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Seeking The Ox
The Search for the Bull
In the pasture of this world,
I endlessly push aside the tall
grasses in search of the bull.
Following unnamed rivers, lost
upon the interpenetrating paths
of distant mountains ...
My strength failing and my vitality
exhausted, I cannot find the bull.
I only hear the locusts chirring
through the forest at night.
The bull never has been lost.
What need is there to search?
Only because of separation from my
true nature, I fail to find him.
In the confusion of the senses I
lose even his tracks. Far from home,
I see many crossroads, but which way
is the right one I know not.
Greed and fear, good and bad,
Seeking The Ox
The Ox has never really gone astray. So why search for it? Having turned his back on his true nature ...
the man cannot see it. Because of his defilements he has lost sight of the Ox. Desolute, through forests
and fearful jungles he is seeking the Ox which he does not find. Up and down dark, nameless, wide flowing
rivers in deep mountain thickets he treads many bypaths.
At evening he hears cicadas chirping in the trees.
In this picture, the young oxherder is in nature looking a little lost, running here and there. He is searching for something but he is not even sure what he is looking for. This represents the stage when we have not started on the spiritual path yet but we feel somewhat uncomfortable and unsatisfied. There are faint stirrings within us. We think that if we had enough material things we would be happy. We would like to have a house with a nice garden or enough money to buy whatever takes our fancy. Perhaps we hoped that a good relationship or a worthwhile or highly-paid job would give us lasting happiness. But nothing seems to completely satisfy us, to bring us that elusive long-lasting happiness. Events keep happening which disturb our dream world. Something seems to be missing. We are like the oxherder in the picture, there is a refreshing stream, beautiful trees, colourful butterflies and wonderful birdsong but still he is not satisfied. Like us, he is anxiously looking for something, inner peace, contentment, clarity.
~ commentary from Zen, by Martine Batchelor.
[referring to a different set of pictures ... but still applicable]
Finding The Tracks
Discovering the Footprints
Along the riverbank under the trees ...
I discover footprints!
Even under the fragrant grass I see
Deep in remote mountains they are found.
These traces no more can be hidden
than one's nose, looking heavenward.
Understanding the teaching, I see the
footprints of the bull. Then I learn that,
just as many utensils are made from one
metal, so too are myriad entities made of
the fabric of self.
Unless I discriminate, how will I perceive
the true from the untrue? Not yet having
entered the gate, nevertheless I have
discerned the path.
Finding The Tracks
Through the Sutras and teachings he discerns the tracks of the Ox. He has been informed that, just as differently shaped golden vessels are all basically the same gold so each and every thing is a manifestation of the Self.
He has not yet entered the Gate, but he sees in a tentative way the tracks of the Ox.
Innumerable footprints he has seen in the forest and along the water's edge. Does he see the trampled grass?
Even the deepest gorges or the topmost mountans cannot hide this Ox's nose, which reaches right to Heaven.
In this picture, the oxherder finally sees some footprints. It represents the stage when we decide to do something about the dissatisfaction. We look around for something. We discuss philosophy, read about psychology and various states of consciousness. We hear about meditation and Buddhism or Zen. We might have a friend who is practising or we might listen to a talk by a Zen teacher. We are impressed by the peacefulness and clarity of the Zen teacher, we are attracted to the Zen stories but we stop there. We just read about it. It becomes part of our repertoire of ideas but we do not apply its tenets. So, very little changes, we continue to have the same sufferings, the same disturbing emotions and the same negative patterns. Reading or hearing about Zen only is not going to make a great difference in our life.