Xiangyan was once asked by a monastic, “What is the Way?”
Xiangyan said, “A dragon singing in a withered tree.”

Later, another monastic asked Shishuang, “What is the ‘dragon singing in a withered tree?’”
Shishuang said, “It still has joy.”

The monastic also asked Caoshan, “What is the ‘dragon singing in a withered tree?’”
Caoshan said, “The bloodstream is not stoppedf.”
The monastic asked, “Who can hear this?”
Caoshan said, “In the whole world, there is no one who does not hear it.

The monk asked, “What book is ‘dragon murmurings’ taken from?”
Caoshan said, “I don’t know what book it’s from, but all who hear it die.

—from Xuedou’s verse commentary on Blue Cliff Record Case 2

Oh yes, that is me that withered tree. But I have sung too, even now, with war and all the threats of chaos and illness that swirl. I can picture my tree-parts fallen down around my ankles, and there I am exposed, but singing. I still have joy. This koan is about choosing life! Eyeballs in a skull.

A bloodstream that is not stopped.

Isn’t Life is the verse that the dragon is singing?

Something determined and rigid has been let go of. Something I was clinging to some principle, large or small as fiercely as I might my life. I can’t always trace the change, but somehow I become a dragon – a mythical creature unbound by usual preoccupations and limitations.

But then what about this?

All around me, where I live in a beautiful hilly landscape are broken trees, lying sprawled waiting for takeaway, like so much garbage. I can’t bear to look at them or the error in judgement that has made this tragedy occur on such a grand scale to prevent fire. These 300 year old trees might fall into electrical lines. It is the worst preventative measure I can think of now except maybe: let’s take out your heart because you are at risk for a sudden attack. As Mark Twain said in his infinite wisdom – any fool can cut a tree.

I think the koan is asking me to keep trusting life..to trust what holds us all.

I know I have been surprised before by the places the dragon suddenly appears and sings. It also makes me ask why do I stop listening?

Hope to see you Wednesday eve so we can delve together.


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