Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Militias, Violences, and Dragon Songs

I'm doing my best to refrain from a long commentary on the militia folks that were arrested yesterday in three U.S. states not too far away from my own. I don't feel all that kind or generous right now, and would rather rip people like this, as well as all those who silently or not so silently support them in any way, than practice patience and understanding. Many of us knew that the election of President Obama would bring out the hatred and violence, and so it is unfortunately.

How do we counteract such violence and hatred? There are plenty of things that need to be done "in the world," but as always, it comes back to how each of us are.

I sometimes chant the Metta Sutta to wake the sleeping dragons within. You don't have to believe in dragons to wake them, only be willing to open to your life as it is. What's a dragon, you might be asking? Anything you have ignored, discarded, avoided, or thought wasn't a part of you.

Maybe some of you have grown irritated by my use of the word "dragon." I suppose it easily conjures up medieval fantasies and geeky teenagers hanging around in dark basements. But really, don't you think all the plain, rational talk of those who desire peace, racial harmony, and an end to oppression seems to be falling flat? Some of us write endlessly about the misery and injustices occurring in the world, and yet most of them continue to go on and on, no matter how much effort is made to change them.

So, maybe it's time for dragon-talk. Time for marshalling all the imaginative forces we have available to us - the very thing modern, scientific and rational societies have disparaged as useless, childish garbage, even as the scientists and thinkers rely on such imaginations to drive their ideas.

Behind the hatred, violence, and bigotry, I can see millions of dragons. Lost dreams. Past hurts. Unexamined fears. Grief. Sadness. Loneliness. Material needs unfulfilled. Bodies and minds treated like lowly machines.

Dragons. When you turn away from them, they find a way to roar! Sometimes so fiercely that damage is done. The kind of damage that destroys families, communities, even nations.

Speaking of dragons, here's a koan and commentary from our old dharma friend the late John Daido Loori:

Singing the Dragon Song

Dharma Discourse by John Daido Loori, Roshi
Koans of the Way of Reality
Dragon Singing in a Withered Tree

Featured in Mountain Record 24.2, Winter 2006
The Main Case

Xiangyan was once asked by a monastic, “What is the Way?”

Xiangyan said, “A dragon singing in a withered tree.”

The monastic said, “What does this mean?”

Xiangyan said, “Eyeballs in a skull.”

Later, another monastic asked Shishuang, “What is the dragon’s singing in a withered tree?”

Shishuang said, “It still has joy.”

The monastic said, “What are the eyeballs in a skull?”

Shishuang said, “They still have senses.”

Later, another monastic asked Master Caoshan, “What is the dragon’s singing in a withered tree?”

Caoshan said, “Bloodstream has not stopped.”

The monastic said, “What are the eyeballs in a skull?”

Caoshan said, “Dry all the way.”

The monastic said, “I wonder, can anyone hear it?”

Caoshan said, “Throughout the entire earth, there is no one who does not hear it.”

The monastic said, “Which verse does the dragon sing?”

Caoshan said, “I don’t know which verse it is, but all those who hear it are lost.”
The Commentary

Do not mistake a withered tree for a dead tree; it abounds with life and celebrates each and every spring with new foliage. It’s just that few have realized this. As for the dragon’s song, actually, everyone is able to hear it, because it exists everywhere. And yet, there can be no dragon’s song unless there is a withered tree.

If you can see through to the point of this koan and make it your own, then your own voice will be the dragon’s song and you will be able to make use of it among the ten thousand things. If, however, you are unable to perceive it, then the worldly truth will prevail and everything will appear to be an impenetrable barrier.

You should understand that illumination and function are a single truth, principle and phenomena are not two realities. These old masters know how to simultaneously roll out and gather in. Letting go of the primary, they open the gate of the secondary.

When the great function manifests, it does not hold to any fixed standards. Sometimes a blade of grass can be used as the sixteen-foot golden body of the Buddha; sometimes the sixteen-foot golden body of the Buddha can be used as a blade of grass. All this notwithstanding, tell me, how do you understand the great function?
The Capping Verse

Letting out the hook,
just to fish out the dragons.
The mysterious devices outside of convention
are only for those who wish to know the self.

As I get ready to head to my garden, the "withered trees" are rustling in the wind.

1 comment:

NowRocks said...

Tonight I watched a documentary on the life of Pete Seeger. A real life dragon singing in a withered tree. You could say a lot about his politics, his persona, but sitting in the withered trees of hatred, war, racism, injustice, pollution, poverty, he just kept singing, and eventually his songs and the fruits of his songs changed the world.

Where are today's dragons?