The 10 Ox Herding Pictures

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Return To The Source

Reaching The Source

Too many steps have been taken
returning to the root and the source.
Better to have been blind and deaf
from the beginning!
Dwelling in one's true abode,
unconcerned with that without ...
The river flows tranquilly on
and the flowers are red.

From the beginning, truth is clear.
Poised in silence, I observe the
forms of integration and disintegration.
One who is not attached to "form"
need not be "reformed."
The water IS emerald ...
the mountain IS indigo ...
and I see that which IS creating
and that which IS destroying.
Return To The Source
From the very beginning there has not been so much as a speck of dust to mar the intrinsic purity. This waxing
and waning of life is no phantom or illusion but a manifestation of the Source. Why, then, is there a need to
strive for anythng? The waters are blue, the mountains are green. It is as though he were now blind and deaf.
Seated in his hut, he does not long for the things outside.

In this picture, there is water flowing, flowers are blooming and birds are singing. The practice does not stop at emptiness. If we attach ourselves to emptiness it could lead to separation and isolation. So we have to go one stage further, re-entering the world where "having forgotten ourselves, we are enlightened by all things". We realize the interdependence which is at the root of all life. When we are having breakfast in the morning, as we eat and chew a piece of toast we connect with the grain, the green shoots, the earth, the sun, the rain, and appreciate the efforts of all the people who made that piece of toast possible.

Our life is ordinary and just as it is but we look at it differently. We realize that everything expresses the truth of life and awareness, and is talking to us. We do not skip on the surface of things any more but we are intimately related and experiencing every single item without grasping or rejecting. We are not locked in on ourselves anymore but fully open to the world. We are not frightened but on the contrary exhilarated. The world is us and we are the world. All this practice — just to realize what was on our very doorsteps!

final commentary is from Zen, by Martine Batchelor.

Entering The Marketplace With Open Hands

In the World.

Barefooted and naked of breast ...
I mingle with the people of the world.
My clothes are ragged and dust-laden,
and I am ever blissful.
I use no magic to extend my life;
Now, before me ...
the dead trees become alive.

Inside my gate, a thousand sages do
not know me.
The beauty of my garden is invisible.
Why should one search for the footprints
of the patriarchs?
I go to the market place with my wine
bottle and return home with my staff.
I visit the wineshop and the market,
and everyone i look upon becomes

Entering The Marketplace With Helping Hands
The gate of his cottage is closed and even the wisest cannot find him. His mental panorama has disappeared.
He goes his own way making no attmept to follow the steps of those who have gone before. Carrying a gourd,
he strolls into the market. He leads innkeepers and fishmongers in the Way of the Buddha.
Bare-chested, barefooted, he comes into the marketplace. Muddied and dust-covered, how broadly he grins!
Without recourse to mystic powers, withered trees he swiftly brings to bloom.

The final picture shows a ragged, pot-bellied man walking barefoot bearing a sack full of goodies. This last stage represents freedom, wisdom and compassion. We are not encumbered by appearances. We adapt freely to high and low places. We find spirituality everywhere, it is not confined to monasteries and secluded places. Meditation and realization do not make us passive but active. We are deeply connected to the world, we feel its suffering and we want to respond and help. Our bag is full of joy, compassion, understanding, loving-kindness, wisdom and skilful means.

We naturally give to ourselves and others what is beneficial. We listen deeply, we observe unobtrusively and respond appropriately. When we give we do not expect anything. We are not superior to others when we help them, on the contrary helping them is like helping ourselves and we are grateful they give us that opportunity to extend ourselves. When we love it is with total acceptance. We do not help only people we like but also people who are difficult. However, we do not force our ideas—our opinions, what works for us—on others. We try to bring lightness into people's lives. We do not take it all too seriously.

When we look at the Ten Oxherding Pictures we have to be careful not to think that self-development and Zen practice go in a straight line. It is more like a spiral. We go round and up, hopefully. We go back to different stages but with more understanding. We deepen our realization of each stage as we continue on the path. We still have delusions and attachments to shed. We discover more ways to develop concentration and enquiry further. Master Kusan had three different major awakenings, and each time he continued to practise even more. The last time, his own teacher, Master Hyobong, said: "Until now you have been following me; now it is I who should follow you."

last commentary is from Zen, by Martine Batchelor.


Introduction ... 1. Seeking The Ox ... 2. Finding The Tracks ... 3. First Glimpse Of The Ox
4. Catching The Ox ... 5. Taming The Ox ... 6. Riding The Ox Home ... 7. Ox Forgotten, Self Alone
8. Both Ox & Self Forgotten ... 9. Return To The Source ... 10. Entering The Marketplace
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