Tel Aviv University
The Lester and Sally Entin Faculty of Humanities
The School of Philosophy
The "Ten Oxherding Pictures"
as Theory and Practice in the Spiritual Training in
By Na'ama Oshri
A Dissertation submitted for a Doctorate Degree
Under the Guidance of Professor Jacob Raz
The parable of the “Ten Oxherding Pictures” is a pictorial narrative set originating from 12th century Song China. This symbolic pictorial narrative has been composed by Guoan, a Chán Buddhist Chinese monk, along with poems and a commentary. It expertly describes the stages of spiritual development of a Chán [Zen] practitioner. The parable describes the journey of a herder in search of his lost ox, a symbol for innate human nature; or Buddha-Nature, which in fact, has never been lost. In the first picture; the herder is “seeking the ox”, and is out of touch with his true nature and looks in vain for his home. In the second picture, he “finds the tracks”; he has studied the scriptures, but yet, continues to live in a world full of discriminations. In the third picture he gets a “first glimpse of the ox”, he opens up his senses to discover the world. The spiritual practice advances further, now he understands that everything originates from one single source. In the fourth picture the herder “catches the ox”. But the ox remains wild, it needs to be trained. In the fifth picture he “tames the ox”. He takes a firm hold of his delusional consciousness and fights to restrain it with great resolve. In the sixth picture, he “rides the ox home”. The ox has been trained now, its spirit has calmed. The mutual struggle has ended, and never again will the ox turn to go back. In the seventh picture, we see him as “ox forgotten, self alone”; the object of search is gone and all confusion has ceased to exist. In the eighth, “both ox and man are forgotten”; both man and ox disappear. There is no enlightenment nor lack of enlightenment, all is empty, immaterial and vacuous. At this stages the early, Daoist, version of the story, ends. In the later, Chán, version, two more pictures were added to the parable. In the ninth, the man “returns to the origin, comes back to the source”. In the tenth, he “enters the marketplace with hands hanging loose”; the herder has returned to the bustling marketplace of humanity equipped with a new face and compassionate hands in order to help his fellow men. Both versions, the one concluding with emptiness and the one concluding with entering the marketplace, describe the journey of human awakening; the herder’s spiritual practice, as well as our own. A journey commencing in dissatisfaction, as well as delusion and an agonizing quest, only to conclude in mystical emptiness as wisdom [in the Daoist version] and compassion [as per the Chán extension], which enable the practitioner to re-enter the practical living world and contribute to the enlightenment of others in it.
For the hundreds of years during which this parable has been read and studied, it has been usually interpreted as a poetical allegory describing the gradual path towards enlightenment. This dissertation shall offer an alternative reading of the parable. A reading which, while not offered by any previous research, remains loyal to its original tradition and derives from it. This dissertation shall examine the ways in which the parable serves as an actual and immediate tool for enlightenment, and not merely as the story of the path towards it.
In the next paragraphs I shall summarize the main points of this dissertation. It has two main chapters; an introductory chapter– delineating the historical and philosophical background of the period and the work, and a discussion chapter – analyzing the work. Both chapters deal with the parable from within a Chán context and outlook.
This dissertation concludes with a third, separate ‘excursus’ chapter. One which does not follow as a methodological [nor any other] continuation of the previous discussion. It offers the modern Western interpretation for the parable as offered by Jungian psychology. I append this interpretation of the parable to this dissertation because of the keen interest the Jungians have shown in this poetical journey of awakening. They interpret it as the symbolical expression of the process of spiritual development, defined by them as ‘Individuation’.
The first chapter is divided into three sections, analyzing the parable’s historical and conceptual background. Section A describes the historical and philosophical sources – both Buddhist and Daoist – of Chán. Section B delineates the parable’s intellectual scope. It describes:  the conceptual system, ideas and terms used for its foundational conceptual apparatus,  it establishes a methodological basis for the interpretation of the work, and finally,  it unfolds the parable’s literary-philosophical scope utilizing scriptures and Sutras from the parable’s conceptual proximity. Section C of the introductory chapter describes the parable’s background; its structure, history and main literary motifs. The second chapter, providing this dissertation’s main discussion, is dedicated to an in-depth analysis and interpretation of each of the parable’s ten pictures, utilizing the methodological tools. The chapter’s concluding discussion suggests, among other things, an understanding of our parable, not only as the tale of the gradual path towards enlightenment, but also as the means for practice and spiritual fulfillment which are free from temporal aspects and do not depend on the duration of practice or its accumulation [referred to sometimes as ‘sudden awakening’]. 
The content of the dissertation shall now be briefly described.
Section A: Chán’s historical and philosophical sources: The ongoing interaction between the Buddhist world, especially that of Mahāyāna Buddhism, and the Daoist world, took shape in China gradually and fully matured as Chán [Zen in Japanese pronunciation] during the 6th and 7th centuries AD. Generalizing somewhat, we can determine that from Buddhism, Chán has inherited the aim of cultivating Buddha-Nature [Buddha-Consciousness] as well as the use of practice and meditation to break loose from the shackles of suffering. Chán was especially influenced by the Mahayanic conception of Nirvana and Samsara [the Absolute and the Dependant], according to which, both are aspects of our present reality, our “here”, and do not constitute two separate modes of existence. Continuing such a generalized discussion, we can determine that from Daoism, Chán has inherited its general skeptical attitude towards concepts and words as useful tools for deciphering reality, as well as the forgetfulness and wisdom of ‘non-thinking’, an emptiness which lies at the ‘source and origin of all things’, the abstention from interference known as ‘non-action’ [wúwéi], as well as, obviously, the concept of the ‘path’ [Dao] and that of ‘suchness’, the path’s innate nature.
Influenced by Buddhist scriptures, slowly assimilated in China, a new conception crystallized, a conception according to which any one can break loose from the shackles of suffering and become awakened immediately in this very life thanks to his own innate and original Buddha-Nature. One has to train his body and spirit through various means: meditation, Koan study and martial arts, in order to revert in a simple, unified, whole and natural manner to the consciousness of his original nature. Since its conception, Chán has had four major tendencies: The first one, not to rely on words and written letters, a tendency serving to free its practice from linguistic diversions. The student abandons all explanations, and the teacher finds direct methods for teaching the wisdom of awakening, methods which tend to overflow the conventions of traditional texts. The second, Chán has become a special transmission outside institutional scriptural transmission; a direct transmission form teacher to disciple – from mind to mind. The third, Chán strives to ‘see original nature and become Buddha’ [Kenshō or Satori in Japanese]. To become Buddha and fully awakened is to acknowledge the fact that Buddha-nature is immanent in everything, in pain as well as in beauty, that both express original nature, whole and unified. And finally, the fourth characteristic is the ability to ‘see original nature and become Buddha’ by direct pointing to the disciple’s mind. These tenets emphasize Chán’s unique spiritual method, one in which the teacher, being a living manifestation of original wisdom, directs the disciple to come face to face with his own Buddha consciousness. Such awakening is accompanied, among other things, by a practice meant to strengthen the sense of faith and include also the practice of compassion, meticulousness, moderation, diligence and adopting a clear and sober outlook.
Chán calls for a return to original wisdom, innate in every person, and for living in the world with a simple awareness transcending duality. Awareness, as such, requires no handling or molding. It acts spontaneously by ‘non- thinking’ [wunian], devoid of name and form [wuxiang], free from attachment [wuzhu], it is ‘no-mind’ [wuxin]. Accordingly, spiritual practice lacks a purpose, and is nothing but treading a path. A simple and spontaneous treading [‘naturalness’ – ziran] lacking distinction [wushe]. A treading not ensnared by names and discriminations, one which shows no preference nor any attachment to things.
Throughout the years, Chán has emphasized the ‘homeless path’; the monk’s direct and instantaneous path, being attached to nothing, looking for nothing. The field of practice reverts to mundane existence, to basic actions – as the foundation for awakening itself. The practice directs the practitioner, once and again, to discover Buddha-nature in the living, present person, and not in ancient teachers or scriptures. Thus, a ‘true man’ or a ‘man of truth’ is born as a person ‘lacking characteristics’ and ‘without rank’, dependant on nothing, owning nothing. A direct, simple and liberated person, lacking roots and origins. An awakened person who has seen his “true face before his father and mother were born”.
The Song period in China [960-1279], at which time the Ten Oxherding Pictures were drawn, was a period of great blossoming; a time of blooming economy, society and culture, an epoch of spiritual, scientific and intellectual renaissance. The dominant school of Chán in that period was that of Línjì [Rinzai in Japanese], characterized by a simple, direct and workaday approach to spiritual life, without holding rituals, words, scriptures, great teachers or various monasteries as sacred or holy. The Línjì sect enjoyed considerable social and cultural influence during this period, and aroused the curiosity and attraction of many students. But this very fact proved as detrimental to the quality of its teaching and practice. As the number of students increased, so did the need for institutionalization, for adopting disciplinary methods and for setting up standards for the methodical practice of Chán. Such practice, up to that point, consisted of direct and personal transmissions form teacher to disciple. As time passed and as a part of the institutionalization of its pedagogy, a unique form of practice developed relying extensively on Koans [Gōng-àn] – ‘crazy conversations’; consisting of meaningless dialogs and obscure actions and designed to free consciousness from the reins of language and common sense. Koan practice has become increasingly bold, skeptical and provocative, forcing the disciple to return to the ubiquitous Buddha-nature without resorting to compromise or sophistry. Alongside the methodological practice of Koans, and as a natural extension of it, thousands of Koans have been collected at that period and compiled in instructional anthologies. This crystallization of a corpus of ‘crazy conversations’ and the establishment of the instructional method was a theoretical and practical expression of the tension and the paradox inherent in the use of words as a predetermined method for awakening. On the one hand, the words’ power, strength and poetical beauty, and on the other, the vanity and entrapment they offer. Koan practice has made Chán somewhat more ordered, but has also provided the continuous methodological foundation preventing its demise as a unique Eastern cultural tradition.
Apart for Koan based practice, characterizing the southern school, there has also existed a less conventional way, the way of the northern school of Chán. This school believed that the essence of meditation practice lies in a gradual purification of consciousness from all its stains and blemishes. Spiritual practice was required to diminish its scope of theoretical study and discussion, and to prefer sitting in silent meditation in its stead. Such a combination of thought-free silence and awakening – ‘just sitting’ – thus it declared, was the original way of Chán ever since the days of Śākyamuni Buddha.
Based on this historical-philosophical foundation, especially on its in-built tension between the need for a methodological, organized pedagogy and the wish to preserve a spontaneous and authentic teaching experience, our oxherding parable has been drawn during the 12th century. With minimal brush strokes and few words, it expertly touches on each one of the main tenets of Chán spiritual practice, especially – on the question of Buddha-nature and the form of the path to awakening.
Section B: The parable’s intellectual scope, describes the conceptual – philosophical, spiritual and literary canvas of the parable. First, I shall establish the foundational system of concepts and ideas serving as its basis. I shall describe:  concepts and terms originating from both traditions: those taken from the Buddhist tradition [e.g., ‘emptiness’, ‘non-duality’, ‘dependant origination’, ‘Buddha-nature’, ‘awakening’, ‘Bodhisattva’, ‘Dharma’, ‘doubt’, ‘suchness’] and those taken from the Daoist tradition [e.g., ‘Dao’, ‘self-so’, ‘forgetting’, ‘non-action’, ‘heading-back’]. Further, I shall describe traditional concepts and ideas which are mentioned in the work itself [e.g., ‘gate and barrier’, ‘illusion and transformation’, ‘dust’, ‘source and origin’, ‘gain and loss’]. Next –  I will describe concepts and ideas which, while originating from the tradition, are utilized here differently; these will serve as methodological tools for my interpretive reading of the parable, developing the concepts of non-duality and the idea of synchronicity. And finally –  the literary-philosophical fabric enveloping the work shall be unfolded; the parable’s ‘scope of reading’: five selected compositions from the vast collection of Mahayanaic ‘wisdom’ literature. These works; the ‘Flower Garland Sutra’, the ‘Diamond Sutra’, the ‘Awakening of Faith In The Mahayana’, the ‘Heart Sutra’ and the ‘Faith In Mind’ [Xinxinming], were selected especially for their attention to the essentials of the spiritual world of Chán [e.g., the question of emptiness and Buddha-nature, the Bodhisattva ideal and the practice of compassion, as well as non-duality as the theoretical and the practical wisdom for the liberation of the spirit]. These topics have a ‘genetic’ relation to the ox parable. What’s more, I have a strong basis for assuming that Guoan, the creator of the parable and an accomplished Chán master, was well versed in these compositions, which might have provided his inspiration. This dissertation shall briefly discuss the various compositions and Sutras, especially describing their links to the parable and the poetic-spiritual inspiration they provide it.
The chapter dealing with the ‘intellectual scope’ – the conceptual system, methodological tools and literary-philosophical background – shall establish a foundation upon which the discussion and analysis of the work will commence. In this abstract I refrain from elaborating my discussion of the various concepts [section 1] and compositions [section 3], and postpone their detailed discussion to the actual dissertation itself. However, I shall briefly describe section 2; the methodological tools used for reading the parable.
Methodological foundation: Chán is not an organized philosophy but a radical practical method for awakening. On the one hand, it demands that words be cast in doubt as useful tools for deciphering reality and for pointing directly at consciousness. On the other hand, somewhat ironically, it has never abandoned its use of written words as a tool for awakening. In search for Chán’s methodological tools, in which the method is also the ‘non-method’, it seems only natural to examine the field of practice and its literary output. A scene in which words are used, but yet, are also constantly cast in doubt. Therefore, in order to consolidate my method, I return to the text itself, and choose to read it along two axes or facets: the diachronic and the synchronic.
At first, I identified the methodological foundation which gets established as the work progresses in a linear manner along a diachronic, chronological axis. I discovered that the plot moves in a complex, dialectical movement between a motif of ‘two’ [duality] and its opposite, ‘not-two’ [non-duality]. This movement reveals itself as follows: in the first four pictures of the parable, the man and ox are separate, divided entities; they constitute two opposite realities, in which one searches while the other hides, one discovers while the other flees, one advances while the other recedes, one restrains while the other goes wild and breaks loose. The two characters are groping to meet each other gradually, and in between them, the tracks reveal themselves; as symbols in existence pointing towards absence. In the next two pictures, the fifth and sixth, having found each other, the man and ox conduct a strenuous struggle, which ends when the man trains the ox, restrains it and peacefully rides back home seated on its back. The two grow closer and become ‘not-two’. One above, the other below, two opposites merging into one single whole without partition or division. They may no longer be two separate entities, but are not yet ‘one’. This tale of herding does not conclude, we recall, by a peaceful return back home. Even though the man who was looking for the ox – has indeed found it. As if to prevent the protagonist from attaching to ‘not-two’ and regarding it as his final destination, the parable takes care to ‘empty-out’ all polarity and non-duality. It takes special care to empty-out the non-duality between the ‘two’; the man and the ox before training, and the ‘not-two’; the unity of opposites following the act of restraining. Thus, in the two following pictures; the seventh and the eighth, both ox and man vanish one after the other. The enveloping circle in which the work is drawn empties itself out completely. Nothing no longer remains in it; not ‘two’; a separate man and ox, nor ‘not-two’; unified man and ox, nor even a duality between ‘two’ and ‘not-two’. All is empty and vacuous; emptiness itself has disappeared. Thence blossoms the ‘one’. Indeed, in the parable’s final pictures, a unified person is born, returning from the world of emptiness to the root and origin, and thereon, back into the marketplace. This new/old person has a non-dual mind and a compassionate heart. He understands now, in retrospect, that his nature has been whole and undivided ever since the beginning of his journey. He further understands, that had he not taken his quest, he would never have been able to understand at present that nothing has never been lost. The parable’s entire plot structure consists therefore of a complex dialectical movement oscillating between duality and non-duality. It begins with the duality between man and ox, goes on to create a harmonious structure from the unity of opposites, and then, passes into emptiness as a nullification of the duality between duality and non-duality. Finally, emptiness itself is nullified and the ‘one’ is born, a ‘one’ which might yet split into ‘two’ or vice versa. Such is the diachronic plot structure in light of the motif of duality. Furthermore, such is the deep-structure, the base narrative or ‘skeleton’, structuring the parable from start to finish.
Utilizing this deep-structure, my next step was to go back to each of the ten pictures and ascertain the way in which this ‘skeleton’ is shaped. Indeed, an inspection of each of the pictures has revealed that the deep-structure – the dialectic between ‘two’ and ‘not-two’ – is present and active in each one of them. It may express itself in the content, in the plot and, at times, in other layers as well, such as the poetical structure of each poem, itself subordinated to this dialectic of duality. I shall now consider each and every poem’s structure in order to explain the origin of this concept of a dialectic between the ‘two which are not two’.
The ten parable’s poems are structured according to very strict and rigorous rules of poetic composition, as per the conventions of Tang period Chinese poetry. Each one of the ten poems contains four lines made out of seven syllables. Three of these lines – the first, second and fourth, rhyme with each other. One could say that the first line creates a kind of anticipatory pattern, while the second line responds to it by rhyming with it and actualizing the anticipation, strengthening thus the previously established pattern and structure. But once such pattern has been established, a turn takes place. In a seemingly unexpected move, the third line keeps to the same meter but violates the rhymed pattern and breaks down the frame. The reader therefore, does not know what to expect anymore. Finally, the fourth line once again rhymes with the first two. This move is illusive and paradoxical. On the one hand, the newly established pattern has been shattered again; a move establishing a pattern of surprise and realizing the third line’s anticipation of a continuous breaking up of the frame. On the other hand, by not rhyming with the third line, it contradicts this new anticipation of breaking up. In other words, it serves to ‘break up the breaking up’ or contradict the contradiction. The final line succeeds thus, simultaneously, in both actualizing and contradicting our expectations. This rhyming structure creates an enclosed circular pattern of recurring build-up and break-up: the first two lines – both rhyming and therefore, ‘two’. Followed by the third line, a solitary one, representing ‘not-two’. This line further contradicts the rhyming rules set by the ‘two’. And finally, a fourth line, the ‘one as two’ line, which on the one hand, breaks down the former pattern, but on the other, by responding to it, also serves to actualize and validate it.
This dialectical structure – commencing with ‘two’, followed by ‘not-two’ and ending in ‘one’ as the nullification of the duality between ‘two’ and ‘not-two’ – characterizes each one of the ten poems. Furthermore, as this dissertation will make clear in its discussion, the plot in most of the poems supports this complex dialectical movement between duality and non-duality. Therefore, a similar structural pattern can be established for all of the ten pictures – both content-wise and structure-wise we discover a dialectic between duality and non-duality.
What are the consequences? From the similar infrastructure shared by the different pictures, we can infer two: the first – that there is an affinity between each picture and its others; that each of them resonates with the rest, reflects in them and reflects them. And the second – that each picture displays an affinity and resonates with the entire parable, reflecting it. In other words, that our parable reflects all of its components and, at the same time, is reflected in each one of them. An ‘all in one, one in all’, as the ‘net of Indra’ is poetically described in the ‘Flower-Garland Sutra’. These two consequences do not contradict each other but are mutually valid.
Yet, if each different picture and the plot as a whole share a similar deep structure, I can surmise that all the events depicted in the pictures of the parable ‘take place’ at once as well. The ten pictures as well as the entire plot, being the foundational building blocks and the overall pattern, all reside on the same plane of existence – without any hierarchy or rank – at one and the same time. To designate such mutual parallel existence in space and time, resembling a room filled with mirrors, I shall use the term ‘synchronicity’.
What might be the meaning of this synchronicity? It could mean, for example, that each picture holds the ‘seeds’ for the entire plot; especially the ‘seeds’ for the problem [suffering] and those for its solution [release from suffering]. Therefore, our parable isn’t a linear sequence, a developing plot in consecutive pictures; a plot gradually advancing from dissatisfaction to compassion, but a simultaneous apparatus, similar to the ‘net of Indra’, one in which each picture of the parable reflects or holds within itself the essence of the entire plot, and, at the same time, gets reflected by and can be found within the plot as a whole. Furthermore, as I shall prove in the detailed discussion in the chapters of this dissertation, the whole plot is not merely a story nor just a description of the gradual path towards awakening, more so, it is the means which accomplish awakening synchronically; ‘at once’. This synchronic nature of the parable reveals itself, as we have just witnessed, through an analysis of the deep-structure of the poems. But, as a matter of fact, the metaphor of a net is neither original nor new. It is already mentioned implicitly in the work itself, in the general introduction to the parable written by Jiyuan, Guoan’s disciple, we read: “…Chán master Guoan has followed the example set by his predecessors and has offered from the depths of his heart ten beautiful poems reflecting and illuminating each other…” Jiyuan’s poetic description outlines an abstract structure similar to a texture of mutual reflections. In a net such as this, each verse exists in relation to all others; ‘as this exists – that also exists, as this ceases to exist – that also ceases to exist’, to paraphrase the Buddha’s doctrine of Dependant Origination. Using Buddhist terms, one could say that the poems ‘lack a self’, a separate distinct identity, that they mutually take shape at the same time and through mutual dependence.
Several philosophical consequences emerge from this net-like texturing of the parable; instead of being merely a series of consecutive pictures, these consequences shall provide my methodological foundation. The first, that in order to exist, each building block – each picture/poem – must simultaneously reflect all others, and vice versa. Once all building blocks exist at the same time – they relate to each other and are not separate. To paraphrase, I could generalize and say that since all of the pictures exist synchronically, they are not dual; not an object facing a subject [an ‘I’ against some ‘other’], nor temporal [a past against a future], nor spatial [a ‘here’ against some ‘there’]. And vice versa: once they are not dual, they can no longer be consciously grasped as such – once the ‘here’ and the ‘there’, the ‘I’ and the ‘other’, cease being ‘two’ – everything operates synchronically, or, to be exact, is grasped as synchronic. Non-duality requires synchronicity and, symmetrically, synchronicity requires non-duality. Therefore, non-duality is synchronicity, and synchronicity can never be dual. In fact, these two aspects – synchronicity and non-duality – are interchangeable. They, as well, are ‘two which are not-two’. These/this ‘not-two’ shall provide the methodological foundation for my complete analysis of the parable.
The method of reading: Each of the ten pictures – with the introduction and poem written by Guoan – shall be rigorously read using the image of the net. Utilizing this rich image, especially its salient methodological traits – synchronicity and non-duality, I shall inspect each verse along two mutual planes. The first – the poetical structure; the structural ‘skeleton’ of the plot; a dialectical structure of ‘two’ and ‘not-two’. And the second – the content or the narrative; the plot, ideas, motifs, symbols, images and literary metaphors found in each poem. Such an analysis of each poem – structure as related to content, structure as content and content as structure – shall aim to reveal the nature and meaning of each picture and to illuminate its poetical-spiritual space. But, obviously, that is not all there is to it. We are, after all, dealing with a net, and each picture can only exist in dependence to the rest. Because of this, I shall attempt to reveal the affinities between each picture and all the others. For example, I shall look for the similarity, the relationship, and especially, the resonance and synchronicity between each picture and every other picture of our parable. I shall demonstrate how, at times, a certain picture precedes its followers in the plot, while another reflects their plot as a mirror, or a third one resonates harmoniously with all of them. Each picture is unique; each has its own multiple forms of resonance. Furthermore, in each picture I shall look for an affinity and resonance with the entire parable. I shall analyze in what manner and in which sense does each picture – unique in structure and content – resonate with the larger net and its own unique structure and content. I shall describe the nature of the affinity found between each picture and the entire parable: is the whole different from its parts? Is it equal to its parts? Or, perhaps, each part of itself, is whole? I shall look especially for meanings that arise out of the affinities between each singular picture and the entire parable as a whole and for their consequences for the practical world of Chán spiritual practice. I shall inspect each picture and the whole parable in light of the image of the net, in order to discover some of the ways in which these ‘ten beautiful poems reflect and illuminate each other’.
Section C: The background of the ox parable – the Zen scholar, D. T. Suzuki, describes several pictorial versions of the ox parable; different sets made out of five, six, eight and ten drawings [the later found in two different versions]. In the two shortest sets, supplying the model and the inspiration for Guoan’s work, as the practice deepens; the ox gradually changes its color from black to white. This process of whitening seems to symbolize the gradual awakening of consciousness, culminating in the disappearance of both ox and herder in the last picture.
Guoan, a Zen master from the Rinzai branch, knew these ‘whitening’ versions and believed that a complete disappearance, the last empty circle, is misleading. He feared that some might think of emptiness as being the final goal of Zen doctrine – an erroneous view. Therefore, he has created a new set of ten pictures followed by ten poems, in which the ox does not change its color, and the man, having disappeared, returns to the ‘source’ and, later on, to the marketplace, this time, as a Bodhisattva. Ever since the Japanese Kamakura period, and even today in the western world, Guoan’s version is considered the clearest, most concise and complete version. It will therefore be at the center of my discussion.
The second chapter; offering the main discussion, is dedicated to an analysis and an in-depth discussion of each of the ten parable pictures, using the methodological tools defined above.
The parable’s structure and its discussion: this dissertation follows the Hebrew version of the ‘Ten Oxherding Pictures’ translated from the Chinese in 1996 by two sinologist researchers, Dan Da’Or and Ya’akov Raz, and called in Hebrew, ‘Ish Mechapes Par’ ['איש מחפש פר', ‘A man looking for an ox’]. This Hebrew version adheres closely to the language and poetical spirit found in the original text, it contains three separate series of poems, followed by three different sets of drawings. The first series of poems has been composed by Guoan. The two other series, rhyming as well, were composed by his disciples, themselves accomplished Zen masters, in gratitude and in response to their master. Each of the ten pictures starts with a quick introduction in prose by Jiyuan, one of Guoan’s spiritual disciples, who has composed the parable’s general introduction.
Each of the parable’s ten pictures will be analyzed and discussed using a similar method and framework. First, I shall outline the plot in general terms, and display the three drawings one after the other without commentary. Then, I shall briefly discuss the differences between the three poems and drawings; a discussion which is followed by the main analysis and a discussion of the introduction. The introduction will not be read merely as a poetical composition, but also interpreted in light of my two main methodological motifs: non-duality and synchronicity. Thus, alongside the ‘explicit’ poetic text, I shall attempt to reveal the additional implicit dimensions of the parable’s doctrine of training and practice. Finally, I shall offer the main discussion and analysis of the first series of poems, Guoan’s, being the oldest and most familiar of the three versions, and therefore regarded as ‘original’ and authoritative for the rest.
The analysis of each of the ten poems shall be made according to the methodology of non-duality and in light of the synchronic principle. Naturally, as this is a creative work of art, we cannot expect each picture to express in equal measure this non-dual structure of ‘not-two’. Indeed, these elements are at times clearly explicit, for example in the fifth picture, while at other times, they are implicit, for example in the third picture. Yet, it deserves mentioning that, whether explicitly or implicitly present, these motifs of non-duality and synchronicity are to be found – to a greater or lesser extent – in each one of the parable’s pictures, and are never imposed upon it from without. This chapter, analyzing each picture, concludes by a short discussion shedding some light on the theoretical and practical consequences arising from the resonance and synchronicity found between the different pictures of the parable.
The discussion and analysis of each of the ten pictures – introduction and poem – shall try to establish this dissertation’s main argument that the parable of the Ten Oxherding Pictures does not provide a mere, naïve, allegory for a gradual spiritual path from suffering and delusion to freedom and compassion. Despite the fact that this gradual reading and interpretation has been common for hundreds of years and continues even today, such a reading might create the impression that the way’s termination point is in some way more proper than its point of departure; or that there exists some ultimate distinction differentiating between ‘there’ and ‘here’.
I shall demonstrate that the plot can be read differently. The Ox Pictures do not necessarily offer just a story of the spiritual path. The parable, should we choose to read it that way, is also the whole path from a practical point of view. Such a reading does not contradict the parable’s spirit. More so, it goes hand in hand with the words of the introductory poem; for example – it being a net drawn to heal the diseases of consciousness. Such a reading is especially congruent with Chán’s spontaneous spirit, striving for an immediate awakening of original consciousness and becoming Buddha.
I suggest therefore reading the parable in two ways. On the one hand, as per convention; a gradual theory of spiritual practice, according to the northern school of Chán which sees awakening as a multi-stage process. And, on the other hand, as an immediate practice of spiritual training, according to the southern school, Guoan’s, which regards Buddha nature as innate in all humans since the beginning of time. In fact, these two readings are not mutually contradicting, in the bottom line, they offer two complementary pedagogical methods.
Furthermore, this double reading might prove more loyal to the Chán Buddhist tradition than a sole diachronic reading. Surely it does not contradict the Buddha’s spirit. Obviously, this double-aspect of theory and action can be identified already in the biography of the historical Buddha. Śākyamuni’s personal journey was the story of a person looking for happiness. It starts with passion and suffering, with a feeling that something is missing, and continues, through a determined yet tortuous path of spiritual practice – a deep inner contemplation of consciousness and the breaking loose of its hold – to culminate finally in a returning back home and generously sharing the wisdom of the way, in renunciation and compassionate deeds. Śākyamuni’s personal quest has turned into the essence of the doctrine of the way, as well as the essence of the way’s doctrine of practice. Śākyamuni has traveled the way and has turned his path into a ‘way’ – a Dao, a Dharma – a doctrine for the liberation from suffering. Śākyamuni has traveled the way and has turned his path into the practical practice for the accomplishment of the way, actualizing a redemption from suffering.
By serving as an analogy to the Buddha’s personal biography, the parable of the oxherding pictures – a tale of looking-for and finding-out, of renunciation and compassion – expresses both ways as well. When read gradually, the parable becomes the path of the ‘large’ spiritual way and serves as a parable for Buddha’s spiritual wisdom. On the other hand, when read synchronically, it is the ‘small’ way, paralleling the Buddha’s personal biography. The tale of a man who is looking for an ox, which is also the story of a man who has become Buddha once he has found and renounced. In both ways, the ten Oxherding pictures, paralleling Siddhartha’s spiritual journey, provide more than a mere poetic expression for the processes of gradual and sudden awakening. Just as the Buddha’s biography simultaneously demonstrates both wisdom and action, so does our parable: while being the doctrine of the way, it is also its means of practice, gradual as well as sudden. The parable, according to Buddhist doctrine, is therefore an expression of the ‘fourth truth’ [Magga in Pali, meaning ‘way’]. Like it, it holds within itself the roots for the wisdom, ethics and mediation of the Buddhist doctrine in its entirety.
Excursus: The oxherding parable according to C. G. Jung’s doctrine
The ox parable poetically describes the way to awakening and spiritual liberation, in that sense it comprises a veritable psychological doctrine, even though its ways and practices do not belong to western psychological traditions. For more than five decades now, ancient traditions have been encountering modern healing techniques with a shared mutual intellectual fascination. In this mutual, complex and cautious dialog, the East and the West scrutinize each other in order to find a deep and extensive solution to human suffering. Such fertile spiritual and psychological dialog could never exist if it weren’t for the unique path-breaking contribution of Carl Gustav Jung [1875-1961]; a Swiss Christian psychiatrist, who was also a connoisseur of art and one of the founding fathers of modern psychology. Jung’s thought has been original and wide-ranging, it has greatly influenced not just psychotherapy but also art, philosophy, history, theology, folklore studies, alchemy and mysticism. He has dealt widely with religious subjects – symbols, rituals, poetics – which, as he discovered, resonate with a drive, innate in each individual, for reaching the sublime and the divine; the ‘one’ within man. In his various journeys to the depths of the human soul, whether individual or as a cultural collective, he has discovered an extensive relationship between the content of dreams and their rich symbols and the myths, legends and rituals of ancient civilizations. This relationship has lead him to the conclusion that the soul speaks the language of the ancient symbol, and that without knowing the cultural inheritance which hides at the depth of each individual’s unconscious mind, the human inner world could never be understood. Jung’s work has deviated from accepted norms of classical clinical practice and discourse; he used to tour the world looking for far away cultures, traditions and religions, Eastern as well as Western, and was exposed to humanity’s greatest spiritual treasures. He was deeply impressed by eastern philosophies – especially the Indian and the Chinese ones, which he used as a source for inspiration and intellectual study. Years after his death, his disciples, inspired by his work, have furthered their research and relationship with the eastern world. They, just like him, never look for an ‘exotic East’, nor for one and single ‘universal spirit’, but concern themselves instead in looking for the universal aspects of soul and spirit, as those are reflected and expressed in traditional cultural contexts. This Jungian interest in myths and symbolical stories aimed at the redemption of the spirit did not ignore the ox parable. The study of this parable was never at the center of Jungian discussion or dialog with the world of Zen, but yet, in the early 80’s of the last century, the ox parable was chosen for discussion in the international congress of the International Association for Analytical Psychology. Central to their discussion was the argument that Zen awakening, as described in the parable’s pictures and poems, describes a veritable psychological process. Therefore, it can and should be read through a Jungian perspective and methodology – without imposing Jungian principles on it or ignoring its cultural distinctions.
In this dissertation’s excursus I shall provides a quick overview of the essential tenets of Jungian doctrine and especially of its core methodological tools. Following which, I shall outline the analysis and interpretation of two Jungian researchers, both of Japanese descent and sharing a rich academic background in Asian philosophical traditions. These will be described as they were formulated by their writers, without any further commentary or analysis. As I do not possess appropriate Jungian tools for analysis and interpretation for a discussion of this kind, a task that could be possible at some future time. I should emphasize as well, that the initial reason for including the Jungian approach to the ox parable in this dissertation is not an arbitrary or random one, nor does it stem from mere aesthetical considerations or preferences. This choice originates from the fact that out of all psychological traditions, the Jungian school alone has shown an active interest in the parable. Be it for its artistic aspect – the symbols and pictures poetically describing the map of the psyche – which has captivated the Jungians’ attention, or perhaps for some other reason.
The parable as an expression for the process of individuation
The parable, according to the Jungian researchers, provides poetic expression for the process of individuation; it is a process of spiritual development, a transformation occurring through life, in which a man dynamically strives towards wholeness, unity and complete self-realization by exposing the totality of his psyche. The psyche’s conscious portion; the ego, symbolized in our parable according to these researchers by the herder, strives to reunite with the ‘Self’; the unconscious level of the psyche, as symbolized by the ox. Both of these – man and ox, consciousness and un-consciousness – defy each other, reconcile with each other, ‘fill up and empty out’, till they gradually reach a state of complete realization and perfection; a person more whole, compassionate and generous.
The three opening pictures, looking and finding the ox, represent according to the Jungian researchers the Buddhist concept of ‘seeing into Nature itself’. The fourth picture, the apprehension of the ox, marks the end of the four-fold frame and represents the realization of the first perfection. But, this process of self-awareness is circular and spiral, therefore, the apprehension of the ox marks one framework and initiates a new struggle at a higher level of consciousness. The fourth picture, which serves as the conclusion for the previous three, serves also as an introduction for a new process, one whose climax is reached in the sixth picture, the peaceful ride home, and its conclusion in the seventh, in which the ox disappears.
We see, that the seventh picture, concluding the four-fold set, also concludes the two three-fold sets [pictures 1-3, pictures 4-6]. Thus, the researchers say, the first seven pictures of the parable comprise of both types of Jungian processes: the dynamic [triple] process and the stable [quadrangle] process. The researchers consider the seventh picture to be an expression of the completion of the entire process, and see it as expressing the transformation of the human psyche. The ox [the 'Self'], up till now an outer worldly object for search and passion, has disappeared, as if internalized into the depths of the human psyche, leaving the searcher all alone.
The three pictures concluding the parable [pictures 8-10], start with the forgetting of the herder/ego, who has disappeared just like his ox/Self. We can say the ego cancels itself in order to fulfill the urge of the Self, which fills the heart and essence of the unified psyche. The sacrifice of the ego is depicted by the empty circle in the eighth picture – expressing a complete realization of Buddha Nature – and parallels the way of the Bodhisattva, as acting according to and in harmony with Buddha’s wisdom and compassion.
At this stage, the person has experienced the paradoxical nature of filling up and emptying out, for the receding ego provides also the complete fulfillment of urge of the Self. But yet, in spite of the sacrifice, the ego has not been cancelled. On the contrary, it grows stronger, becoming more flexible and is released from its ‘egocentric’ stance by learning how to respond harmoniously to the needs of the Self. Out of such awareness and simplicity a person can return to the source and encounter the world empty handed with a whole and compassionate heart.
 Such ‘sudden awakening’ is immediate, being achieved ‘at once’ without any prior effort, and in contradistinction to ‘gradual awakening’; an awakening process requiring various sequential stages.
 The picture is a ‘scene’ made up of a drawing and a verse. It serves here as a synonym for ‘poem’.