Why the name ‘oxherderzen’?
Well, the zen part is easy. I am a Zen Buddhist.
So, what is an oxherder? It refers to a set of teaching pictures, the Ten Oxherding Pictures. In Zen, words are clearly seen to be, in most circumstances, a hindrance to our realization of our true nature. So, in the past, a set of pictures were drawn/painted to help replace the need for words to teach the Way. Now, be careful… they say a picture is worth a thousand words, so perhaps the pictures are a thousand times more dangerous than the text it replaces!
Today I will discuss the 1st oxherding picture.. ‘Seeking the Ox’… perhaps a more apt title would be ‘This world is confusing!’. In this picture, a human is lost in our world, unable to make any sense of what is happening around them. They are suffering and want to stop their confusion, to stop their suffering. They look all around and it just doesn’t make sense, their world simply doesn’t add up.
This is the state of many many people in the world today. They live each day as it comes, even making plans for the future, but they don’t ever fully understand who they are. Their true nature is lost amongst the confusion of the modern world.
This is a crucial stage, as it is in this state of ignorance that we find our determination to figure this all out! We finally can not let go of the burning questions in our gut… ‘What is going on?’ ‘Why am I suffering?’ ‘Who am I?’ Everybody asks these questions from time to time, but it is only when the questions take refuge in our heart and will not leave, that we can start our journey properly.
So why is this picture called ‘Seeking the Ox’? The Ox in the Orient, back in the past when these pictures were created, was a very special animal. It could be the difference between life and death, as it supplied milk and strength to plow and to carry. The Ox is a symbol of Buddha-nature.
This leads us to the next picture ‘Seeing the Tracks’… and I will talk about this next time.