Monday, July 14, 2014

THE NOBLE ART OF DRAGON-SLAYING

How good are you at dragon-slaying? It’s a shame they don’t teach the noble art of dragon-slaying in our schools, colleges and universities, for it is perhaps the most important skill we need to learn in life. Funny that, the most important skills and knowledge we need in order to successfully navigate our way through life are never taught in our schools, colleges and universities. That’s a terrible thing.

Saint George, the patron saint of England as well as several other countries, and of many different professions and organizations, is undoubtedly the most famous dragon-slayer of all time. Born in the late 3rd century CE, in Cappadocia, in Turkey, and brought up as a Christian by his widowed mother in her hometown of Lydda, in Palestine (now Israel), George is said to have been a soldier in the Roman army, and he has long been regarded as one of the most prominent of the military saints. 

Sadly, Saint George is an increasingly controversial and even maligned figure in today’s troubled world. In particular, Muslims, no offence intended, are generally offended by the mere mention of the man's name and his supposed exploits. Certainly, the memory of the Crusades still leaves an understandably bitter taste in the mouths of Muslims, but let it be remembered that the Crusades were to a very large extent a defensive war against Muslims in order to free the Holy Land from Muslim rule,  and many of the Muslim conquests were just as brutal as the Crusades, if not more so, not that that makes any of them right or proper. Anyway, many Muslims, along with many who are not Muslims, seem either unable or unwilling to grasp the real, ‘inner’ meaning and significance of the legend of ‘Saint George and the Dragon.

Saint George, whose cult, while universal, remains strongest in the Eastern Church where he is venerated as ‘The Great Martyr,’ is usually depicted in Christian art and iconography as a soldier on horseback killing a dragon with a lance. The large picture of Saint George slaying the dragon that I’ve included in this post is from a jumbo-sized ‘holy card’ I obtained many years ago from a Maronite church, actually named after the saint, near where I live. The now framed picture hangs on a wall in my study, and what the picture represents means a fair bit to me. I'll get to that shortly.


You know, almost every one of the world's mythologies---for example, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, and European (of which there are several)---contains a dragon myth. It is that universal. Now, in the Middle Ages, the image of the dragon was commonly used to represent Satan (the Devil), and there is certainly a Biblical basis for that connection. For example, in the Book of Revelation, the very last book in the New Testament, the dragon represents both Satan (Rev 12:9) and the monster from his life story. (‘And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer’ [Rev 6:2].) Anyway, the almost universal image of Saint George slaying the dragon is a representation of a popular legend of the saint which first appeared in 1265 in a romance titled ‘The Golden Legend,’ in which George is said to have saved a town terrorized by a dragon with one blow of his lance. 

There are several different versions of the legendary story of Saint George slaying the dragon. In the traditional Western version, a dragon makes its nest at the spring that provides water for the city of Silene [or Selena] (possibly modern Cyrene in Libya or Lydda in Israel). The citizens must dislodge the dragon from its nest for a time in order to collect water. Each day the citizens offer the dragon a sheep. If they can’t find a sheep they offer the dragon a maiden instead. (Typically sexist and male chauvinistic, that.) The townfolk choose the hapless victim by drawing lots. 

Now, one day, a young princess (who is called Sabra in some versions of the story) is unlucky enough to be chosen as the dragon's dinner. Her father, the monarch, begs for his daughter’s life to be spared, but the poor woman, dressed as a bride, is offered to the dragon. Then, the proverbial deus ex machina. Saint George arrives on the scene in the very nick of time. With great courage Gorge faces the dragon, protects himself with the sign of the Cross, and slays the dragon. The princess is saved. The king offers george half of the kingdom, but George tells the king that he (George) must ride on. This version of the legendary story ends with all of the citizens converting to Christianity. And, I guess, they all lived happily ever after---except for the dragon.

We all have at least one dragon living inside of us. Most of us have several of them---and I’m certainly no exception. Dragons such as selfishness, anger, resentment, envy, jealousy, bitterness, pride, ruthless ambition, greed, arrogance, rudeness, insensitivity, dishonesty, lust, sexual impurity, and even fear and anxiety. Then there are dragons that take shape and form in our lives as addictions, obsessions, and compulsions---indeed, as all of those hundreds of 'false selves' (self-images) in our mind with which we identify and which we mistakenly believe are the real person each of us is. Then there are dragons that present themselves in the form of unhealthy relationships. Now, all of these dragons not only make our lives miserable, they defeat us and they can even destroy us altogether. Even when the dragons are small ones, they still cause us to wander from the path that leads to joy, happiness and freedom.

Like George, we must slay the dragons in our life---one by one, and on a daily basis---and we all have the power and authority to do so. This calls for courage and self-honesty, but unless we attend to this dragon-slaying we will never know joy, happiness or freedom. Listen to these most apt words from the Buddha‘It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It cannot be taken from you, not by angels or by demons, heaven or hell.’ That's right---and not even by dragons.

So, happy dragon-slaying!



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