Jumping the Dragon’s Gate
To paraphrase the Van Morrison song Into the Mystic:
“We were born before the wind / Smell the sea and feel the sky.
Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic / Just like way back in the days of old.
Then magnificently we will float into the mystic…. you know I will be coming home.”
What does it mean to become mystical, or better said a mystic? To be characterized by esoteric, otherworldly, or symbolic practices or content as seen in certain religious ceremonies, as with art, writing, or personal behavior.
The Azure Dragon was on the national flag of China during the Qing dynasty during 1889-1912. The Four Symbols discussed here literally mean “four images”. They are four mythological creatures in the Chinese constellations. They are the Azure Dragon of the East, the Vermillion Bird of the South, the White Tiger of the West, and the Black Turtle of the North. Each one of them represents a direction and a season, and each has its own individual characteristics and origins. The Four Symbols were given human names after Taoism became popular. The Azure Dragon has the name Meng Zhang (孟章), the Vermillion Bird was called Ling Guang (陵光), the White Tiger Jian Bing (監兵), and the Black Turtle Zhi Ming (執明). Why discuss this here, many in my audience are in China and Europe not just the USA. I have learned that many Chinese are not that familiar with Chinese history. This website serves to inform wherever people reside. In most cases this brings back memories of stories they heard when they were young. Especially in the Chinese countryside where storytelling is more common. It follows the tradition of the shaman who made everyone feel universal.
It is as if we make the connection to the universe taking on something spiritually significant, or even ethereal, as in heavenly or celestial. As if an enigma, one with the cosmos. Knowing where you have been and will return is more important than where you find yourself just now. What is it about the seeming struggle of adhering to the stability of ritual and tradition that serves to guide us as our inspiration that leads us home?
To the left is the Azure Dragon on a road sign at the Yangshan Quarry, an ancient stone quarry on Yangshan Mountain near Nanjing, China.
Do we become spectators of our past or acknowledge it and move on to what is to be of our future as we fill in the details of a self-fulfilling prophesy? As if looking back in order to make progress, or move forward. For myself, between spiritual freedom and wisdom of my heart, or be pulled by knowledge of my thoughts and brain? Moving away from the herd-instinct to faith in a higher destiny through inner development and seemingly lost discipline I am here to finally find and accept. My age-old quandary… maybe to stop only listening to my friend Lieh Tzu and to follow Chuang instead. From what is considered the ‘everyday man’ epitomized by Lieh Tzu, to Chuang Tzu’s ‘perfected man’. Their text and your own writing drawing you into an experience that is to change who you think you are and understand that your life is your work… and your work is your life. As if eternity is simply waiting for a decision on your part.
That life is truly a pilgrimage. Moving away from the mundane and to just be present as we move beyond fear and develop courage as our true self.
Not as ego, but as authentic to our divinely guided inner recognition of who we are, have been, and are yet to become. The vision quest so often referred to here over the past several entries we all seek to find in our own way.
As the symbols of the I Ching help to define us and guide our ultimate path, we are to stay in tune with our own varied nature and the stars that show us the way.
Knowing the outer space (that found in nature) we see is simply the inner reflection of our own development or enlightenment, directed towards a still unknown, or distant aim as if intrinsically tied to the very movement we seek. That there is no separation found in the universe. That by our very nature we are connected to the stars we see above. It is from here we cross over from what is known and familiar, and we accept others and new environments as our ultimate endeavor and destiny.
In doing this we grow in confidence of the significance of all that happens to us as we find the courage and harmony that defines us. With this, we become secure with our ultimate source, the depth of our being and the universality of a greater life. This concept helps us to understand the essence of what has come to be known as Tibetan Buddhism. And why the synthesis of Buddhism and Taoism together in Eastern philosophy becomes so important.
I especially like the analogy of a white summer cloud, in harmony with heaven and earth, freely floating in the blue sky from horizon to horizon, following the breath of the atmosphere – in the same way the pilgrim abandons himself to the breath of the greater life that wells up from the depths of his being and leads him beyond the farthest horizons to an aim which is already present within him, though yet hidden from his sight. (The above is written with inspiration from The Way of the White Clouds by Lama Anagarika Govinda.)
Finally, I am reminded that the efficacy of what Lama Surya Das says “Our actions will be determined by the quality of the contemplation that precedes them.” I think what precedes the whole idea of “I think I can, therefore I am”.
An example of perseverance would be a story in Chinese mythology, the Dragon’s Gate is located at the top of a waterfall cascading from a legendary mountain. Many carp swim upstream against the river’s strong current, but few are capable or brave enough for the final leap over the waterfall. If a carp successfully makes the jump, it is transformed into a powerful dragon. A Chinese dragon’s large, conspicuous scales indicate its origin from a carp. The Chinese dragon has long been an auspicious symbol of great and benevolent, magical power. The image of a carp jumping over Dragon’s Gate is an old and enduring Chinese cultural symbol for courage, perseverance, and accomplishment.
You know, it’s always the picture you didn’t take that you later see its value. The small rise the koi had to go over is just to the left of the bridge… At the Wenshu Buddhist Monastery in Chengdu there is a small stream with stepping stones you have to traverse – as the large koi fish swim upstream and go over a small rise against the current. At first, watching the koi I thought little of their attempts. It was the larger fish who could “jump the gate” to go upstream that had little difficulty and became in affect dragons. The smaller fish struggled as if not quite ready to make the great leap forward just yet. Next time I’m in Chengdu this stream and koi jumping the dragon’s gate will be on my list again…
Historically, the dragon was the exclusive symbol of the emperor of China and the expression, Liyu Tiao Long Men, was originally used as a metaphor for a person’s success in passing very difficult imperial examinations required for entry into imperial administrative service, as in they too had jumped over the dragon’s gate themselves.
To this day, when a student from a remote country village passes the rigorous national university examination in China, friends and family proudly refer to the “Liyu Tiao Long Men.” More generally, the expression is used to communicate that if a person works hard and diligently, success will one day be achieved. Similar to the salmon in the northwest along the Pacific Ocean in North America where they “jump the ladder” to lay their eggs. Once done they die. In death, they have succeeded with what was important to their life.
Once acknowledged, the question becomes where does that leave us? The difficulty of man is the seeming sense of self-importance that comes with ego. That’s the paradox living with others bring each day. As if, what is it we fill our days with but a test only we can find answers to with no answer ultimately better than another, except that found simply by cause and effect by simply letting nature find its true course. It is what lessons tending one’s garden teaches us and helps us to discover our true path, or way in letting go. Not in the typical sense of procrastinating, but waiting intuitively as if by second nature, for events themselves to convey the best way to proceed. It was this sense of patience that taught Sun Tzu, in The Art of War, to wait and let events foretell the future and only then to respond accordingly. To become like a leaf floating along in the breeze knowing the eventual outcome is assured and the results will be the same either way. Knowing what I know now, how could I become anything but an enigma to those who think they know me? Perhaps only here to describe the indescribable and in the end to be known as unknowable myself. Maybe a mystic…
Daimiao Temple TaiShan Mountain Entrance Once inside is the Peitian Gate and saying that is derived from Confucius, “The virtues match the heaven and the earth.” “Azure Dragon” and “White Tiger” – two of the Four Symbols of the Chinese constellations are enshrined here in the Main Hall of the Daimiao Temple in Tai’an north of Qufu at the base of Mount Taishan.
I wrote the below “Becoming Irrelevant” in April 1994, almost twenty-five years ago with no idea that ever actually going to China would be on the horizon. Any measure of success since then only found when others I meet don’t remember my name or if I was really present or not. Only the virtue I have left behind as I go by. I guess you could say I’ve been working on it ever since.
Know that inside and outside are the same. That truth and falsehood are not the issue and begin to travel with dragons on clouds in the sky. Know that there is no way to discuss the ultimate joy found in finding the true path of virtue and the oneness to be found in all things.
Physical descriptions become irrelevant to explanation of how all things fit together in a unifying purpose to be found as one yesterday, today and forever for all things to be found in the universe. The Tao teaches that the essential elements making up all things are to be found in everything only shaped in different ways. That sameness is the essential Tao. Coming to know this basic tenant is the underlying reason for one’s journey.
The journey is long and arduous. It is difficult to bear, hard to continue and only more impossible to endure. You are forever blown along with the wind. As a leaf with no real destination. Only a sense of purpose brought along for the ride into eternity as the crane and tortoise are to longevity and beyond.
Final destinations unknown. With nothing brought along as an itinerary except as the elements dictate things to come. A randomness that foregoes any relevance to anything not essential to the true way.
Assist only with the collapse of reason and find the path blocked for everything except what can begin again to be built on a true foundation. Built solid in the words and images of the Tao and by God himself as all that will be needed to succeed. 4/11/94 An original composition and interpretation of the Chinese Classic the I Ching. The above is found on this website at The I Ching / Voices of the Dragon.
As I continue to go through my own version of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching that I wrote in May/June 2000 and my book, Thoughts on becoming a Sage, The Guidebook for leading a virtuous Life, I am asked to tell… just who was this Lao Tzu and why is he so important? I know I spoke of this last time, but some may have missed so it bears repeating. Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching was the culmination of thousands of years of philosophical thought of what was to become Taoism thanks in part to copies found in tombs of those who were buried with copies of it in China. There are eighty-one verses in the Tao Te Ching. Verses 66 and 67 appear below. Verses 1 through 65 were seen here on my most recent posts. The balance will be seen here over the coming months.
A partial preview can be seen on the Lao Tzu and Taoism tab here on my website. Ultimately, it is what the sage has learned and then in turn taught others along the way that guides us.
The commentaries below are meant to be read as a discussion between Lao Tzu and those interested who have thought deeply about the text itself. The quotes below and references to their authors are from Red Pine’s, Lao Tzu’s Taoteching.
Thoughts on becoming a Sage
Verse 66 – Reaching Perfect Harmony
In the middle of all lies perfect harmony. When you go to extremes you lose the natural balance found in all things. It is for this reason that knowledge is frowned upon for those who have not found their way. Knowledge in the hands of a person not grounded in the way of virtue is lost to the vagaries of the moment.
Knowledge leads to deception and deception to definitions of right and wrong that are self-serving and can become secretive and divisive.
Those who remain unconcerned about knowledge look to heaven and harmony with the world around them. Once in harmony with heaven, they learn to only do that which requires no effort. Once you see that everything you need to know already lies, or exists, within yourself you can begin to understand that the lack of knowledge spreads virtue. It is by governing himself, cultivating the virtue he shares with heaven, that the sage’s place in the scheme of things becomes clear.
The sage becomes so deep that he cannot be reached and is always found to be doing the opposite of others. He goes so far as to reach perfect harmony, an image mirroring the Tao.
Te-Ch’ing says, “All rivers flow to the sea, regardless of whether they are muddy or clear. And the sea is able to contain them all because it is adept at staying below them. This is a metaphor for the sage. The world turns to him because he is selfless.”
Ten Tsun says, “Rivers don’t flow toward the sea because of its reputation or its power, but because it does nothing and seeks nothing.”
Lu Hui-Ch’ing says, “When the sage possesses the kingdom, he speaks of himself as ‘orphaned, widowed, and impoverished,’ or ‘inheritor of the country’s shame and misfortune.’ Thus, in his speech, he places himself below others. He does not act unless he is forced. He does not respond unless he is moved. He does not rise unless he has no choice. Thus, in his actions he places himself behind others.”
Ho-Shang Kung says, “When the sage rules over the people, he doesn’t oppress those below with his position. Thus, the people uphold him and don’t think of him as a burden. When he stands before them, he doesn’t blind them with his glory. Thus, the people love him as a parent and harbor no resentment. The sage is kind and loving and treats the people as if they were his children. Thus, the whole world wants him as their leader. The people never grow tired of him because he doesn’t struggle against them. Everyone struggles against something. But no one struggles against a person who doesn’t struggle against anything.”
Verse 67 – Thoughts on remaining a lower Presence
The sage’s challenge is to be present, but act as if he is not really here. Possessing the way, he sees himself as an orphan widowed and impoverished staying below those around him. He is as if the banks of a great river allowing everything to run through and past him, while he guides the way. He is like the receptacle of everything as it meets its end, as if the ocean remaining lower and capturing the water of a hundred rivers. While they pour into him, he barely notices except to be raised up by their presence.
For those who would benefit by the sage he must maintain a position lower than everyone around him.
If thrust to the forefront he must act as if he were behind. If seen as above others he must see that others remain unburdened by him.
While those around him continually push him forward he simply flows with events taking care not to struggle. Because he does not struggle no one can struggle against him. As no one can struggle against him he takes everything to new heights and places they would not otherwise go.
Ho-Shang Kung says, “Lao Tzu says the world calls his virtue great. But if his virtue were great in name alone it would bring him harm. Hence, he acts stupid and useless. He doesn’t distinguish or differentiate. Nor does he demean others or glorify himself.”
Wang Pi says, “To be useful is to lose the means to be great.”
Su Ch’e says, “The world honors daring, exalts ostentation, and emphasizes progress. What the sage treasures is patience, frugality, and humility, all of which the world considers useless.”
Te Ch’ing says, “’Compassion’ means to embrace all creatures without reservation. ‘Austerity’ means not to exhaust what one already has. ‘Reluctance to excel’ means to drift through the world without opposing others.”
Wang An-Shih says, “Through compassion, we learn to be soft. When we are soft, we can overcome the hardest thing in the world. Thus, we can be valiant. Through austerity, we learn when to stop. When we learn when to stop, we are always content. Thus, we can be extravagant. Through reluctance to excel, we are excelled by no one. Thus, we can be chief of all tools. Valor, extravagance, and excellence are what everyone worries about. And because they worry, they are always on the verge of death.”
Mencius says, “He who is kind has no enemy under heaven” (7B.3).