Chapter 15: The Dragon Horse Submits
The Horse of the Will at Eagle Grief Stream
In this episode the dragon, which was saved from execution by Kuan-yin’s compassion for carelessly setting fire to the castle and burning the pearls, thereby aborting the alchemical transformation, eats Tripitaka’s horse at Eagle Grief Stream. Monkey wants to go off to battle the dragon. Tripitaka is afraid. Monkey gets angry. Kuan-yin sends a band of deities to give secret protection to the scripture pilgrim. Monkey defeats the dragon, which retreats. Before he retreats, he asks who Monkey is. Monkey says it doesn’t matter, he just wants the horse back. The dragon hides. This frustrates Monkey. He calls upon the local spirits who tell him to call upon Kuan-yin’s assistance. Kuan-yin returns and transforms the dragon into a White Horse to carry Tripitaka to the West.
Pilgrim/Monkey gets a lesson and assurances of protection
There are a few more points worth mentioning. First Tripitaka is given divine help and protection again because he is on a divine Mission - has aligned himself with Heaven. Second because Monkey relies solely upon himself and refuses to identify himself to the dragon, an unnecessary confusion ensues. The Dragon was waiting for Tripitaka to become his disciple but was unaware of his identity. When Kuan-yin arrives, Monkey, in his arrogance, berates her for his cap and for her dragon. She says about the cap, “It’s only through this bit of adversity that you will be willing to enter our gate of Yoga.” The only way that Mind will embrace the austerities of Yoga, which are necessary to the Quest, is through pain. About Monkey’s arrogance, she says, “That monkey is always relying on his own abilities! When has he ever given any credit to other people?” Don’t act like the Lone Ranger, solving problems by himself, but seek the assistance of others. She instructs Monkey to always identify himself and his Mission in order to avoid unnecessary difficulties.
To complicate matters Pilgrim/Monkey is beginning to perceive how difficult this journey will be. He refuses to go on because of this ordinary monk and personal fear for his own life. You might wonder why Monkey, who has achieved Immortality and has a hardened body like metal due to Lao Tzu’s alchemical cooking, would be worried for his life.
Each character has multiple names. The name that is used indicates which role the character is playing in the current context, which may be inconsistent with his other roles throughout the book. For instance, Monkey as Great Sage Equal to Heaven is able to defeat all of heaven’s forces, while Monkey as Pilgrim has difficulty with less powerful demons. This is because, as Liu I-ming says: “The Pilgrim who is overcome by monsters refers, in fact, to any pilgrim practicing self-cultivation.” [i]. Hence when Monkey is referred to as Pilgrim, he is faced with the common problems of any individual on a quest and so is quite vulnerable and in need of assistance, while when he is referred to as Great Sage Equal to Heaven, he is operating as the indomitable Monkey of the Mind.
So Monkey’s fears and discouragement are his Pilgrim side, not his Sage Equal to Heaven side. To assuage his anxiety Kuan-yin assures him that, if circumstances become difficult, he can always call on Heaven, Earth, or herself for assistance. Further she gives him some magic hairs that will protect him in time of desperate need. This further ordains that this Mission has the sanctification of the whole Cosmos.
Besides Kuan-yin continues to Pilgrim:
“In the years past, before you reached the way of humanity, you were most eager to seek enlightenment. Now that you have been delivered from the chastisement of Heaven, how could you become slothful again.” JW I p 323
In other words: ‘Listen traveler, pilgrim, on the road of life. Sure it is dangerous, but there is nothing else. Search for the opening and dive through with all your might. It is all you have. All else is emptiness.’
Introductory metaphors or Why is the White Horse a Dragon?
But these are just the surface meanings of the story. To understand the underlying message of this episode we need to explore a few more metaphors that are part of the Tao of China. Let us start with the most obvious. The Dragon has become Tripitaka’s White Horse. Why?
In the key couplet at the beginning of the chapter it says, “At Eagle Grief Stream the Horse of the Will is held and reined.” Obviously the White Horse is the Horse of Will. What does this mean? Kuan-yin says,
“The truth of nirvana in our teaching can never be realized without faith and perseverance.” JW V1 p323.
Tripitaka is faith, while the Horse of Will is perseverance. Faith without perseverance sputters into disillusionment. Perseverance without faith has nowhere to go. Why not a normal horse?
“Those mortal horses from the Land of the East, do you think that they could walk through ten thousand waters and a thousand hills? How could they possibly hope to reach the Spirit Mountain, the land of Buddha? Only a dragon-horse could make that journey!” JW I p.322
Why a dragon? What does a dragon symbolize that would make it more fit for a long journey?
In Chinese mythology the dragon is in charge of water in general - specifically running water, bodies of water, and precipitation. Accordingly the dragon are symbols of water. One of the attributes of water is its flexible strength - flowing around obstacles, while simultaneously wearing them down. The dragon is a powerful fighter because of its coiling tail and whip like attacks. Liu I-Ming states that dragon’s possess ‘unfathomable fluidity’.[ii]
Thus because our dragon is in charge of water he will be able to deal with the thousands of watery crossings that will be necessary on the journey. Monkey tells Tripitaka to ride his horse like a boat and we’ll cross over. The dragon’s natural affinities allows him to cross over water, and his flexibility gives him the necessary resilience to survive the coming ordeals. Despite adversity he never gives up. Like water he goes around obstacles, rather than attempting to tackle them head on.
The Tiger rides the Dragon to the West
So Tripitaka is riding a Dragon disguised as the White Horse by Kuan-yin. They are joined together in partnership for the duration of the quest. What does this mean?
In many episodes of the Journey Tripitaka is frequently likened to a Tiger. In one sequence he is even turned into a Tiger. The Tiger is associated with firmness and the earth. Like the dragon he is a ferocious fighter. But his attacks are direct and unyielding. The flexible dragon carries the fixed tiger to the east. Without the firmness of Tripitaka, the Dragon and his stream were consuming highflying birds and other pilgrims - possibly due to the ultimate nihilism of too much philosophical and spiritual relativism. The flexibility was unbalanced and so drowned high flying eagles. Conversely Tripitaka’s rigidity prevents him from crossing the water. Without the fluidity of the Dragon Horse he will sink.
The union of the Tiger and Dragon is a powerful alchemical metaphor. Let us hear what Chang Po-Tuan has to say about this duo.
“17. The Dragon comes from the Eastern Sea; the Tiger comes from the Western Mountains. The two beasts have a battle and turn into the marrow of Heaven and Earth.” Chang Po-tuan, p. 26
The Dragon comes from the Eastern Sea; the Tiger comes from the Western Mountains. The Dragon and the Tiger represent the joining of opposites - firmness and flexibility. Even where they come from are opposite - east/west & sea/mountains. Further alchemically the east represents self or internal while the west represents other or external. So extreme opposites have a battle and turn into the marrow of Heaven and Earth. The joining of opposites is always difficult and so is characterized as a battle - such as the one between Monkey and the Dragon.[iii]
Heaven & Earth touch to form the Sacred Opening
The marrow of Heaven and Earth? The marrow is the life force inside the bones. Hence heaven and earth are the bones while this merger of the opposites of East and West yields the life force. Let it be pointed out that neither pole, in and of itself, is enough to create the life giving marrow, whether Heaven’s truth or Earth’s experience.
To discover the symbolism behind Heaven and Earth, let’s examine a bit of the yin-yang theory of the I Ching - certainly part of the tao of China - to see how this relates?
Liu I-ming says, “Heaven is firm, associated with yang; Earth is flexible associated with yin: when the two energies, firm and flexible, join together, then there is this opening. When the two energies, firm and flexible, are separate, this opening does not exist.” JW I p 14
Tripitaka is the rigid strong Heaven, while the White Horse is the flexible Earth[iv]. Now that Heaven and Earth have been joined, an opening exists. What is this opening but the Life Force, Sacred Crevasse, the Emptiness of Creativity, the female Creatrix, inspiration itself. Thus with Tripitaka and the White Horse joined after their battle, becoming the marrow of Heaven and Earth, the occult opening exists.
This is a crucial chapter. The Tiger and Dragon battle becoming the marrow of Heaven and Earth. The firmness of the Tiger – Tripitaka, Master of the Law – is balanced by the flexibility of the Dragon – the White Horse – to create the secret opening for our pilgrims to get through.
The Importance of being Firm & Flexible
In Tai Chi Push Hands, a type of free form sparring, the Warrior ideally has the potential to be either as firm as the Tiger to ward off or strike, or as fluid as Dragon to neutralize any attack of the opponent in an empty circle or to slide around the defense to attack. In preparation for battle, we are in the middle, between yin and yang. This is the meaning of tai chi, the grand ultimate. In Tai Chi we strive to exist in the balance point between the polarities. We exist in a state of both/and. However after the attack we move into a state of either/or. Either we are firm or flexible depending upon the attack. As with light we don’t become until manifested. Before we are in a state of potential, we are neither one nor the other.
In day-to-day life we also strive to balance firm and flexible - as a parent in our love for our children, as a manager in our relation to our employees, as a waiter in regards to our customers, as a teacher with students or as my writer with this book. The trick is to balance nurturing with rectification - soft and hard love. The hard without the soft creates dissension, discouragement, resentment and sterility. The soft without the hard nourishes sloppiness without precision. However when firm and flexible are balanced in our lives the secret opening is created where learning, growth and creativity occur.
So the joining of the flexible Dragon Horse with firm Tripitaka/Tiger creates the secret opening that will allow the Journey to bridge East and West - internal and external. Once Heaven and Earth have been joined and the opening appears, Liu I-ming says,
“When you discover this opening, Water and Fire, the medicines, appear at hand and need not be sought externally.” Inner Teachings p15.
Thus now that Heaven and Earth have been joined we should expect to see the medicines appear soon and indeed we do. We don’t know how they will appear. To find out, you must read the next section.
[i]Liu I-ming on How to Read the Hsi-yu chi, from How to Read the Chinese Novel translated by David L. Rosten, p314
[ii] In the course of our literary exploration we’ve seen that many of the allegories used in Journey are from Chinese alchemy. Note that the language of Alchemy is very precise, not just mythological, poetic or esoteric. These symbols are just like words with incredibly well defined meanings. This is very different from the symbols of the west, which tend to be associative. For instance when a poet alludes to a dragon, the reader thinks of associations with dragons that they have read about in stories. Alternately the dragon of Alchemy is a specific concept related to the flexibility of the Heaven/Earth polarity. Each of these Taoist terms is in no way any more ambiguous than any other word. The use of the dragon in alchemical context has as precise a meaning as the word blue for a color. It has layers, but is quite specific.
In the earlier section we warned against mistaking metaphor for reality in the sense of forcing the book to fit into a symbolic box. This warning had to do with letting the episodes and the stories stand for themselves independent of an exterior system. Now we are saying - beware of mistaking the name of the symbol for its alchemical meaning. Easy to say, possibly easy to understand, not so easy to put into practice.
As an example, the White Horse is actually a transformed Dragon. With no evidence to the contrary, we can safely say the Horse of the Will is based upon the flexibility of the Dragon. In mixing these symbols the author is subtly pointing out that the stability of Will is based upon flexibility, because the Dragon is a precise symbol of the flexibility of pure yin, the Earth. The Dragon is not an imprecise associative symbol based upon flow of consciousness or the collective unconscious. Now that it has been mentioned, let us not get trapped in the symbols and forget the meaning.
[iii] Warning: If you’re trying to nit-pick or look too closely, don’t. Metaphors are meant to elucidate, not to be a perfect fit to the circumstances.
[iv] Note that this is not the same unbending earth that is true intent. It is a different metaphorical scheme. We will also see another way earth is used before this chapter is through.