TRANSFORMATIONS OF A SPIRITUAL DRAGON

by contemplativeinquiry

Here are some Taoist thoughts about the way of the ‘spiritual dragon’, which seems like a good Druid topic. They come from Awakening to the Tao, by Liu I-Ming, a set of ‘contemplations’ translated by Thomas Cleary (1). Liu I-Ming was a Taoist adept and a scholar of Buddhism and Confucianism. Born around 1737 he started writing on Taoism in the 1790’s and continued until around 1826.

“A dragon, as spiritual luminosity, can be large or small, can rise or descend, can disappear or appear, can penetrate rocks and mountains, can leap in the clouds and travel with the rain. How can it do all this? It is done by the activity of the spirit.

“What I realize as I observe this is the Tao of inconceivable spiritual transmutation. The reason humans can be humans is because of the spirit. As long as the spirit is there, they live. When the spirit leaves, they die.

“The spirit penetrates heaven and earth, knows the past and present, enters into every subtlety, exists in every place. It enters water without drowning, enters fire without burning, penetrates metal and rock without hindrance. It is so large that it fills the universe, so small that it fits into a hairtip. It is imperceptible, ungraspable, inexplicable, indescribable.

“One who can use the spirit skilfully changes in accordance with time, and therefore can share the qualities of heaven and earth, share the light of sun and moon, share the order of the four seasons, command nature in the primordial state, and serve nature in the temporal state. This is like the transformations of a spiritual dragon, which cannot be seen in the traces of form.”

In this piece a dragon is equated with “spiritual luminosity”, which elsewhere in Liu I-Ming’s work is linked to the experience of ‘Tao mind’, mind in accord with original nature. In this understanding, the individual human mind is the very vehicle that blossoms into Tao mind. Human mind, uncultivated, is a state of understandably confused and distracted latency. It is not, in this presentation, the dubious Old Adam of ‘ego’ we find in the semi-Christian New Age. The promise of cultivation is that, “great though the universe may be, it is as though in the palm of your hand; many though the myriad transformations may be, they are not outside the body” (2). This I think is what is meant by the capacity to “command nature in the primordial state, and serve nature in the temporal state”. It is not the statement of an arrogant or dissociated magician. It is more that the essence of nature is deeply within. So in Tao mind the practitioner stands and acts as that essence.

I like Liu I-Ming’s use of dragon imagery in this context. From my very human point of view, the vision of the sage (or Druid) with spiritual dragon as deeper identity works for the boy inside me as well as holding a complex and elusive teaching.

1: Liu I-Ming (1988) Awakening the Tao Boston & London: Shambhala (Translated by Thomas Cleary)

2: Cleary, Thomas (ed.) (1991) Vitality, energy, spirit: a Taoist sourcebook Boston & London: Shambhala (Shambhala Dragon edition)

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