Song Of Freedom Breakdown, lines 40-42

As the elephant flees, forgetting his pride
the heavenly dragon listens silent and joyful.

In the past I’ve crossed mountains and rivers
searching for masters and teachings in Zen.

Now I know the path of Caoxi and
my realization is beyond birth and death.

An elephant often symbolizes a monk in Budhist writings, a dragon is often a symbol of the defender of the Dharma in Buddhism. So the monk runs away, forgetting his pride? His fellow monks? Or his ego? Or both? I think this has more to do with dignity. Keep your dignity, do not run away from the truth.

In the present we still have a hard time searching for masters and the teachings in Zen. I think this is a lot like herding cats.

More on Caoxi:
Zen's Chinese Heritage: The Masters and Their Teachings

I welcome comments, but I may integrate them into the commentary.

I hope that my efforts are helpful in clearing my own delusion as well as that of others, I recognise that I set myself up as a kind of teacher here in this commentary, I am not your zen master, you are!



Anonymous said...

, I recognise that I set myself up as a kind of teacher here in this commentary,

That's not true. It's not the tone of your posts. The tone is one of exploration not one of a teacher.

I didn't know that monks and elephants were often symbolically linked.

It makes sense - both can leave a senseless path of destruction in their wake....

Unknown said...

I agree with Mike. With every passage I have been buoyed by the mutual exploration of this commentary. Never have I felt preached to. I am alway interested to read what you and others come up with. My fascination with the Song of Freedom is probably unZen-like but there I am. I feel like you all are comrades exploring the territories of mind.

SlowZen said...

Mikedoe, Will, thank you both for the re-assurance.

And thank you for the fellowship.

I am leaving the line in, just in case…

Take care,

Unknown said...

I'm going to suggest a different take on the elephants and dragons. Remember the line from last week.

I’ll freely speak the lion’s Roar of Reality
which strikes fear into the hearts of beasts.

Well, Yokadaishi is telling us that everyone reacts differently to hearing the dharma. Beasts are fearful, elephants run forgetting their pride (double meaning) and only the heavenly dragon listens silent and joyful.

There are three categories being described. The beasts are ordinary people with no prior exposure to the dharma. Often these people are initially confused and frightened by the change in their world view that being exposed to the dharma can produce.

The elephants are those with a superficially understanding the dharma. Could be monks, or academicians or philosophers, who would be intimidated by the profundity of the dharma.

This leaves the heavenly dragon. The practitioner sitting zazen, standing zazen, driving zazen, commenting zazen, shitting zazen. The whole works. Nyogen Senzaki translates this line in an encouraging way as:

Courageous students alone, like the dragon, hear the roar with calm pleasure.

These next four lines are Yokadaishi's autobiography. Apparently he traveled around a lot and sampled different practices before settling down with the Sixth Patriarch, Caoxi. This is a common practice even today. Dharma shopping. I'm not immune. I resist but it seem feudal.

Now I know the path of Caoxi and
my realization is beyond birth and death.

This last line is Yokadaishi's koan. Ours too. Translated by Nyogen Senzaki in Buddhism and Zen as:

Now I know my true being has nothing to do with birth and death.

My knowledge is less than perfect. I look forward to being straightened out.

oxeye said...

Jordon - The elephant and the dragon could both be practitioners of Zen. The elephant gives up while the dragon perseveres. A dragon in Chinese mythology is an enlightened being.

Caoxi, like Will says, is the Sixth Patriarch, Huineng. All the lineages of Zen trace themselves back to him. He was an upstart, :) teenage lay practitioner from South China. He was illiterate at the time of his enlightenment. He is also the source of all Zen. So I guess there is some hope for us all.

Thanks for all your work here. Very helpful. - j

SlowZen said...

Will, Jeff, Good points all around. I would only also like to add that the dragon has also long represented change. Something I think is somehow very important.

Take care,

Thanks for looking!