The Dragon Underneath the Universe
The fresh scent of the season’s first rains clears out what was stale and dry.Between the tantalizing wafts of moist vegetation and filtered Pacific air we might catch the steady sound of raindrops on the pavement or against the side of old Victorian homes, quiet and cool, nourishing the life that is here and giving it a certain humming vibration for our inner regions to digest.
In Buddhism and particularly in Zen, there is a deep connection between the way of nature and the human mind that is grounded in the now. Though we may not realize it, within the walls of our man-made cityscapes and culture, the natural way flows through the Earth and more broadly, the universe. It is the great wilderness that gave us life and on top of which we lay our human civilization.
However, the undulations of the coiled dragon underneath the universe are wild, occasionally uncouth, infinitely vast to the point of laughter, and certainly beyond our discriminations. Rather than denying this reality or hiding from it, it could be interesting to head toward this metaphorical dragon, reverently bowing our heads to its majesty while continuing to tame this surface-level mind.
If the way of energy is present in nature, and if this energy is connected to the open mind, then it might at first be easier to experience the bond in the midst of a forest or along a stretch of shoreline. Muso, a Japanese Zen teacher and poet, felt a sense of kinship to a ceaseless and clear creek:
“Since before anyone remembers
it has been clear
shining like silver
though the moonlight penetrates it
and the wind ruffles it
no trace of either remains
Today I would not dare
to expound the secret
of the stream bed
But I can tell you
that the blue dragon
is coiled there.”
For Muso, there was an undeniable camaraderie between his direct experience of freedom and the natural flow of the current—sometimes wild and untamable after a spring deluge and other times, mellow and serene, polishing the earthy green and azure colored stones below. There is a real, fundamental kindness here in Muso’s words and also in the ceaseless flow of the water, one that accepts both flood and drought, sun and autumn storm, grief and happiness.
It can be interesting to unravel yourself into the scenery of the now, whether it is a stream bed or a bitter family dispute, the way of the creek does not confine itself. The poet’s coiled, wild dragon underneath the water covers the earth and spreads out beyond the scope of rationality. All this little man is left with is everything. It’s slightly humorous to think that by stepping out of the foreground of human life for a time to inhabit space and the immediacy of the moment might present you with an opportunity to rest on the back of Muso’s dragon.
Of course this isn’t just a Zen thing; rather, it is a common human experience that includes rulers and ruled, skinny and obese, and I’m pretty sure, Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives.
The notion of not knowing comes to play here:
When we don’t know who we are, or what we like or dislike, then there can be a real meeting between the mind and the moment.
The limiting armor of the known disappears and Muso’s metaphorical blue dragon can sweep out from the confines of the stream bed to claim the universe. It is always this way; the only thing that has changed is our sudden transformation and our ability to remain in touch with vastness.
Allowing the dragon—kind and wild—to flow through our lives is the patient practice of mindfulness. The repeated action of learning to come back to the present without our armor or our mind-made beliefs leads to a slow, palpable change.
There is a story in Paul Reps’ and Nyogen Senzaki’s Zen Flesh Zen Bones called, “Stingy in Teaching,” in which a young doctor visited the famed Zen master, Nan-in to see if Zen practice was all about losing one’s fear of death. After some time, the doctor became frustrated and threatened to leave, to which the Master responded, “I have been too strict with you. Let me present you with a koan.” Nan-in gave the doctor Joshu’s Mu or no-thing (the koan: Does a dog have Buddha nature? Joshu said, “No”). The koan, like a hammer or a diamond cutter sword, is meant to steadily break down the practitioner’s mind until he or she falls into the way:
“Kusuda (the young doctor) pondered this problem of Mu (No-Thing) for two years. At length he thought he had reached certainty of mind. But his teacher commented: “You are not in yet.” Kusuda continued in concentration for another yet and a half. His mind became placid. Problems dissolved. No-Thing became the truth. He served his patients well and, without even knowing it, he was free from concern of life and death. Then he visited Nan-in, his old teacher just smiled.”
The deep cut of violent past incidents, a tireless racking pain, or a choir of laughter, Muso’s blue dragon, like a thunderous koan or the ceaseless examples of nature, is right here. It just takes time to remember, digest and embody what is fundamental.
Editor: Brianna Bemel
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