The Moaning of Dragons
Ryu means “dragons,” and gin means “sing,” “chant,” or “moan.” Dragons, of course, are not living animals, but are mythical animals. So it would be very strange for dragons to sing or moan; in short, it is impossible for dragons to sing or moan. But in ancient China people used the word ryugin, “the moaning of dragons” or “the whispers of dragons,” as a symbol of something mystical in nature or in the Universe — for example, in the expression koboku ryugin. Koboku means “withered trees”; the words conjure an image of a lonely, desolate landscape of withered trees, where we feel we can hear something that is not a sound. This concept later entered into Buddhist explanations. The moaning of dragons is not a sound but something which cannot be heard with the ears alone; that is, quietness, nature, the Universe, or reality. Buddhism is not simple mysticism, and so we should not readily believe in the existence of something mystical. At the same time, we should not limit reality to the area of sensory perception. On this basis, Master Dogen explains the meaning of ryugin or “the moaning of dragons” in this chapter.