The Dragon Symbol: A Chinese Approach to Mindfulness

Mindfulness practice is becoming increasingly popular. From sitting meditation to yoga, its different forms are being offered in almost every corner of the world. The people it attracts come from all backgrounds, too. From firemen to Wall Street traders, wellness studios have seen them all walk through the doors.

Mindfulness practice as we know it has undergone an evolution through hundreds, if not thousands of years. It originated in Asia mainly from Hinduism which was quickly adopted by other religions like Buddhism and Daoism. Being one of the ancient traditions that introduced it, the Chinese have had a hand in shaping the type of meditation people practice today. But how does it differ from the meditation that we have come to know and love?

Mindfulness today and yesterday

Mindfulness is often misinterpreted as the art of clearing one’s mind. It’s quite the opposite, actually, as it is not mindlessness. As we have discussed in our blog post 'Cultivating Mindfulness', meditation is about increasing awareness, and this is hard to achieve if the mind is completely devoid of any thoughts. What you will learn from experienced teachers is that you need to clear your mind of fluctuations and distractions, not empty it of everything. Our minds are constantly plagued by unnecessary, unkind, or detrimental thoughts which can cloud the truth. The goal of meditation is to nurture wellbeing by way of enlightenment, which ultimately leads to alleviating suffering.

This is also how the Ancient Chinese interpreted mindfulness. Today, many people mistake mindfulness for self-acceptance. They have the notion that by sitting still and learning how to quiet the mind, you will learn how to embrace even the most negative parts of yourself. However, Chinese History professor Michael Puett clarifies that the ancient art of meditation is not about being ‘comfortable with the world as it is’. He says that the Chinese used it as a way to train oneself to ‘respond in ways that could affect situations for the better’. Rather than using it for self-acceptance and to tolerate suffering, it is rooted in transformation. In short, meditation is a powerful tool for effecting change.

According to the Confucius Institute, the art of meditation has shaped the Chinese people’s outlook on life and how they behave. They don’t practice it for self-acceptance but as a way to face oneself, which is not really the same thing. I understand self-acceptance as viewing one’s own flaws as inherent to their being which cannot be changed. On the other hand, facing oneself is being brave enough to improve upon those parts of you that only contribute to suffering. For instance, I cannot simply be comfortable with being a selfish person because that affects the people around me poorly. If I become conscious of this negative quality of mine, then I should do everything I can to change it.

The dragon symbol

(image: Pexels)

The dragon symbol is commonly associated with China because it is a major icon in Chinese mythology. For them, it represents many things like power, virility, and good fortune. But aside from these interpretations, LoveToKnow states that it also represents intelligence, optimism, boldness, and goodness—all common ideologies of mindfulness practice. You may not learn math or history when you meditate, but you open your mind and expand knowledge of yourself which is more important than technical information. As aforementioned, it helps us gain courage that we can improve our weaknesses. The practice is used to achieve peace of mind which allows you stay positive. And as the Buddha taught, meditation puts an end to unhealthy desires and the pain we feel from not achieving them. It is the path to goodness itself.

Our common understanding of what the dragon stands for is widely influenced by the media. For instance, the internationally acclaimed film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon referred to the dragon as the power that is concealed. It is frequently seen in Chinese and Oriental-themed games as well, from console titles to simple video games like slots. The creator of the popular fighting game Mortal Kombat revealed that he drew inspiration from Chinese folklore, which explains why its logo is a dragon. The mythical creature is also featured in slot games hosted on Expatbets, particularly in titles like Dragon Shrine and Dragon Dance. Both games use the dragon as a symbol of good fortune, which is how most people interpret it.

It’s hard to connect the dragon symbol with meditation at first glance. But as we now know, it can also mean intelligence, optimism, boldness, and goodness. These are the qualities that mindfulness aims to foster. And when we do, it can make such a meaningful difference in this world.

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