NCF Phoenix Rising Blog

I grew up in a rural environment (our Agricultural College was like a village). Later I worked for the Central Television programs Homeland Attractions and Man in Nature, which gave me chances to visit spectacular mountains and rivers. Both in Beijing and in America I have lived in prime scenic areas. Although I did not set out to be picky, it was as if I had been “chosen” by those favorable spots to live in pristine surroundings.

Once I lived in seclusion awhile in a place called Baja. Baja is a peninsula with many islands in Mexico. There is a volcano there, and desert terrain where many kinds of cactus grow. The area where I stayed is frequented by Americans, who can easily reach it by car or private plane. Northern Baja Bay is a special place where warm waters of the Colorado River used to empty into the Pacific, and in doing so, created a fertile maritime ecosystem. The Sea of Cortes is a gathering place for blue whales, humpback whales, dolphins and giant sharks.

Other noteworthy places are Moon Valley and the nearby Indian village site. The hills overlooking Moon Valley consist of calcareous deposits from marine animals, which prove that the area was once on the ocean floor. At night, moonlight causes the chalk mountains to sparkle, as if stars had descended to the earth. Because this area is off the electrical grid, it preserves many features of a primitive environment. There is no noise but the engine sounds of speedboats or helicopters as they occasionally pass by.

The Baja Peninsula is sparsely populated, and in such a setting one seldom needs to speak, so your mouth can get a taste of quietness. There is no need to decipher speech, so your auditory faculty goes back to a pristine state. At such times I observe things with three kinds of eyes.

  1. My first pair of eyes can see traces of pythons, patterned scales of iguanas and birds riding wind currents in the sky; now and then they see a porpoise or whale breaching on the ocean surface.
  2. I have another pair of eyes—binoculars—which can bring these animals close enough to inspect their detailed features.
  3. My third kind of eye is the mind’s eye, which goes beyond material things to gaze at my true home.

During the months of my spiritual retreat in Baja, what did I see in my “true home?” Two scenes remain especially fresh in my memory…

A white-garbed young woman poled a skiff along a winding stream that led to an ancient-looking walled city. After disembarking she led me through a large door and motioned me to wait in a rear courtyard. I leaned against a high wall, craning my neck to see what was on the other side. I saw three old men in a circle, sitting cross-legged at the center of an open area. One of them was round-faced and beardless, but the other two were relatively slender and had long whiskers. They wore long robes of grayish blue and all were immersed in samadhi. I walked into that open area, placing my feet gingerly to avoid making noise. Then I noticed that the open area was ringed by a large number of people whose eyes were closed and whose hands were positioned in mudras. I was absorbed in figuring out the mudras when the rotund old man walked over to me. He led me back to the open space and told me to sit facing the other two elders. But the two old men were in deep samadhi and seemed hidden from me. By the time I remembered what they looked like, I discovered that the rotund old man had gone away. I looked for him in all directions, and then looked down to find that I was standing on water, and the water was reflecting a golden light. I lifted my head to see the rotund old man, and his whole body was giving off beams of gold light. Towering over me in a stately pose, he looked at me with a compassionate smile. I fell down on my knees and called out “Master,” beginning to sob. He laid his hand on my head for a moment, then said, “Go back now.” So I came back.

The other vision happened like this…I returned to that grand courtyard, and again I entered through the “back door.” I saw the three old men sitting in a small circle. This time instead of being in samadhi they were amusing themselves by doing mudras with their hands. They formed a succession of mudras so adeptly that rainbow-colored light began to shine from between their fingers. Suddenly a flying Phoenix appeared amid the beams of light from their fingers. The Phoenix was not large, but it had splendid colors.

As the Phoenix was flying in gyres through the air, the rotund old man turned to me as if to say, “Do you understand what you just saw?” In an instant I found myself back on an earthly landscape. There I saw a grand Phoenix descending from the sky to alight on a mountain peak. Its long plumed tail merged into the afterglow of sunset. The Phoenix extended its beautiful head across the landscape and serenely gazed at me, face to face.

For a long time I was absorbed in recalling these two visions. Whether I was viewing sunbeams through clouds with my bare eyes or spotting dolphins with binoculars, that phoenix image would keep floating up from the waters of my subconscious mind.

Whether in ancient countries from the Far East to the Middle East (China, India, Egypt) or in modern times, people have handed down legends of the Phoenix. Every thousand years the Phoenix consumes itself in its own flames, then rises again from its ashes. Buddhists sometimes speak of “the Nirvana of a Phoenix,” which refers to such an idea.

The 21st Century will be a time for the Phoenix’s rebirth. Various religions have begun to show some degree of aging. People call such aging the “end times” or the “age of Declining Dharma.” However, the world never really passes through end times, and the dharma is neither born nor extinguished. What some call the “end times” is perhaps “stagnation reaching an extreme” (in the I Ching symbol). As for the “Declining Dharma,” this really signifies the death of human hearts. Everywhere you go in the world, you hear the word 忙 mang (“busy”). The word 忙 is composed of 心 (“heart”) and 亡 (“disappear/pass away”). If one’s heart passes away, isn’t that the decline of the dharma? As for self-immolation of the heart-mind, that comes about due to the five poisons. [1] When people are reduced to ash by self-immolation, this is the “end times” or the extreme of Stagnation. When one is reborn from the ashes, this is renewal or “approaching Peace” (in I Ching symbolism).

Ascension of the Phoenix requires prayer and belief and acts that make renewal happen. In individual terms, your loss and pain and blows you suffer may put your faith and love through a conflagration. Perhaps some of your “wherewithal” may escape disaster, or perhaps it will all be reduced to ashes. Thus you will be plunged into despair and helplessness and fury. Perhaps you will retreat into the “Gate of Emptiness,” or a sense of futility will prey upon you. You may lose your beliefs and entertain thoughts of suicide, or you may devise all sorts of ways to maximize sensory pleasure, passing your days in a deluded fog. You may thirst to possess more, envying those who outdo you and disdaining those who cannot rival you. Your heart may be filled with fear—fear of illness, fear of aging, fear of death, fear of earthquakes, fear of poverty, fear of abandonment, fear of an airplane crash, fear of unsafe highways…all these high and low flames are licking away at your Buddhamind.

Let the Phoenix of our life-force be reborn from this heap of ashes! Even now “approaching Peace” is gazing at you in the form of a lovely Phoenix. — Yuan Miao

Early this year I went back to Baja. I picked up feathers that were shed by birds flying by; I picked up bits of seashell on the beach, and I gathered desert plants. I put these together with tea leaves, Japanese sumi-e ink and Korean pigments. In a shakti state of open receptivity, I let a phoenix’s energy be transformed into these paintings. I hardly used an inkbrush at all. I hope that friends who view these paintings can resonate with blessings from the Phoenix!


[1] “Five poisons”—The Buddhist idea of predispositions which cloud people’s minds during an age of decline.…

by Yuan Miao
Translated by Denis Mair

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