Oxherding IV & V Catching and Herding the Ox

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

When we surround our inherent Enlightened nature with our entire being, we have captured the Ox. Our Ox is still a wild being and we do not yet fully understand how to contain him. Catching the Ox can be tricky, and we may struggle to keep him under our control. Our concepts of Enlightenment start to fade at this stage, as we are now face to face with our Ox. His pure eyes are wild but their depth falls forever into our hearts. Each time we gaze into his eyes, we are stunned by their beauty, their complexity within utter stillness and simplicity. We try to comprehend this paradox, and when we do, our eyes’ gaze follows our thinking mind and the Ox kicks and bucks and tries to escape.

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

After we finally have our rope around the Ox and our grip is secure, so secure that our arm will be ripped off and given to Bodhidharma* should the Ox escape, we can then start to tame the Ox. Herding our Ox involves great discipline, and we learn how to react when our Ox misbehaves. It is really ourselves who do not behave properly and our Ox reminds us of this. Our discipline and faith allow us to keep our eyes always fixed onto our Ox’s eyes. We realize we are the same being, and this explodes into such love and compassion that Our Ox needs no rope to hold him anymore.

*a student studying under the first Ch’an (Zen) master in China, Bodhidharma, offered his arm to him to be shown Enlightenment. This shows the student’s commitment and understanding how important realizing our Enlightened nature truly is. This story might appear in a future post to give it proper context and explanation. 

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