The Ten Ox-Herding Pictures Seminar

The Ten Bull Pictures or Ten Oxherding Pictures (Japanese: jugyu, Chinese: shíniú) is a series of short poems and accompanying pictures to illustrate the stages of the path towards enlightenment and the perfection of wisdom. The author of these “Ten Oxherding Pictures” is said to be a Zen master of the Sung Dynasty known as Kaku-an Shi-en (Kuo-an Shih-yuan) belonging to the Rinzai school. He is also the author of the poems and introductory words attached to the pictures. He was not however the first who attempted to illustrate by means of pictures stages of Zen discipline, for in his general preface to the pictures he refers to another Zen master called Seikyo (Ching-chu), probably a contemporary of his, who made use of the ox to explain his Zen teaching. But in Seikyo’s case the gradual development of the Zen life was indicated by a progressive whitening of the animal, ending in the disappearance of the whole being. There were in this only five pictures, instead of ten as by Kaku-an. Kaku-an thought this was somewhat misleading because of an empty circle being made the goal of Zen discipline. Some might take mere emptiness as all important and final. Hence his improvement resulting in the “Ten Oxherding Pictures” as we have them now. According to a commentator of Kaku-an’s Pictures, there is another series of the Oxherding Pictures by a Zen master called jitoku Ki (Tzu-te Hui), who apparently knew of the existence of the Five Pictures by Seikyo, for jitoku’s are six in number. The last one, No. 6, goes beyond the stage of absolute emptiness where Seikyo’s end: the poem reads:  
What are the origin of the ox as metaphor for attainment?
The origins of the metaphor are uncertain, but again there are three main suggestions. These include: 1) the appropriation of the ox from Daoism, 2) Indian origins of the ox metaphor, and 3) The Eleven-Elephant Picture of Tibet. While scholars have suggested a combination of any two of these, once more the most complete answer
could encompass all three.
1. Appropriation of the ox from Daoism
Laozi himself is often depicted riding an ox, an image representing that he has come to understand nature and absolute reality and exists in harmony with these. One of the most famous stories from Daoism that uses ox images in this way is Zhuangzi’s “The Dexterous Butcher.” In the story, a butcher develops perfect coordination with his subject, an ox. The butcher explains, “What I care about is the Way, which goes beyond skill. . . . Perception and understanding have come to a stop and spirit moves where it wants” (Watson 1968, 50–51). This description closely resembles the progress depicted in the Ten Oxherding Pictures. In Zhuangzi’s story, the ox can be seen as representing one’s own nature. By forgetting himself or his ego-self, the butcher is able to act spontaneously by taking no deliberate action (i.e., by wuwei). Thereby, he comes into harmony with nature, which, like an ox, is usually seen as wild. In the same way, the Ten Oxherding Pictures depict a monk’s difficulties when trying the pull the ox by force (in picture 4), and ultimate success when both self and ox are forgotten (in picture 8).
2. Indian origins of the ox metaphor
According to this interpretation, the ox in the Ten Oxherding Pictures is taken directly from the famous “Parable of the Burning House” found in the third chapter of the Lotus Sūtra. In this story, a father calls to his children to quickly come out of a burning house. The children, however, are playing and do not listen to him. To lure them out he offers each one his or her favorite toy: a sheep cart, a deer cart, and an ox cart. In this way the father gets each child to come out of the burning house. However, instead of giving the individuals the carts he promised, the father gives his children a large cart led by a white ox. The ox stands on the bare ground outside, untouched by the fire. This gift proves to be an even greater delight than those promised. In this metaphor, the
children can be seen as ordinary people while the father is the Buddha. Ordinary people live in the three planes of existence (Sanskrit: trailokya), caught up in their desires and comfortably oblivious, even playing, during the time of our impending doom, represented by the fire. In the metaphor, the sheep cart, deer cart, and ox cart are the three vehicles of Buddhism. In Chinese Buddhism, there have been two interpretations of the ekayana, or one vehicle of the white ox cart: either it is seen as identical to the three carts, or as a fourth vehicle. Faxiang (the Chinese version of Yogācāra) and Sanlun (Japanese: Sanron) view the ekayana as identical to the three carts. Huayan and Tiantai are of the  opinion that it is a fourth cart. In all cases, the bare ground outside of the burning house is a realm free from defilement, where the mind is cut off from the affliction of desire.
From this description we can see how the Ten Oxherding Pictures could have been adopted from the Lotus Sūtra without need of Daoist imagery, particularly if we consider its further use in Chan gong’an (Japanese: kōan). There are numerous such Chan stories that begin with the following question but end with different responses. “A monk asked the master [Deshan Xuanjian], ‘What is the white ox on the bare ground?’ The master said, ‘Moo, moo!’ ‘What sort of food does he live on?’ asked the monk. ‘Eat!’ said the master” (Kirchner 2009, 303). From these stories it is clear that the subject was popular in Chan thought. There are also various metaphorical references that combine the white ox on bare ground with a herdboy from the Tang Dynasty. For example,
Changqing Da’an (793–883) writes:
All I did was to look after an ox. If he got off the road, I dragged him
back; if he trampled the flowering grain in others’ fields, I trained
him by flogging him with a whip. For a long time how pitiful he
was, at the mercy of men’s words! Now he has changed into the
white ox on the bare ground, and always stays in front of my face.
All day long he clearly reveals himself. Even though I chase him, he
doesn’t go away (Chu 2010, 202).
3. The Eleven-Elephant Picture of Tibet
Although the words of Changqing Da’an and similar references from the time provide strong evidence that the Lotus Sūtra is the origin of the Ten Oxherding Pictures, we should also consider that Tibet has its own version of the Eleven-Elephant Picture. Its eleven stages are described as follows:
1) A monk (the meditator), holding a rope (mindfulness) (Tib denpaSkt smti, Pali sati) in his left hand and a goad (full awareness) in his  right, runs after an elephant led by a monkey. Here the meditator
has no control over his mind.
2) He almost catches up with the elephant.
3) The monk throws a noose around the elephant’s neck and it looks back; the mind is beginning to be restrained by mindfulness. The rabbit on the elephant’s back represents torpor, which has by then
become subtle.
4) As the elephant (the mind) becomes more obedient, the rope (mindfulness) needs less pulling.
5) The elephant is being led by the rope and the hook, and the monkey follows behind. There is less restlessness now; mainly full awareness is used.
6) Both the animals follow behind and the monk does not have to
look back (he focuses his attention continuously on his mind); the
rabbit (subtle restlessness) has disappeared.
7) The elephant is left on its own, doing without the rope or hook;
the monkey takes leave. Torpor and restlessness—both mild—
occur only occasionally here.
8) The elephant, now completely white, follows behind the man; the
mind is obedient and there is no torpor or restlessness, but some
energy is still needed to concentrate.
9) The monk sits in meditation while the elephant sleeps at his feet;
the mind is able to concentrate without effort for long periods of
time and there is great joy and peace. The flying monk represents
zest and lightness of the body.
10) The monk sits on the elephant; he now finds true calm (Tib zhine,
Skt śamatha, Pali samatha) and needs less energy to concentrate.
11) In the last stage, the monk on the elephant’s back holds a sword
(the realization of emptiness) ([Skt] śūnyatā), and cuts off the
two black lines representing the obstacle to full knowledge
(jney’āvaran.a) and the defiling obstacle (kl.eśāvaran
.a) (Tan 2004).

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About Sunday morning

Sunday Morning Contemplation is informed by Eastern and Western contemplative traditions. The first, lectio divina has its origins in 6th century Europe. It unfolds in four steps or stages: reading (lectio), reflecting (meditatio), responding (oratio), and silent abiding (contemplatio). Our Eastern inspiration come from the Indian Upanishads (800-200 BCE), where contemplative practice consists of three steps or stages: listening (śravana), reflecting (manana), and meditating (nididhyāsana or dhyāna). Our contemplative practice on Sundays embraces both approaches, and each contemplation will be based on a reading from either tradition.

The texts and teachers I have chosen played a significant role in my life and I believe have much to offer. I will read presellected texts, slowly, with pauses between verses or quotes. The readings will be accompanied by soothing background music. To lessen distraction, I suggest participants close their eyes and listen. However, the screen will display the text so that people can choose to read along or mute the sound and read on their own. If there is time remaining after the contemplative period, participants can choose to either leave or stay for a short discussion.

As a preface to the reading, I will provide a 10-15 minute introduction to the text. When relevant, I’ll review facts about the author/teacher’s life. I will also present a brief explanation of the terms and language encountered in the reading.

Finally, when the contemplation is over, all texts read will be available online to read and/or download at any time on the website.

What I mean by
The Symbolic Life

This website makes liberal use of classical Indian visual art and refers mostly to traditional Indian texts (for example, the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Sutras) in the courses, seminars, and discussions on offer. However, I am not presenting lessons in Hinduism; in fact, teaching mainstream Hinduism is neither my area of interest nor expertise. Rather, my interest in Yoga and Tantra is grounded in the concrete situation in which we find ourselves, in the places where we arrive and from which we depart. Beginning in the here and now, we will explore the underlying meaning of the symbols, stories, images, philosophies, and techniques found in Indian philosophical texts and practice, in light of our world and our current circumstance. We will excavate the meaning of the aphorisms and teaching stories; the symbolic figures of gods, people, and nature; and the sometimes terse, sometimes poetic, philosophy of the texts. Thus, in referring to the Symbolic Life of Yoga and Tantra, I mean not just the symbols themselves, but the rich explication of life that the symbols represent.

Our lived, concrete situation is wonderfully captured in the Sanskrit word loka, whose ancient meaning is “the world.”  The root meaning of both the Sanskrit loka and the English locate (and local, locale, and location) is identical. In the ancient Indian mind, the world is where we are located, in our current circumstance. Thus, the meaning of the symbols of Yoga and Tantra can occur only in the now, in the places where we find ourselves, and not in any imagined ancient and/or foreign world.

To emphasize our place of origin and return, I use the terms “archetypal” and “symbolic” quite frequently. Archetypal meaning is associated with the universal and collective aspects of human experience—what we intimately share with all others regardless of culture or era or epoch—while symbolic language forms a bridge between the realms of the universal with the culturally specific and local. Symbols are the scaffolding upon which human beings build a world and imbue it with meaning.

Think for a moment of pain and pleasure, sorrow and joy, hatred and love, and greed and generosity—universal experiences that ancient Indian thinkers called the dvandva-s. This Sanskrit term is a combination of two words, or rather, one word spoken twice: the word dva (meaning the same as the English “two”) duplicated. Dvandva is commonly translated as “the pair of opposites” or literally “the two-twos” (dvadva). The ancients who coined this compact symbol gave voice to an archetypal human experience that can be further unpacked to reveal deep insights into the human condition. Once we gain an understanding of the various symbols of Yoga and Tantra, we can further excavate their meaning and the archetypes they convey, and thus gain access to, in a practical and meaningful way, the vision of life experienced by the sages. These insights are available to us and are still relevant today, as are the resilient and adaptable techniques and forms of practice that can help us lead richer and more fulfilling lives