The Dragon and the Phoenix

Do you remember the story your Uncle Wen told us before we went to get our tattoos? How Dragon, the water spirit, and Phoenix, the fire spirit, met and fell in love? How they became so enraptured with each other that they shirked all responsibility, seeking only to be in each other’s company?

But without the dragon, the waters did not run and the rain did not fall. And without the phoenix, the universe was cold and heavens did not turn. Soon the people became angry, and beseeched the pair to resume their duties for which they had been created. Fearing that man would keep them from each other, the lovers fled far, far away to the Western Paradise where no mortal could find them, and there they lived as one.

Hungry and cold, the people called to Pan-ku, the creator god who was born of the cosmic egg, and pleaded for help. Pan-ku saw the suffering that had befallen his creation, and was angry. He turned his high gaze over the earth and soon found where Dragon and Phoenix were hiding. With a single step, he reached the Western Paradise and hid behind the great bamboo grove at its eastern border. There, he drew the character for yin on one hand and yang on the other. And waited.

The next morning, Dragon woke and, turning to face his beloved, was so enthralled by her beauty that he was overcome and vowed to find her a gift every bit as brazen as she so that she would always know his love. When Phoenix awoke and found her beloved had gone, she too vowed to scour the Western Paradise and find him a gift every bit as handsome and lustrous as he so that he would always know her love.

As soon as the lovers parted, Pan-ku opened his hands. Seeing the character for yin and thinking it was his beloved, Dragon rushed to show her the brazen gift he had found burning at the top of the cliff, and he was captured. Seeing the character for yang and thinking it was her beloved, Phoenix rushed to show him the gift she had found shining in the still pond, and she was captured.

In order to ensure that the waters would flow and the heavens turn, Pan-ku decreed that if fire and water should ever be brought together, they would each extinguish the other. And then he released the heartbroken lovers, who had no choice but to return to the world they had abandoned. Pan-ku took Dragon’s gift and put it over the day and called it the sun. Then he took Phoenix’s gift and put it over the night and called it the moon. Then he pressed his hands together and made the shape of the yin-yang as a sign to all creation that the universe is in harmony when opposites are balanced, when they are neither stingy nor wasteful, neither foolish nor foolhardy, and when they are respectful of traditions and of each other.

And so it was.



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