Oxherding II.. Seeing the Tracks

Ox tracks in snow (not my own image)

Last time, I talked about the first of the ten Oxherding pictures. This is where a human becomes so lost in this world, so confused and suffering that certain questions will simply not leave their heart and mind… You know, the ‘big’ questions.. Who am I? Why am I here? What is the meaning of life? Everybody asks these questions at some point in their lives, but only when they will not stop nagging you, when they won’t leave, does our spiritual quest begin in earnest. Usually, when these questions will not leave, they are actually painful, we are suffering due to our deep confusion of what is happening in this world, in our mind and heart. With these questions strangling our normal grip on reality, we naturally seek a way to end this suffering, to end this confusion, and this leads us to the second Oxherding picture .. ‘Seeing the Tracks’.

When we question ourselves, in the utmost and honest manner, the tracks of the Ox present themselves before us, regardless if we call ourselves Buddhist or not. Truth is truth, and bears no name. Since the Ox represents our Buddha nature, seeing evidence of its existence confirms in our heart-mind that our questioning is bearing fruit. We have a clue! A path to follow. Just as a hunter tracks an animal’s footprints, we see the tracks of our Ox. We may not yet see the Ox, but we can feel in our heart that it exists. This realisation provides the motivation to continue practicing, to keep questioning, and in Zen or Ch’an, this involves to keep meditating, to practice Zazen meditation. We feel the mind calming and, like an infant curling up in its mothers arms, we feel safe and comforted, we know in our hearts that this is correct.

Attributed to Shubun. Photo taken from Zen Ink Paintings by Barnet and Burto.

In my experience, seeing the tracks usually involves the Universe coming to our aid, after all it loves us beyond compare. I call this ‘creating our own luck’. Before I knew about Buddhism many years ago, I firmly believed that we create our own luck. As the saying goes, chance favours the prepared mind. I think this is saying the same thing, more or less. When we are brutally honest with ourselves, and seek Truth, the Universes unfolding seems to join our quest… it ‘has our back’!

The more we practice, the clearer the track become, and the tracks become fresh and we can sense the Ox is close, so we persevere, and have deep faith that the Ox will be seen. Sometimes, however, we lose sight of the tracks and we can become discouraged. We must remind ourselves during these times that we have seen them before, we know something made those tracks, so we must feel the faith we had before. We remember our Universe friend, it was walking beside us, seeing the tracks too, and it will always try its best to help us. Sometimes we are blind to its help, sometimes its help feels like the opposite. At these times we must have faith. Faith is nothing but truth we have no proof of. But honest truth… We know something is happening, something is making those tracks, and that’s all the truth, all the faith we need. As Einstein once said… “There comes a time when the mind takes a higher plane of knowledge but can never prove how it got there.”

This takes us to the next Oxherding picture… ‘Seeing the Ox’…. I will talk about this in my next post… See you next time!

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