The Woman and the Serpent

11:15-19 appears to bring John’s entire eschatological, cosmic vision to an end—the messianic woes have occurred; God’s kingdom has arrived; God’s enemies have been defeated; the final judgment has been pronounced; punishments have been dispensed; and rewards have been bestowed. All that is lacking is the final “Amen!”

But John is not ready to let the final curtain fall. He has a new revelation to present, signaled by the words of 12:1—“a great portent appeared in heaven.” (Smyth Helwys Bible Commentary)

This great “portent”, perhaps more than any other passage in Revelation has been widely misunderstood and oftentimes abused. I have chosen to use the New Heart English translation for chapter 12 since it replaces Dragon with “Serpent”. Western themes have always cast the use of the word Dragon in a negative light. Of course, in the East it has been associated with “Wisdom”. Within Unborn Mind Zen this has been the association. Especially with the phrase, “Black Dragon”, or those instilled with incomparable Wisdom. 

The Vision of the Woman and the great Serpent, 12: 1-6

Rev 12:1 A great sign was seen in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.

Rev. 12:2 She was with child. She screamed out in pain, laboring to give birth.

Rev 12:3 Another sign was seen in heaven. Look, a great fiery red serpent, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven crowns.

Rev 12:4 His tail drew one third of the stars of the sky, and threw them to the earth. The serpent stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child.

Rev 12:5 She gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with an iron scepter. Her child was caught up to God, and to his throne.

Rev 12:6 The woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that there they may nourish her one thousand two hundred sixty days.

The closest parallel to John’s story in chapter 12 of a woman who gives birth and is attacked by a dragon who tries unsuccessfully to destroy her and her child is a Greek version of this international myth adapted to tell the story of the birth of Apollo. The goddess Leto became pregnant by Zeus. The great dragon, Python, after learning that this soon-to-be-born child of Leto would one day kill him, sought to kill the unborn Apollo and his mother. Poseidon, the god of the sea, intervened and protected Leto by carrying her to safety to the island of Delos. He hid Leto by sinking the island under the sea. Unsuccessful in his search for the pregnant woman, Python ended the search and went away. Poseidon then raised the island, and Leto gave birth to Apollo, who pursued the dragon Python and killed him. John recasts this ancient myth in Christian dress. The hero who defeats evil is not Apollo or any other god or goddess, but Jesus. (ibid)

She’s also been associated with the astrological sign Virgo; the 12 stars are the twelve constellations. At this junction, we will be taking a far different take (as foreshadowed in the first blog of this series), one based on Tathagata-garbha Zen principles. The Dragon casted here is seen in a positive light. Rather than attacking her, he is in actuality protecting Arya Tārā’s womb of Unborn Light, one which houses the sacred gotra, or the developing garbhachild.

His seven heads represent the 7 chakras as interpreted by Unborn Mind Zen. Arya Tārā is represented here in the following light:

Beloved and Immaculate Arya Tārā is the Sacred Vessel through which the Buddha-potential originates and is nurtured. She is ARYA—the Noble Liberator—and her Blessed Bodhi-Womb—GARBHA—houses the Self-Liberating activity. Like a mother she knows her children’s potential as Buddha-nature, and her activity as the Holy Matrix houses the Primordial Wisdom (Prajñā) that removes the veil of ignorance from all future children destined for Tathagatahood. She is the Mediatrix of all Buddhaic Blessings and as such embodies the bodhipower of all Buddhas. She is Arya Tārā—the Tārā beyond time, space and all conceptualizations. Her Bodhi-Womb is made of Unborn Light—transparent—yet always Vibrantly Productive in its Luminous Actuosity. As the Hallowed Ground of the Tathagatas she is the very nature of the Dharmadhatu Itself.

Within Lankavatarian Unborn Mind Zen, the child in the womb, or Gotra, is the primordial dormant seed that, in its initial stages, is like a tiny spiritual embryo that eventually grows into a Bodhisattva, or Light Bearer. When this little seed within us all begins to awaken (born) it is referred to as the Bodhi-child. This child has a highly concentrated Spirit of Bodhi, or undivided self-awareness; when the Bodhi-child awakens it begins the process of “recollecting” the very vivifying Source of its original nature; hence, the “potential” for Buddhahood is present in all sentient reality.

The Ratnagotravibhāgaśāstra goes further still:

Within their bodies is the Tathagatagarbha,
But they do not realize it.
So I tell bodhisattvas,
‘Be careful not to consider yourselves inferior.
Your bodies are Tathagatagarbhas;
They always contain
The world’s light of saving grace.‘ 8

This is all about being [Bodhi-minded]. Ordinary perception pales when contrasted by being instilled with the Mind of Bodhi that soars like an eagle above the landscape of the composed. The composed is littered with those “habits of perception” that overwhelm the non-recollected mind and spirit. Whereas being Mindfully-Recollected affords one the advantage of steering well-clear from all those adventitious defilements that keep one chained to what one falsely perceives and prefers to be normality. These old Ch’an Masters, like Huihai, point to a higher horizon. The Bodhimind is vast, boundless, and well beyond ordinary comprehension. Being imbued with IT one awakens to the Vivifying Source of their being, never descending again into those dark valleys of woefully wrong perceptions that only lead to further distress and dukkha. As Bankei once instructed, “Put on the Unborn Buddha Mind and come to know ITS marvelously Illuminating quality;” once faithfully done, one will never identify with the illusion of passing phenomena and its [mindless] perceptions ever again.

The text of the Ratna also refers to Bodhi as nirmalā tathatā, which was described earlier in our series as the Undefiled-Suchness, or the “Immaculate Tathagatagarbha with the fundamental transformation āśrayaparivrtti/parāvrtti)”. This is a merging into the anāsrava-dhātu, or undefiled Absolute Essence of Buddhas. This Immaculate Nature is referred to as “the Clear-Light”—as both a deep and abiding awareness and as the Clear-Light that keeps all defiled dharmata from clouding-up this pristine awareness. This realization of [Pure-Mind] is likened unto a clear and immaculate sky that is devoid of all obscurations. Thus, the Essential-Nature of Bodhi IS the Clear and Undivided Light of the Unborn Mind.

Michael and the Serpent, 12:7-12

Rev 12:7 There was war in the sky. Michael and his angels made war on the serpent. The serpent and his angels made war.

Rev 12:8 They did not prevail, neither was a place found for them any more in heaven.

Rev 12:9 The great serpent was thrown down, the ancient serpent, he who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world. He was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.

Rev 12:10 I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now is come the salvation, the power, and the Kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ; for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them before our God day and night.

Rev 12:11 They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony. They did not love their life, even to death.

Rev 12:12 Therefore rejoice, heavens, and you who dwell in them. Woe to the land and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has but a short time.”

This account does not parallel the famous War in Heaven as written by Milton:

Th’ infernal Serpent; hee it was, whose guile
Stirr’d up with Envy and Revenge, deceiv’d
The Mother of Mankind; what time his Pride
Had cast him out from Heav’n, with all his Host
Of Rebel Angels, by whose aid aspiring
To set himself in Glory above his Peers,
He trusted to have equall’d the most High,
If he oppos’d; and with ambitious aim
Against the Throne and Monarchy of God
Rais’d impious War in Heav’n and Battle proud
With vain attempt. Him the Almighty Power
Hurl’d headlong flaming from th’ Ethereal Sky
With hideous ruin and combustion down
To bottomless perdition, there to dwell
In Adamantine Chains and penal Fire,
Who durst defy th’ Omnipotent to Arms.
(Book I, 34-49)

This passage is not describing the primeval overthrow of Satan. As will be clear from the following verses, the defeat of Satan occurs at the death of Christ, not at some point in prehistory. John is not interested in explaining the origin of evil in the world. John takes the reality of evil for granted. He is not concerned with its origin, but with its defeat. Unfortunately, too many readers approach this passage in Revelation by means of John Milton’s Paradise Lost and thus understand these verses as describing Satan’s primeval expulsion from heaven because he and his band of rebel angels attempted a coup against the throne of God. [Paradise Lost] That is not what is taking place in John’s vision. In fact, such a story of Satan is found nowhere in biblical literature. One has to go to Paradise Lost to find this account. Rather, the story of Michael and the dragon is the story of the cross, cast in mythological language. (ibid)

The Pursuit of the Woman, 12:13-18

Rev 12:13 When the serpent saw that he was thrown down to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male child.

Rev 12:14Two wings of the great eagle were given to the woman, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, so that she might be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.

Rev 12:15 The serpent spewed water out of his mouth after the woman like a river, that he might cause her to be carried away by the stream.

Rev 12:16 The earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the river which the serpent spewed out of his mouth.

Rev 12:17 The serpent grew angry with the woman, and went away to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus.

Rev 12:18 And he stood on the sand of the sea.

The closing words of this chapter are rather ominous: “Then the dragon took his stand on the sand of the seashore.” [He Stood] John may know the dragon is mortally wounded, but the dragon has not given up. He is making plans to continue his attack on God’s people. He stands on the edge of the sea, the great reservoir of evil, the place from which monstrous beasts arise (cf. Dan 7). Unfortunately for the people of God, the dragon stands on the shore not in order to leave the land and return like Leviathan to his watery lair, but he stands awaiting the arrival of reinforcements, the beasts who will carry out the assault on the church. (ibid)

There is a danger of using the concept of Satan to explain evil is that eventually we may fail to recognize the human face of evil. Yea, if only we can convince ourselves that the reality of evil is outside ourselves, we can tend to ignore it—and to our detriment.

William Blake, on the other hand, in one of his watercolors, fills the canvas with the image of the dragon. The woman, stretched horizontally across the bottom of the scene is easily overlooked, so overpowering is the dragon creature. Blake’s dragon is the embodiment of power and brute force, a terrifying figure of evil. Yet what makes Blake’s painting so riveting is the human form of the dragon. The dragon looks more like a muscle-bound human than a scaly dragon or a horned Satan. In viewing Blake’s dragon, one recognizes that evil comes in human form. (ibid)

What this blog has revealed is that evil comes in many forms, not particularly in the form of a dragon. The Serpent is the more apt symbol used, especially in light of Genesis where he is a cunning creature working against God and his divine decrees. We have also endeavored to cast the symbol of the Dragon in a more positive light—yea, protecting Arya Tārā and her beloved garbha womb of Unborn Light. If ever there was a holy mission for the Primordial Dragon it would be this for sure.

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