Yunmen showed his staff to the assembly and said, “This staff has become a dragon. It has swallowed up the whole universe. The mountains, rivers, and great earth, where do they come from?”
-Blue Cliff Record, Case 60
We are going along in our meditation, in our analysis, in cooking dinner, or pulling weeds in the garden. Things are ordinary, we are in familiar territory, we know what’s what. And then suddenly there is a moment when we fall in. The mundane becomes extraordinary; a staff is transformed into a dragon. This is the creative moment, the moment where the world opens up it’s treasure house to us. What happens in this moment of transformation, and how can we cultivate it?
When the staff becomes a dragon, the walls of the possible fall away. Distinctions we usually hold about inside and outside, self and other, are insubstantial. We open our mouth and the whole world is sucked in, breathed out. But this koan is not just about creative or mystical perception, it is also about manifestation. When we show our staff dragon we are bringing our creative living out into the world, showing it to others, and inviting participation. This koan points us to a way of life that is full of dragons, rivers, and the great earth, a way full of beauty and mystery.
From a psychoanalytic point of view, this koan zooms us into an early experience of oral satisfaction, where I, the royal dragon-baby, take in everything good through my mouth. I feel my potency to swallow the whole universe. And I can have the feeling that everything also flows out of the great dragon’s mouth, mountains and rivers, all in a lusty cry. Yes, it’s a place of grandiosity, of absolute omnipotence. And, we have to be able to play in this world of unlimited possibility, and also to emerge from it back into ordinary life, where a staff is just a staff, a cigar is just a cigar.
Megan Rundel is the resident teacher at the Crimson Gate Meditation Community in Oakland, CA..