Exploring the Cave of the Blue Dragon: Fear and Fearlessness

Maybe because I was born in the year of the dragon, I love dragons.  Blue is so much my most favorite color that there are moments when I think of the rainbow is variations of the color blue! So imagine my delight when I came across a Zen Koan (meditation on a paradox) called “the Cave of the Blue Dragon.”

Roshi John Daido Loori begins his discussion of this Koan with the story of a great teacher and the emperor of China who in a great time past were walking the palace grounds when they came across a great stone dragon. The teacher said to the emperor, “Your majesty, would you please say a word of Zen, something profound, about this dragon?” The emperor said, “I have nothing to say. Would you please say something?” And the teacher said, “It is my fault.”

Roshi Loori tells us that the teacher was taking responsibility, responsibility for the all of it. Now, on the surface, at first this can feel either masochistic or arrogant. But think about it for a few minutes. As we move through life and encounter challenges and frustrations, we can be a victim and become overwhelmed by fear or we can take responsibility.

Roshi Loori tells us that the prelude to this koan says something like:

When you are up against the wall, pressed between a rock and a hard place, if you linger longer pondering your thoughts, overanalyzing and planning, holding back your potential, you will remain mired in fear and frozen in inaction. If, on the other hand, you advance fearlessly, you will manifest your power, finding empowerment in your liberation. Here you will find peace.

Pema Chodron reminds us that we will find peace, safety and security only when we are willing to not run away from ourselves. That means being honest with ourselves, not running away from ourselves or our mistakes, to be accountable to yourself without being blameful.  From great suffering can come great compassion – or great hatred – the choice is yours.  From great frustration can come victimization and overwhelming fear, or responsibility and fearlessness.

Now, there is fearlessness and then there is fearlessness. This is not to advocate idiot fearlessness: if you can keep your calm when all around you are loosing theirs maybe you really don’t understand the problem. It is not fearlessness born of anger. It is not the fearlessness of youth marching off to war. Nor is it the fearlessness of youth who feel invulnerable. It is rather fearlessness born of conscious, cognizant, conscientious fear. It is compassionate, generous fearlessness.

So, how do we do this fearlessness? Well, there is, of course, a poem at the end of the koan that points us in the direction. My paraphrase of the poem is

The cave of the blue dragon is ominous.

It is the cave of our stuff, our baggage

Where only the fearless dare to travel.

Here the maze of our entanglements

Is rendered into a labyrinth.

Traversing its path and ways we are amazed

Liberation free of the enigma of mystery.

Well, it says something like that. But the point of it is, of course we will all be afraid. Fearlessness is facing our greatest fears with awareness, compassion and action. So, go be fearless even while you are shaking in your boots.

with thanks to Roshi John Daido Loori, Shambhala Sun and Omega Institute