“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
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