Postcard from Raymond: Taking Care of Your Magic Dragon

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Postcard from Raymond: Taking Care of Your Magic Dragon

There is a magical dragon dwelling inside every one of us.

Leonard Lipton and Peter Yarrow’s Puff the Magic Dragon, which was masterfully sung by folk group Peter, Paul and Mary, is a melancholic song about losing the capability for imagination, for wonder. When I first heard this song as a kid, I thought that Jackie Paper stopped visiting the playful Puff because of some sudden death. It turns out that the truth was far more terrible: Jackie Paper abandoned Puff, simply because Puff lived in that unjustly reviled, underrated realm of the mind called the imagination. There are grown women and men who have been reduced to tears upon re-listening to the song and recalling what they’ve lost.

A child possesses a form of wisdom about the invisible and unseen that society kills, much to the detriment of that society. Kids view the world differently because of their uninhibited imagination. The childlike heart, which sees friendly dragons by the shoreline and mystic lands of endless grandeur, adventure, and meaning-making, tends to be purposefully starved and snuffed out in a process modern society dishonestly calls “growing up.” Many of us do no such thing. More accurately, we grow older, and in the age of sages this came with growing wiser. Sadly, in these dehumanizing, materialistic times, growing older often has more to do with just growing unhappier.

Puff lives forever, not simply because he’s a mighty dragon, but because he dwells in the imagination. The imagination, far from being some repository of outlandish fantasies, is a necessary muscle to exercise in the religious life. It’s not, as the hardcore secularists say, simple make-believe. The intention of the Buddhist scriptures, in spreading the lore of the Buddha’s life and unveiling worlds beyond our own, such as the Buddha-fields and Pure Lands in other universes, is to compel us to engage with the cosmos as if we see those realities with our own eyes. As theologian James Mackey wrote of the role of imagination in the gospels of the Christian tradition: “Imagination in its artistry seeks to enchant rather than to coerce, to haunt rather than to conclude, to tug at the heart rather than to beat about the head.”

We need imagination to engage with our faith traditions. The binary categories of “existent” or “non-existent” just aren’t helpful in evaluating what’s true or false in religious belief. Imagination transcends such dichotomies. Imagination brings a spring to the steps of our path of faith, and faith shapes our imagination into a force that supports, heals, and comforts us every day. To be sure, this means that religious institutions and teachers need to seriously consider whether they are really helping their followers to engage their imaginations in a rich and productive manner. Or are they simply making demands of belief, prescribing and proscribing what shall be accepted and what must be repudiated?

If you embrace your inner child and open yourself to a limitless world of joy and exploration – and spiritual insight – you may just find a winged, magical reptilian companion waiting to travel the seven seas and frolic in the autumn mist with you…

Full song and lyrics

Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist
in a land called Honnah Lee
Little Jackie Paper loved that rascal Puff
And brought him strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff, oh!

Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist
in a land called Honnah Lee
Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist
in a land called Honnah Lee

Together they would travel on a boat with billowed sail
Jackie kept a lookout perched on Puff’s gigantic tail
Noble kings and princes would bow whene’er they came
Pirate ships would lower their flags when Puff roared out his name, oh!

Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist
in a land called Honnah Lee
Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist
in a land called Honnah Lee

A dragon lives forever but not so little boys*
Painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys
One grey night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more
And Puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar

His head was bent in sorrow, green scales fell like rain
Puff no longer went to play along the cherry lane
Without his life-long friend, Puff could not be brave
So Puff that mighty dragon sadly slipped into his cave, oh!

Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist
in a land called Honnah Lee
Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist
in a land called Honnah Lee*

  • “Little boys” was later changed to “girls and boys” to make the song more inclusive.

What are your thoughts?