is the coming to re-membrance of the Prodigal Son of Origin, and of who and what he really is. The journey of the Prodigal Son, as ego-consciousness, is the meaning of his statement that “progression is also distantiation” from Origin or “the vital centre”.  In fact, the “deficiency” of a consciousness structure and “distantiation” or apartness are pretty much synonymous terms.

Re-membrance is not merely memory, which is only imagistic. It is a true integration from a condition of dis-memberment. This is why Gebser insists that “Origin” is not “beginning”, and the two should not be confused.  So, the problem with everything we today call “religion” is that it has confused the two, and has become merely “observance”, and therewith quite reactionary. The confusion of memory with a true re-membering is what is called “idolatry”.

Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” (as well as Richard Moss’s “mandala of being”) is also a map of the journeys of the Prodigal Son into a faraway country. The extremity in which the Prodigal Son finally finds himself (and which is the “turning point” in the process of enantiodromia or reversal of a dynamic at the extremity) is expressed as distantiation of the ego-consciousness from the vital centre along only one of the arms of the cross of reality, as so

Rosenstock-Huessy's "cross of reality"

Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality”


Richard Moss' "mandala of being"

Richard Moss’ “mandala of being”


As Jean Gebser’s history of the structures of consciousness is an elaboration on the journeys of the Prodigal Son, so is William Blake’s mythology of the four Zoas of the disintegrate Adam, who is also the Prodigal Son, and who, in recovering himself or coming to re-membrance of himself, is the transformed “Albion”. Albion is the fully re-integrate Prodigal Son who has come to re-membrance of himself, and of who and what he is, a luminous fourfold being.

William Blake -- the Fourfold Vision

William Blake — the Fourfold Vision

The Prodigal Son, finally resurrect from the dead as the new “Albion”, as it were, is the image of Blake’s “Glad Day”, which Blake captioned “Albion rose from where he labour’d at the Mill with Slaves / Giving himself for the Nations he danc’d the dance of Eternal Death”

Albion Restored

Albion Restored

Now, briefly, I want to mention something about the “luminous body” as the true form of the human, and as illustrated by Blake. Those who are familiar with Castaneda’s work might recognise the luminous “egg” shape as the energy form of the human as seen by “sorcerers”, or those who have managed the feat of “stopping the world”. But the other aspect of the luminous body, or energetic form, mentioned by don Juan is that it has “compartments”, some more or less pronounced and discernable to perception. The ideal candidate for the position of “nagual”, it is stated, has four such “compartments”, which lends Blake’s own illustration of the “fourfold vision” some depth.

“Now I a fourfold vision see
And a fourfold vision is given to me
Tis fourfold in my supreme delight
And three fold in soft Beulahs night
And twofold Always. May God us keep
From Single vision & Newtons sleep.”

It seems that Blake also saw the luminous body, and that the perfect human being was one in which the four compartments were discernible and balanced within and through the luminous body called Albion. This equilibrium or balance is what is called “equanimity”. The luminous body in its fourfold integration is also what is represented by the aboriginal Sacred Hoop as well as Jung’s vision of the integral “Self”, as follows,

Sacred Hoop /Medicine Wheel

Sacred Hoop /Medicine Wheel


Jung's mandala of the Integral Self

Jung’s mandala of the Integral Self

The four compartments of the luminous body, in equilibrium, are the four structures of consciousness of Gebser’s homo integer, who correspond to the “Guardians of the Four Directions” as we encounter them in various cultural contexts (inclusive of the “four Evangelists”, Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John), or as Blake’s “four Zoas”, and are, correspondingly, Jung’s four functions of consciousness,

Jung's four psychological functionsTo be stuck in one, is called “narcissism”. And that is, in large part, the story of the Prodigal Son.


2 responses to “Journey of the Prodigal Son”

  1. LittleBigMan says :

    “Re-membrance is not merely memory, which is only imagistic. It is a true integration from a condition of dis-memberment. This is why Gebser insists that “Origin” is not “beginning”, and the two should not be confused. So, the problem with everything we today call “religion” is that it has confused the two, and has become merely “observance”, and therewith quite reactionary. The confusion of memory with a true re-membering is what is called “idolatry”.”

    I had to read that several times before it finally sank in – I think 🙂

    Yes, “Religion” as “re-membrance” as a way to integrate with the origin of one’s Being seems correct to me because it is independent of prophets (and therefore independent of profits, hehehe 🙂 ) and that it puts the respondent in the driver’s seat. “All battles,” don Juan Matus told Castaneda, “must be fought here” as he put the palm of his hand on Castaneda’s chest. How true that is when I think of my own life.

    It seems to me human beings are magnetic beings and attract certain events to themselves again and again. I can surmise that much from my own life experiences. It seems to me what each of us deep down considers “good” conditions our life and becomes a roadmap to attract the most fruitful and instructive events. Of course, by ‘fruitful and instructive’ I mean it in a way that would put us on a path that don Juan Matus called the path to becoming a “Man of Knowledge.”

    That’s what happened to the Prodigal son. Methinks. He thought it was a good idea to do what he did and that turned out to be the best lesson of his life 🙂

    By the way, it might amuse you to know that a distant relative of mine (I have never met him, and I only know of him because of this story that actually happened to him) went to live in Canada with his sister and her husband and children. What I also heard was that he moved to Canada despite his own parents’ wishes that he should not do this. To make a long story short, he ends up working in a slaughterhouse where pigs were being slaughtered. His job was to push pigs (in sedated or electrocuted condition) into the paths of a series of blades that would finish up the pigs. He couldn’t handle that job (how many people can?) but lasted there long enough to change him forever. After the experience, he leaves Canada to return to his parents’ home again 🙂 I think he hasn’t been able to eat meat since.

  2. abdulmonem says :

    All cultural doors , religious and racial, have been dismantled, geography, history no longer an obstacle,the internet shattered everything. It is clear that the journey of the prodigal son is the journey of all humanity, it is not the journey of those you have mentioned, but is the journey of Ibn Arabi, Rumi Al halaj and all the seekers of truth across history ,the journey of you and me. The four forces you keep referring to, never stop interacting positively and negatively across the fields of the divine and human consciousness until the human realizes that his consciousness is part of the divine consciousness or it is.It is an aware interaction with the past ,the future, the seen and the unseen, it is a purposeful journey, a return journey to Him, the creative source of everything, the source that is beyond perception and imagination, the source that kept humanity across the ages in complete puzzlement and wonder. No wonder the master said increase me in knowledge and wonder.

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