Plans for this building have been brewing for well over ten years now, and the time has come to build it. The name “Dragon Hall” follows the theme of all of our anniversaries. Our Fifteenth Anniversary celebration was called “The Birth of the Dragon,” and the Twentieth was called “The Calling of the Dragon.”
There are all kinds of dragons in Buddhism. In this tradition the dragon is not an evil, fierce beast. The dragon is an enlightened being, a symbol for buddha nature itself. Hakuryusan, for example, is the white dragon by the main gate of the Monastery, and he is the protector of the buildings and grounds. Usually when you see a Buddhist dragon, in one of its claws—or sometimes under its chin—is the mani jewel, which represents the teachings of the dharma. According to Buddhist legend, the great philosopher Nagarjuna discovered the Prajna Paramita (Perfection of Wisdom) literature when he was taken by dragons down to their realm under the sea.
Dragons also dwell in rivers and lakes. They ride the clouds; they follow the wind. They are, in themselves, a cause for celebration. In commemoration of our silver anniversary, this year’s dragon is a silver dragon, and the theme of the anniversary is “The Dragon’s Song.” And just in case you’re wondering, dragons do sing, as you see in this koan. Except it’s more like a murmur than an actual song.
Let’s look at the dragon’s song. First of all we should ask ourselves, what is the dragon’s song? Who can hear it? How do they hear it? Is there anything we can do so that all beings hear the dragon’s song?
The main case reads, Xiangyan was once asked by a monastic, "What is the Way?" Xiangyan said, "A dragon singing in a withered tree.” The first line of the commentary says, Do not mistake a withered tree for a lifeless tree. A withered tree in Zen literature is symbolic of emptiness or the absolute, which is known in Sanskrit as shunyata. It has no life, no characteristics. It is nothingness, or the void, as some scholars have translated it. It is the experience of the absolute basis of reality, the falling away of body and mind.
We should understand that in Zen, emptiness is a provisional teaching. It’s not a resting place. It’s not the end of practice.
A monk asked Changsha, “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form. What does this mean?”
Changsha said, “An obstruction is not a barrier, a passage is not empty. When people understand in this manner, mind and form are fundamentally the same.”
So, “An obstruction is not a barrier; a passage is not empty.”
Changsha also said, “Buddha nature grandly manifests, but passions obscure abiding nature. When the selfless nature of beings is realized, how does my face differ from the Buddha’s?”