Annual Teaching Series at Seattle Insight

This year we will be looking at the 10 Oxherding Pictures. Each picture comes with a short verse. The pictures represent the struggle we have as practitioners living in samsara (the conditioned world). The ox (or bull) represents what can be called the true self, Buddha-nature, emptiness, and/or anatta (non-self). The oxherder represents each of us as practitioners. And the pictures tell the story of a practitioner’s journey towards greater peace and acceptance with seeing things as they truly are. 

The oxherding tales are primarily instructional teachings. They are designed to be reflected upon and practiced with. Do not let the simplicity fool you. They represent important turning points in our practice experience. The verses point to several things one could contemplate within the experience. Together the pictures and the verses can broaden our awareness of the nature of the path to awakening with all its challenges and benefits.

The pictures follow a specific sequencing. We will look at a different picture each month. The first week of the month we will look at the picture and verse. During the subsequent weeks of the month, we will explore the picture in greater detail. On the last week, we invite you to bring whatever artistic expression of the month’s practice to the sit/talk and share it with the sangha. Hopefully we can follow this schedule at all of our various sits/talks.

Note: this is a significant and important Zen teaching. We will not, however, teach this as a Zen practice because Tim and Tuere are not Zen practitioners. Instead, we will use these pictures as an opportunity to view our practice from a different lens, allowing us to maybe see past some of our habit patterns and habitual states of mind. 

The Oxherding Pictures - 2022

Paintings by 直原玉青 Jikihara Gyokusei (1904-2005).

Jikihara Gyokusei (1904-2005), a Japanese master of calligraphy and a teacher in the Obaku School of Zen. The Ten Oxherding pictures presented are reproductions of ink paintings by Jikihara Sensei in 1982, during one of his many visits to Zen Mountain Monastery, and presented as a gift. They are a beautiful example of traditional Chinese-style nanga brush painting. The originals are on display at Zen Mountain Monastery.

May Picture

Click on the picture to read the verse.

Oxherding Pictures - Picture 4
Catching the Ox

The 10 Oxherding Pictures

When you click on an image, it will take you to the image and verse below.

Oxherding Pictures
Searching for the Ox
Oxherding Pictures - Picture 2
Finding the Footprints
Oxherding Pictures - Picture 3
Seeing the Ox
Oxherding Pictures - Picture 4
Catching the Ox
Oxherding Pictures - Picture 5
Taming the Ox
Oxherding Pictures - Picture 6
Riding Home on the Ox
Oxherding Pictures - Picture 7
The Ox Forgotten, the Self Remains
Oxherding Pictures - Picture 8
Forget Both Self and Ox
Oxherding Pictures - Picture 9
Return to the Origin, Back to the Source
Oxherding Pictures - Picture 10
Entering the Marketplace with Extended Hands

Searching for the Ox

Oxherding Pictures

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

Finding the Footprints

Oxherding Pictures - Picture 2

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

Seeing the Ox

Oxherding Pictures - Picture 3

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

Catching the Ox

Oxherding Pictures - Picture 4

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

Taming the Ox

Oxherding Pictures - Picture 5

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

Riding Home on the Ox

Oxherding Pictures - Picture 6

Mounting the 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.

The Ox Forgotten, the Self Remains

Oxherding Pictures - Picture 7

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

Forget Both Self and Ox

Oxherding Pictures - Picture 8

Whip, rope, person, and 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.
I have abandoned the whip and ropes.

Return to the Origin, Back to the Source

Oxherding Pictures - Picture 9

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.
I have abandoned the whip and ropes.

Entering the Marketplace with Extended Hands

Oxherding Pictures - Picture 10

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.
I have abandoned the whip and ropes.

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