Home Page

Right: The door to the outer garden,
Himeji, Japan

 

10 Ox Herding Pictures

Around 800AD Zen teachers started using Ox herding pictures to explain the way of controlling the mind until enlightenment.  There are many variations, but the standard version (below) is well accepted often seen in Zen art and literature.  It is sometime explain in accompanying literature, but this perhaps it is better read, visualized and thought about several times before commentary puts fixed ideas in your head.

1. Undisciplined
With his horns fiercely projected in the air
 the beast snorts,
Madly running over the mountain paths,
farther and farther he goes astray!
A dark cloud is spread across
the entrance of the valley,
And who knows how much of the fine fresh herb
 is trampled under his wild hoofs!

 

2. Discipline Begun
I am in possession of a straw rope,
and I pass it through his nose,
For once he makes a frantic attempt to run away,
 but he is severely whipped and whipped;
The beast resists the training
 with all the power there is in a nature wild and ungoverned,
But the rustic ox herd never relaxes his pulling tether and ever-ready whip.

 

3. In Harness
Gradually getting into harness
 the beast is now content to be led by the nose,
Crossing the stream,
 walking along the mountain path,
 he follows every step of the leader;
The leader holds the rope tightly
 in his hand never letting it go,
All day long he is on the alert
almost unconscious of what fatigue is.

 

4. Faced Round
After long days of training the result begins to tell
and the beast is faced round,
A nature so wild and ungoverned is finally broken,
 he has become gentler;
But the tender has not yet given him his full confidence,
He still keeps his straw rope
 with which the ox is now tied to a tree.

 

5. Tamed
Under the green willow tree and
by the ancient mountain stream,
The ox is set at liberty to pursue his own pleasures;
At the eventide when a grey mist descends on the pasture,
The boy wends his homeward way
 with the animal quietly following.

 

6. Unimpeded
On the verdant field the beast contentedly lies idling his time away,
No whip is needed now,
 nor any kind of restraint;
The boy too sits leisurely under the pine tree,
Playing a tune of peace, overflowing with joy.

 

7. Laissez Faire
The spring stream in the evening sun flows
languidly along the willow-lined bank,
In the hazy atmosphere the meadow grass is seen growing thick;
When hungry he grazes,
when thirsty he quaffs,
as time sweetly slides,
While the boy on the rock dozes for hours
 not noticing anything that goes on about him.

 

8. All Forgotten
The beast all in white now is surrounded by the white clouds,
The man is perfectly at his ease and care-free,
 so is his companion;
The white clouds penetrated by the moon-light
cast their white shadows below,
The white clouds and the bright moonlight
each following its course of movement.

 

9. The Solitary Moon
Nowhere is the beast,
 and the ox herd is master of his time,
He is a solitary cloud wafting lightly
along the mountain peaks;
Clapping his hands he sings joyfully
 in the moon-light,
But remember a last wall is still left
 barring his homeward walk.

 

10. Both Vanished
Both the man and the animal have disappeared,
no traces are left,
The bright moon-light is empty and shadowless
 with all the ten-thousand objects in it;
If anyone should ask the meaning of this,
Behold the lilies of the field and its fresh sweet-scented verdure.

you are in Zen News, now

  About the 'About Zen' site    Site Map