Ten Oxherding Pictures

Ten Oxherding Pictures 十牛圖 Shiniu tu [Jūgyūzu]
Verses by 廓庵師遠 Kuoan Shiyuan [Kakuan Shien], 12th century,
Oxherding text translations by Victor Sogen Hori

“Here, our essential self is compared to an ox. We seek the ox, grasp it, tame it and finally the self which has always been seeking becomes completely one with the ox. But this also is forgotten so that we now simply carry on our ordinary lives. This is the process described by the Pictures. They show concretely the progression of our practice and are very helpful for a self-examination of our own practice and as encouragement for further practice.

The Ten Ox-herding Pictures have concretely depicted the process in which the imperfect, limited, and relative self (the little child) awakens to the perfect, unlimited, and absolute essential self (the ox), grasps it, tames it, forgets it, and completely incorporates it into the personality. But we must stress that these pictures and verses are merely an indication of the way to practice and not an object for conceptual thought. Thus, the study of the Ten Ox-herding Pictures are very useful for those who are actually striving to make clear the true self in Zen through the actual sitting with aching legs. But for those who want only to learn the rationale of Zen I must warn that these pictures and words will be only “white elephants” of no use whatsoever.”

— taken from the Teisho (commentary) by KUBOTA Ji’un


I. Searching for the Ox

Preface:
Until now, the ox has never gone astray. Why then does he need to search for it? Because he turned away from himself, he became estranged from it; then, lost in the dust, at last he let it astray; he’s lost as soon as the path divides. Winning and losing consume him like flames, right and wrong rise round him like blades.

Verse:
Beating about the endless wildgrass, he seeks and searches, the rivers broaden, the mountains stretch on, and the trails go ever deeper. His strength exhausted and his spirit wearied, no place allows him refuge. He listens–there’s just the evening’s shrilling of cicadas in the trees.

Waka:
Sought ox in the mountains–missed it. Only a cicada’s empty shrilling.


II. Finding the Tracks

Preface:
With the aid of the sutras, he gains understanding; through the study of the teaching, he finds the traces. The many vessels are clearly all of one gold; and he himself is the embodiment of the ten thousand things. But unable to recognize correct from incorrect, how is he to distinguish true from false? Since he has yet to pass through the gate, only tentatively has he seen the traces.

Verse:
By the water and under the trees, there are tracks thick and fast. In the sweet grasses thick with growth, did he see it or not? But even in the depths of the deepest mountains, how could it hide from others its snout turned up at the sky?

Waka:
Deep in the mountains, his efforts bear fruit. Tracks! How grateful to see a sign.


III. Seeing the Ox

Preface:
Through sounds he makes an entry and comes to know their source. But it’s no different for each and every one of the six senses. In their every function, it is plainly present, like salt in water, or glue in paint. Raise your eyebrows–it is nothing other than yourself.

Verse:
On the tree branch a nightingale sings, warm sun, soft wind, green willows on the bank. Now nowhere for it to hide, its majestic horns no artist could draw.

Waka:
In the spring sun in the green willow strands, see its timeless form.

 


IV. Catching the Ox

Preface:
At last today you finally meet up with the ox so long hidden in the wilderness. But the world around is so distracting, it is hard to keep up with the ox. It will not give up its longing for the sweet grass. It is just as willful as before and just as wild natured. He who would truly tame it must lay on the whip.

Verse:
He expends all strength to take the ox. But willful and strong, it won’t soon be broken. As soon as he gains the high ground, it vanishes once more deep into the mist.

Waka:
Thinking “At last, my mind–the ox. Don’t let go.” Just this is the real fetter.


V. Taming the Ox

Preface:
If even the slightest thought arises, then another follows. With awakening, all becomes truth; but if you reside in ignorance, all is unreal. Things arise, not because of the objective world, but only because of the mind. Keep a firm grip on that rope and do not waver.

Verse:
Let drop neither whip nor line even a moment lest the ox wander back to dust and desire. Tame this bull and it will be pure and gentle. Without fetters or chain, of itself, it will follow.

Waka:
Days past counting and even the wild ox comes to hand. Becoming the shadow that clings to my body–how gratifying.


VI. Riding Home on the Ox

Preface:
The struggle is over; all concern about winning and losing has ceased. He sings woodsman’s village songs and plays children’s country tunes. Lying back on top of his ox, he gazes at the sky. Call him back but he will not turn around; try to catch him but he will not be caught.

Verse:
Astride his ox, leisurely he heads for home. Trilling a nomad’s flute, he leaves in misted sunset. In each beat and verse, his boundless feeling–what need for an intimate companion to
say even a word?

Waka:
Roar in the sky of limpid soaring mind; white clouds come back on the peaks.


VII. The Ox Forgotten, The Person Remains

Preface:
The dharma is not dual; the ox just stands for the actuality. Likewise, the snare and the rabbit are different, and fishnet and fish are not the same. So, too, gold separates from dross, and the moon emerges from the clouds, sending out a single shaft of icy light from before the age of Ion.

Verse:
Aback his ox, he’s reached his original abode, Ox now gone, he too is still. Sun risen high, yet still he dreams, old whip and line put away in the woodshed.

Waka:
Hard to take–people who fret over good and bad, knowing nothing of Naniwa reeds.


VIII. Forgetting Both Person and Ox

Preface:
He has shed all worldly feelings and erased all thought of holiness. He does not linger where the Buddha is; he hurries right past where the Buddha is not. As he does not cling to either side, not even the thousand-eyed one can find him. Birds flocking around bearing flowers–that would be a disgraceful scene.

Verse:
Whip and line, man and ox–all vanished to emptiness. Blue sky utterly vast–no way to say or convey. Into the flames of a fire pit, how can a snowflake fall? He who attains this is truly one with the Patriarch.

Waka:
Without clouds, or moon, or cassia–the tree too is gone, the sky above swept so clean.


IX. Return to the Origin

Preface:
The fundamental is pure and immaculate, without a speck of dust. The sees the things of existence arise and decay though he resides in the serene quiet of doing nothing. But he is not merely conjuring up visions. Why then is there any need to change things? The blue waters, the green mountains–he just sits and watches them rise and pass away.

Verse:
Return to the origin, back to the source–such wasted effort. What compares with being dumb and blind? From within the hut, one sees not what is in front–the river by nature broad, flowers by nature red.

Waka:
No traces of the Dharma way, on the original mountain. The pines are green, the flowers glint with dew.


X. Entering the Marketplace with Extended Hands

Preface:
All alone, the gate shut so tight–not even the thousand sages can comprehend. Hiding his light he strays from the tracks of the sages who have gone before. He comes round to the market with his gourd dangling and returns to his hut clumping along with his staff. He shows up at the drinking places and fish stalls to awaken all to their buddhahood.

Verse:
With bare chest and unshod feet, he walks into the market, daubed with dirt and smeared with ashes, laughter fills his face. Without using mystic arts or divine powers he makes withered trees at once burst into flower.

Waka:
Hands extended, feet in the sky–on a dead branch perches a bird.

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