Doing away with metaphysics and scriptures, this radical path offers some unconventional, direct ways to shake you out of your blabbering mind to let you see your true nature
OX HERDING: coming full circle
The 10 Ox Herding pictures are an excellent way to understand the essence of Zen. The drawings describe the various stages of the student as he evolves in his practice of Zen.
The ox in the drawings is representative of our essential Buddha Nature, while the ox herd is the student (human being). Since they were first produced in the Sung Dynasty in China, many versions of these drawings have emerged, even sparking off interpretations and commentaries.
Searching for the ox
The ox is not astray, but the ox herd’s own delusions have led him away. He is lost in wilderness far from home, confused by the myriad paths and driven by his desires and fears.
This picture describes the beginning of spiritual stirring, where a seeker starts looking for answers. Done with searching in the outward world, he turns his attention within, but is bewildered by the possibility of the paths to enlightenment. Yet he feels the joy of turning away from worldly pursuits to spiritual ones.
Seeing the traces
Studying the sutras and inquiring into the teachings has given him a glimpse of the Truth. He realises that the objective world is a mirror of the self, but is still perplexed about truth and falsehood. However, he has not yet entered the gate, just seen the traces.
This picture explains that the seeker has begun to study the teachings (Zen Buddhism). He gains intellectual knowledge and is certain of being on the path.
Seeing the ox
The ox herd finds the way by the sounds. Thus he sees the original nature of the world. There is harmonious flow that marks his activities. This picture describes the student’s evolution from intellectual study to a more intimate experience of the spiritual. Spirituality now emerges out of everyday activity, so that he is no longer following a path. The ox becomes all the paths, the seeker and the forest. However, further discipline is required at this stage.
Catching the ox
Though the ox herd has at last found the ox, the beast is hard to control. His nature is still wild and yearns for accustomed pleasures. To have the ox completely in his hold, he needs to use his whip.
This picture describes the unbridled ox filled with obstinacy and wild energy. To be fully in control the seeker needs to be completely disciplined, so as not to let this energy pursue destructive goals. The seeker must seek refuge in values such as honesty and compassion.
Herding the ox
The thinking mind remains susceptible to deception. The ox herd should therefore never let the nose-string be slack.
This picture describes a relatively advanced stage, where there is a harmonious relationship with one’s essential nature. Training received earlier is
now completely assimilated and spiritual life is not separate from the practical. The ox becomes a willing companion. Coming home on the ox’s back
The ox herd rides on the ox’s back, singing simple songs and playing his flute. Now, even if called, he will not succumb to the temptation of returning.
The drawing describes that stage on the path where the struggle is over and loss and gain are no longer relevant. The seeker’s actions are simple and natural and radiate spontaneity and tranquillity. The illusion of
the ox as separate continues to persist though. The ox forgotten, leaving the man alone
The ox is only symbolic. The wisdom does dawn, separating the wheat from the chaff. The whip and rope lie idle.
In this picture, the man and the ox are one. At last, the seeker sees his Self as the only Truth and enjoys bliss in the absence of the separation. The ox and the man both out of sight
There is now only serene bliss; no ideas exist, not even of the Dharma. There is no duality, no separation.
The picture depicts dharmakaya, the causal realm, where there is profound emptiness. There are no illusions left and even the idea of enlightenment is transcended. Consciousness has returned to its original source. Returning to origin, back to the source
Pure from the very beginning, the ox herd has never been defiled. Remaining in unchanging serenity, he watches things changing. There is no identification with any of the transformations he himself is undergoing.
This ninth picture depicts formless awareness taking form again without losing its formlessness. Having dissolved into emptiness, this again takes shape. But there is no striving, just the observation of endless change. Entering the city with bliss-bestowing hands
Having no desire, the ox herd lives his life, without following the paths of any sages.
In this last picture, the sage returns to the human world as a Bodhisattva, having renounced his own liberation to help others on the path.
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