I’d never thought about dandelions before. They are yellow flowers, that have fine seeds, which form a soft, dome-like structure. And as every child knows, when you blow on the dome the seeds go everywhere.
However if you look at the etymology of the word ‘dandelion’, you get a different picture. It’s from the French, ‘dent de lion’, which means ‘tooth of a lion’. Apparently dandelion leaves are shaped like lions’ teeth, though you also get a picture of something very resilient, which is what dandelions are. They embed themselves in people’s lawns, their mass of green leaves supported by a tough root system. To get rid of them you need to dig, poison or burn.
Last weekend I was mowing the lawn. Believe it or not, this was the first time in my life that I had ever used a lawnmower. I suppose no-one had trusted me before, to do something so dangerous. Though actually it seemed pretty safe. I was wearing goggles, ear protectors and a sun-hat, and the mower had a dead-man’s handle, so if I collapsed with a heart attack the engine would immediately cut off.
As I was mowing the weed-cratered lawn, I had the opportunity to run over numerous dandelions. They stand proud, laden with seeds, as the mower bears down on them. As the mower makes its final approach, as the dandelion stares death in the face, the hot air from the engine hits the seed-dome, and then right in front of my eyes the dome disappears, the seeds scattering into the ether.
The dandelion’s work is done. In death it creates the beginnings of new life. It was rather like the statue of the Buddha in Afghanistan, which the Taliban blew up. They could destroy the physical object, but each grain of dust that was blasted into the atmosphere bore with it the wisdom of the Enlightened One.
However on the face of it the dandelion analogy has its limits. When I mow over a dandelion, I’m not actually killing it. The roots and the lower leaves remain, and all I’ve done is knocked off a temporary adornment. Yet isn’t life a temporary adornment? One day we’re standing on an earthy lawn, and the next day we’re mowed down. That reminds me of the traditional symbolism of the tarot card Death. The symbol of Death is a skeletal figure with a scythe, mowing the heads of us humans. Some of us are kings, others are peasants, and all of us are going to die.
The hard root of the dandelion, which the mower can’t kill, is like the soul. As one of its flowers dies, another grows up. It’s perhaps a series of incarnations, which only ends when someone gets a spade and digs the whole thing up. Then the soul itself must move on, confident that it’s done its job. Or maybe the whole cycle has finished, and the dandelion has reached nirvana.