Sunday, January 31, 2021

The Ten Bulls - 068


Ten Bulls or Ten Ox Herding Pictures


Ten Bulls or Ten Ox Herding Pictures (Chinese: shíniú 十牛 , Japanese: jūgyū 十牛図 , korean: sipwoo 십우) is a series of short poems and accompanying drawings used in the Zen tradition to describe the stages of a practitioner's progress toward enlightenment, and their return to society to enact wisdom and compassion. (i.e. spontaneously acting with compassion without acting -- acting while being fully aware of the true nature of Consciousness / Mind / Reality / Ground)

The calf, bull or ox is one of the earliest similes for meditation practice. It comes from the Maha Gopalaka Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya 33). It is also used in the commentaries, especially the one on the Maha Satipatthana Sutta (Digha Nikaya 22) and the Satipatthana Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya 10). As Buddhism spread throughout South-East Asia, the simile of the bull spread with it.

The well-known ten ox-herding pictures emerged in China in the 12th century. D.T. Suzuki mentions four Chinese versions of the Oxherding Pictures, by Ching-chu (Jp. Seikyo) (11th century), Tzu-te Hui (Jp. Jitoku) (1090-1159), an unknown author, and Kuòān Shīyuǎn (Jp. Kaku-an) (12th century). The best-known of these is the version by Kuòān Shīyuǎn.

… The best known version of the oxherding pictures was drawn by the 12th century Chinese Rinzai Chán (Zen) master Kuòān Shīyuǎn, who also wrote accompanying poems and introductory words attached to the pictures. In Kuòān Shīyuǎn's version there is no whitening process, and his series also doesn't end with mere emptiness, or absolute truth, but shows a return to the world, depicting Putai, the laughing Buddha. According to Chi Kwang Sunim, they may also represent a Zen Buddhist interpretation of the ten Bodhisattva bhumi, the ten stages on the Bodhisattva-path.

In Japan, Kuòān Shīyuǎn's version gained a wide circulation, the earliest one probably belonging to the fifteenth century. They first became widely known in the West after their inclusion in the 1957 book, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings, by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki.

Kuòān Shīyuǎn's Ten Bulls (It teaches the nature of Consciousness / Mind / Reality -- in steps to Enlightenment)

Verses by Kuòān Shīyuǎn; translation by Senzaki Nyogen (1876–1958) and Paul Reps (1895-1990); paintings traditionally attributed to Tenshō Shūbun (1414-1463).

Comment: The Ox/bull is the eternal principle of life (i.e. the self-arisen unalterable eternal pristine Ground with its three inseparable qualities: essence, nature and dynamism / compassionate energy),
truth in action (i.e. the dynamism of the Harmony / Union of the Two Truths -- acting without acting). 

The ten bulls (pictures) represent sequent steps in the realization of one's true nature. 

Another translation: Ten Oxherding Pictures
Drawings courtesy of Zen Center at Mu Sang Sa Temple, Korea 

Introduction: The Ox-Herd story in Zen Buddhism describes the journey to enlightenment. 

The ox symbolizes the true self. (i.e. the true nature & dynamic of Consciousness / Mind / Reality / Ground.)
The story reminds us that the only place we find truth is within ourselves.

Commentary on the Oxherding Pictures by Hsu Yun (Hsü-yün)

1. In Search of the Ox/bull

(Living with ignorance of the true nature & dynamic of Consciousness / Mind / Reality,
Being fooled by illusions, searching for happiness in the wrong places.)

In the pasture of the world, I endlessly push aside the tall grasses in search of the Ox/bull.
Following unnamed rivers, lost upon the interpenetrating paths of distant mountains,
My strength failing and my vitality exhausted, I cannot find the Ox/bull.
I only hear the locusts chirring through the forest at night.

Comment: The Ox/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 cross-roads, but which way is the right one I know not.
Greed and fear, good and bad, entangle me.

1. Seeking Ox

In seeking fulfillment we have no idea where to look
All we see is confusion arising from our thoughts and feelings.

"Endlessly searching, searching for the ox, across rivers and over distant mountains
Weak and despairing, I hear only cicadas chirping."


2. Discovery of the Footprints

(Gaining a limited conceptual understanding that there might be something else than samsara.)

Along the riverbank under the trees, I discover footprints!
Even under the fragrant grass, I see his prints.
Deep in remote mountains they are found.
These traces can no more be hidden than one's nose, looking heavenward.

Comment: Understanding the teaching, I see the footprints of the Ox/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.

2. Seeing Traces

As we search, we discover traces of deeper wisdom inside ourselves
But it is still only a concept, and the right path is not yet known.

"Near the river, under the trees I clearly now see footprints, within the grass.”


3. Perceiving the Ox/bull

(Getting a partial direct glimpse of the true nature & dynamic of Consciousness / Mind / Reality
beyond all conditioned appearances.)

I hear the song of the nightingale.
The sun is warm, the wind is mild, willows are green along the shore,
Here no Ox/bull can hide!
What artist can draw that massive head, those majestic horns?

Comment: When one hears the voice, one can sense its source.
As soon as the six senses merge, the gate is entered.
Wherever one enters one sees the head of the Ox/bull!
This unity is like salt in water, like colour in dyestuff.
The slightest thing is not apart from self.

3. Finding 0x

In meditation our senses are calmed
We catch sight of the true nature, realizing it is present in everything.

"Nightingale singing,
Mild breeze and warm sun,
Green willows along the shore,

Ox cannot hide here with head and horns majestic.”


4. Catching the Ox/bull

(Getting a brief but good direct glimpse of the true nature & dynamic of Consciousness / Mind / Reality,
but it is still a too brief and impermanent experience; one needs effort to keep it.)

I seize him with a terrific struggle.
His great will and power are inexhaustible.
He charges to the high plateau far above the cloud-mists,
Or in an impenetrable ravine he stands.

Comment: He dwelt in the forest a long time, but I caught him today!
Infatuation for scenery interferes with his direction.
Longing for sweeter grass, he wanders away.
His mind still is stubborn and unbridled.
If I wish him to submit, I must raise my whip.

4. Catching Ox

We experience our true nature, but find it hard to keep the mind clear.
Just the right amount of effort is needed.

"With whip and rope I struggle
Ox stubborn to be overcome
He bounds from lofty heights to deep abyss."


5. Taming the Ox/bull

(Gradually mastering this direct awareness-of / abiding-in the true nature & dynamic of Consciousness / Mind / Reality, until it becomes natural. Subject and object merge.)

The whip and rope are necessary,
Else he might stray off down some dusty road.
Being well-trained, he becomes naturally gentle.
Then, unfettered, he obeys his master.

Comment: When one thought arises, another thought follows.
When the first thought springs from enlightenment, all subsequent thoughts are true.
Through delusion, one makes everything untrue.
Delusion is not caused by objectivity; it is the result of subjectivity.
Hold the nose-ring tight and do not allow even a doubt.

5. Taming Ox

Through disciplined practice separation dissolves and
Struggling eases ...
But must not waver our intention.

"I still tether ox or off he goes,
Till trained and gentle, then abiding unbridled.”


6. Riding the Ox/bull Home

(Always fully aware of the true nature & dynamic of Consciousness / Mind / Reality in all activities.
Gaining certainty; fully accepting the Ground / Reality as it is here & now; being fully comfortable with that; going with the flow; surfing the waves; dancing the dance; giving up all investments / illusions / fixations / extremes & middle; just enjoying the magical show with true faith.)

Mounting the Ox/bull, slowly I return homeward.
The voice of my flute intones through the evening.
Measuring with hand-beats the pulsating harmony,
I direct the endless rhythm.
Whoever hears this melody will join me.

Comment: This struggle is over; gain and loss are assimilated.
I sing the song of the village woodsman, and play the tunes of the children.
Astride the Ox/bull, I observe the clouds above.
Onward I go, no matter who may wish to call me back.

6. Riding Ox Home

Peacefully returning home, the struggle is over;
Enticements no longer a concern;
Free from old fears and anxieties.

"I ride ox slowly homeward
Melody of my flute lighting the evening
Whoever hears the tune joins in unison."


7. The Ox/bull Transcended

(The final step / enlightenment: you are at home / one with your true nature,
completely at rest, only what you really are remains,
totally free beyond all dualities like subject vs. object, Nirvana here & now.
No more need for Consciousness / Mind / Reality / Ground as an object.
Complete enlightenment / Nirvana.
Blissfully continually aware of the Ground / true nature & dynamic of Reality as it is here & now: as pointed by the inconceivable Union of the Two Truths about the three spheres, about opposites, about all dharmas.)

Astride the Ox/bull, I reach home.
I am serene. The Ox/bull too can rest.
The dawn has come. In blissful repose,
Within my thatched dwelling I have abandoned the whip and ropes.

Comment: All is one law, not two.
We only make the Ox/bull a temporary subject.
It is as the relation of rabbit and trap, of fish and net.
It is as gold and dross, or the moon emerging from a cloud.
One path of clear light travels on throughout endless time.

7. Ox Transcended

Identity realized.
It's understood that the ox was never astray,
separation of realization and practice now overcome.

"Morning arrives and ox gone.
I sit serenely by my thatched hut, whip and ropes now unneeded."

Note: The three final pictures (#8, 9, 10) describe the true nature & dynamic of Consciousness / Mind / Reality with its three inseparable qualities (#8. substance, #9. form / appearance, #10. purpose / application / ultimate use of enlightenment --  according to an oral transmission of Zen - Shinzen Young) --
Which is equivalent to the true nature & dynamic of the Ground with its three inseparable qualities: #8. essence, #9. nature, #10. dynamism / compassionate energy -- according to Dzogchen).


8. Both Ox/bull and Self Transcended (emptiness)

(Substance of enlightenment / Ground: Emptiness - Wide open and nothing holy.
A - First quality: The essence of the self-arisen unalterable eternal pristine Ground:
The 2nd truth: Emptiness of inherent existence of all dharmas; being primordial purity or kadak.
Ex. Opposites, or subject & object & action, or the Ground and its display / appearances are empty of inherent existence (2nd truth) <==> thus/because co-dependent with each other (as conceptual opposites), and co-dependent with the subject / mind merely labelling / imputing / conceptualising them in dependence of its past / conditioning / karma (1st truth).
Because everything is empty of inherent existence, then there is no real origination / beginning / birth, duration / middle / life, cessation / ending / death for anything.
Because everything is empty of inherent existence, then there everything is not ‘this’, not ‘non-this’, not both together, not neither, and there is no fifth (whatever ‘this’ is). Meaning everything is beyond all conceptual proliferations, beyond all extremes & middle (about any duality).
Because everything is empty of inherent existence, then there is no absolute basis for any discrimination / opposition / duality, just conventionally / relatively / inter-subjectively.
Because everything is empty of inherent existence, then there is nothing to accept / affirm / seek / do / add in absolute terms, nothing to reject / negate / abandon / not-do / subtract in absolute terms, just conventionally / relatively / inter-subjectively if it helps someone to get closer to the liberating Truth.
In that sense, because everything is empty of inherent existence, then everything can be perceived as equal / non-dual / one / pure / perfect / divine -- in the non-dual sense of those terms --.)

Whip, rope, person, and Ox/bull - all merge in No Thing.
This heaven is so vast, no message can stain it.
How may a snowflake exist in a raging fire.
Here are the footprints of the Ancestors/Patriarchs.

Comment: Mediocrity is gone. Mind is clear of limitations.
I seek no state of enlightenment.
Neither do I remain where no enlightenment exists.
Since I linger in neither condition, eyes cannot see me.
If hundreds of birds strew my path with flowers, such praise would be meaningless.

8. Ox and Self Transcended

No longer ox (Ground as an object) nor self (subject).
The circle embodies emptiness (of inherent existence).
Duality surmounted, ordinary reality forgotten (i.e. transcended / purified / liberated).

"Whip, rope, man and ox - all gone, merged into the void Universe so vast,
One with the ancient masters"

9. Reaching the Source (appearances)

(Form / appearance of enlightenment / Ground - The ordinary appearances of the world:
B - Second quality: The nature of the self-arisen unalterable eternal pristine Ground:
The 1st truth: Conventionally dependently co-arisen relatively functional impermanent appearances
(of the body / physical, speech / conceptual, mind / mental fabrications; internal, external, and between; individual, collective, cosmic; being spontaneous presence or lhundrup.
i.e. Although everything is empty of inherent existence (2nd truth - ultimate truth) <==> everything is still appearing co-dependently and still relatively functional (1st truth - relative truth), and vice versa.
One aspect / truth implies the other (<==>).
In that sense, after realising the emptiness of inherent existence, escaping the extreme of mere-emptiness (nihilism), we realise that the two truths -- appearance & emptiness, or relative & absolute reality -- are not really in opposition / contradictory but more like in harmony / co-dependence,
so we return to the conventional reality with a new appreciation for life.)

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 and without -
The river flows tranquilly on and the flowers are red.

Comment: From the beginning, truth is clear.
Poised in silence, I observe the forms of integration (arising) and disintegration (cessation).
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.

9. Return to the Source

Without duality, things simply are what they are.
Life grows and withers (the three stages of becoming: origination / coming, duration / abiding, cessation / going).
The ordinary (relative / conventional / 1st truth / appearances) is (in harmony with) the ultimate (2nd truth / emptiness of inherent existence).

"Striving to return to the origin, so much unneeded effort.
Better to start blind and deaf, no distractions.
River flows and flowers bloom unconcerned."


10. Return to Society (being an ordinary guy with a big heart, and a bag full of gifts)

(The purpose of enlightenment, its ultimate use: Spontaneously enacting the bodhicitta;
Spontaneously enacting the Union of compassion <==> and wisdom / emptiness;
Spontaneously enacting the dynamism of the Union of the Two Truths, the compassionate energy of the Cosmos.
C - Third quality: The dynamism / compassionate energy of the self-arisen unalterable eternal pristine Ground:
The Union of the two first qualities -- essence & nature --; The Union of the Two Truths;
The Union of conventionally dependently co-arisen relatively functional impermanent appearances (1st truth - not complete non-existence) <==> and emptiness of inherent existence (2nd truth - not real existence);
The Union of presence <==> and absence;
The Union of acting/being (relatively) <==> without acting/being (ultimately)
Enlightenment is living the ordinary life while being fully aware of the true nature & dynamic of the Ground / Consciousness / Mind / Reality as pointed by concepts like: the Union of the Two Truths, the Union of the three spheres, the Union of opposites, the Middle Way -- all free from all extremes & middle, free from all conceptual elaborations.
Ordinary living without any illusion / fixation / grasping / attachment, full of spontaneous loving-kindness & compassion for all other sentient beings that have not realised this already.
- Acting with bodhicitta without acting ...)

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.

Comment: 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 enlightened.

10. Entering the World

Enlightened now, the oxherd returns to the world.
The circle is complete.
Going about his daily work sharing existence with all around him.

"Entering the marketplace barefooted, mingling with the people, smiling to all.
I use no magic power, yet around me dying trees return to life."

10. Coming Home with Folded Hands

 How wide are the horizons of the spinning earth!

The moonlight leads the tides and the sun's light will not be confined

Within the net of heaven. But in the end all things return to the One.

The deaf and dumb, the crippled and deformed are all restored to the One's Perfection.

Conclusion: The Ten Ox-Herd story shows enlightenment to be
the ordinary self doing ordinary things in a most extraordinary way.


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There is nothing else to be realized that is higher than the indivisibility of emptiness and awareness. (i.e. Union of the Two Truths)

-- Lerab Lingpa