Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Tiger and Dragon Contending

Click on the title of this post to find the website I found this on.

The monastic students of the Long-hu Ch'an Monastery were in the middle of copying a painting of a dragon fighting with a tiger on the wall. The dragon in the painting was hovering under the clouds; the tiger was crouched on a mountain summit, poised as if about to pounce. Although it had been revised numerous times, there invariably seemed to be something missing in the flow of action in the painting. Quite by chance, at this time Ch'an master Wu-te returned from outside. The students requested the Ch'an master to make a quick assessment of what they had done.

After looking at it, Ch'an master Wu-te said: "The outlook of the dragon and the tiger hasn't been painted too badly, but how much do you know about the nature of the dragon and the tiger? What you should know is that before the dragon attacks its head must shrink backwards, just as when the tiger is pouncing upwards its head is bound to press downwards. The more the dragon's neck is bent backwards, and the closer the tiger's head is to the ground, the faster they will be able to rush forward and the higher they'll be able to jump."

The students were overjoyed to receive such an instruction, exclaimed: "The teacher really hit the nail on the head! Not only did we paint the dragon's head too far forward, but the tiger's head is also too high. No wonder we felt there was something lacking in the depiction of the action."

Ch'an master Wu-te seized this opportunity to teach by saying: "In personal conduct, as well as in taking care of affairs, while learning Ch'an and cultivating oneself religiously, one must prepare by taking a step back in order to rush ahead even farther, reflecting humbly so that one can climb even higher."

Apparently not completely following what was being told, the students asked: "Teacher, how is one who steps back able to move forward? How is one who humbles himself able to reach higher?"

In response, Ch'an master Wu-te then solemnly said: "Listen to my Ch'an poem :

By hand, plant the entire field with green seedlings;
Bowing my head, I see heaven appear in the water.
One's body and spirit must be clean and pure before one can practice the way.
Taking a backward step is actually a forward move.

"Are you all able to comprehend?"

By now all the students finally understood.

Self-respect is part of the character of a Ch'an practitioner. They are independent, full of pride and distant like a dragon raising its head and tiger wrestling with its foe; however, sometimes they are also extremely modest, like a dragon shrinking back and a tiger lowering its head. This explains perfectly what is meant by progressing when one should progress; yielding when one should yield; raising up high when it's proper to be high; lowering oneself when one ought to be low. In other words, one should go forward or backward as reason demands it, and raise up high or lie low when it's the proper time for it. Dragons are the spirit of the beasts and tigers are the kings. Those who practice Ch'an are the sages among the people, taking backward motion as progress and humility as their loftiness. Is this not how it should be?

(Source: Hsing Yun's Ch'an Talk, Book 4)

1 comment:

Compass360 Consulting Group said...

There is a old Chinese phrase "When Dragon Contends. ... The Tiger Duels" ... Another one is "While the Tiger dominate the Land. It is the Dragon controls the Heavens".