The Ox-Herding Series
collected from around the net

Kakuan Shion aka Kuo-an Chi-yuan was a 12th c Chinese master in the lineage of Rinzai (Lin-Chi). He is known only for this classic representation of what Zen or The Search is all about. Many versions of his work exist on the net, with both different translations and new drawings. 

The classic modern version is a translation by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki, forming part of Reps' book, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones. In their introduction, they say:

"Kakuan drew the pictures of the ten bulls, basing them on earlier Taoist bulls, and wrote the comments in prose and verse translated here. His version was pure Zen, going deeper than earlier versions, which had ended with the nothingness of the eighth picture. It has been a constant source of inspiration to students ever since, and many illustrations of Kakuan's bulls have been made through the centuries." 

About ending "with the nothingness of the eighth picture," it should be noted that there are quite a few versions currently of the ten bull/ox-herding pics and verses which have nothingness (Kakuan's eighth) as their final tenth, and their additions consist of new stages PRIOR to that stage. As theirs is not the predominant view, and as Kakuan himself "went beyond" nothingness, and as going beyond nothingness is the richer and more satisfying view, that view shall be taken here as the essential view. 

Both views, interestingly, are presented in DT Suzuki's 1935 "Manual of Zen Buddhism." Terebess has both versions extracted from his manual, introduced by his discussion of their history and provenance. As Suzuki's is the only such detailed history i can find so far, i reproduce it below in full. And speaking of Terebess, i should mention here that it has a much larger collection of different versions of the ox-herding series than i have managed to assemble, so if you really want to immerse yourself in this fascinating world, that is the place. Here is a link to the Index of this fabulous collection.

Kakuan's original drawings have been lost but are said to have been more or less faithfully reproduced by the 15th c monk Shubun. Those illustrations, along with various translations of Kakuan's text, are what has made it into most of the traditional renditions. Suzuki says that this line has prevailed in Japan, while the other has been the predominant one in China. Some modern versions have muddled the two, eg matching text from one with drawings from the other, or attributing the Chinese version wrongly to Shubun, etc.

Various sites refer to the oldest known scroll or some such dating to 1278 CE, some even purporting to have images from the scroll, but afaict, there are no images from this scroll on the net. They ARE (said to be) in a book called The Ox Herder: A Zen Parable Illustrated, intro by a Stephanie Wada, a curator of the blah blah which holds the manuscript, but not on the net yet.

The site linked to at top reproduces Kakuan's verses and commentary from ZFZB and its drawings, which are not Kakuan's originals or Shubun's but modern versions by Kyoto woodblock artist Tomikichiro Tokuriki. It is a good place to start.

From that page, the tenth verse, In the World:

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.

Comment: Inside my gate, a thousand sages do not know me. The beauty of my garden is invisible. Why should one search for the footprints of the patriarchs? I go to the market place with my wine bottle and return home with my staff. I visit the wine shop and the market, and everyone I look upon becomes enlightened.

More versions, translations and pics
(internal numbered links are to alternate text versions of Verse ten, below. 
No link means either no text or identical text, with or without additional commentary)

ts' collection and research have been the inspiration for this page. He uses the same Reps text but with his own spare line drawings and more commentaries, from Martine Batchelor.

Kubota Ji'un A teisho (extended commentary) on the verses, with pics by Yokoo Tatsuhiko (1)

ExEAS (Columbia U) pics by Master Gyokusei Jikihara, done at New York’s Zen Mountain Monastery in 1982. (2)

The Ten Cat-Herding Pictures of Enlightenment Lest we get too serious, a modern parody version. (3)

Buddhism Now Magazine, with pics from big paintings on the outer walls of a hall at Songgwang-sa Temple in Korea and text a modern commentary-like prose, augmented by other Buddhist quotes, 1.5 MB pdf. (4)

Mu Sang Sa Temple Pics from the outside of the temple's Buddha Hall, no text, another Korean temple, a Flickr photo montage.

Wikimedia Pics only, by 15th c Japanese Rinzai Zen monk Tensho Shubun, said to be copies of Kakuan's originals, now lost.  These are big pics, and sepia-toned, unlike most other versions of Shubun**.

About Zen Claims to be "the standard version," but falls into the category mentioned above of ending at nothingness. Source is the "Chinese" version via Suzuki, though he is not named, with text (5) by Pu-ming and artist unknown. Link is a site search result, four pages of which have among them three versions of pics, three of English text and two of Chinese: one page has Hsu Yun's original verses (6) and pics by Fa Lian Shakya. The other two text versions are one identical to (5) (pics too, "Series 1") and one similar to (1) ("Series 2," with Shubun's drawings, though not identified as such, with more ornate "frames" but higher (starker) contrast than the Wikimedia versions (and in b/w), and text translation by Kuo An Zhe) (7).

Damien Crowe Pics only: modern, idiosyncratic line drawings.

Chung Tai Photos by AYK of naturalistic paintings in Chung Tai Chan Monastery in Taiwan + text by the "Chung Tai Translation Committee" (8).

James Breslin Surreal b/w photos, original poetry (9).

Emoyeni Retreat Centre Monochrome painting/drawings + original text unattributed, South Africa (10).

Zen Master Ji Bong No pics or verses, a short commentary

Osho A whole book, The Search, of commentary based on Reps' text, scroll to download pdf e-book compressed in .zip format

Hoa Son Trang Vietnamese discussion board, scroll down to three versions of pics and verse in English: 
1. Circular portions of Shubun's square pics in Hsu Yun above (series 2), though contrast toned down, Reps' verses, + commentary by "Rerevend Eshin"
2. Text and pics as in "About Zen" above, with square simple drawings mistakenly attributed to Shubun, correctly to Suzuki. 
3. Small but stunning colour paintings, + verses translated by Urs App (11)

Tim Jundo Williams Pics only, modern paintings with splashy colours, calligraphic circle pervades each in series (large images)

Four Peaks Tokuriki's pics from ZFZB + four versions of text: translation by Philip Kapleau (12), the Reps version plus two different commentaries thereon, by Alfonso Carrasco and a scolding contrarian position by Ming Zhen Shakya (13) 

Buddhanet Text not in poetic form but prosaic, reductionist explanations (14), original, spare,  contemporary drawings by graphic designer Hor Tuck Loon.

Ruben Habito As above, text not poetic form but prose (15), with the "liberated" but hokey TX-friendly idea of a young female cowgirl as protagonist, and with original, spare, drawings within calligraphic circles, by Jim Crump.

Shoeless and bare-chested he enters the marketplace;
He is daubed with earth and ashes, and a smile fills his face.
Making no use of the secrets of gods and wizards,
He causes withered trees to bloom.

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.

He returns to work to discover that everything is just as it ever was, 
but now he wears a crazy tie on Casual Fridays

Transcending time and space.
We have matured; the buddha-nature functions freely.
We are at home wherever we go and have
brought ultimate truth into our normal lives.
No one knows us. We go on our way with
a huge smile and everyone we see is enlightened.

5. (corresponds to verse 8 of others)
Both the man and the animal have disappeared,
no traces are left,
The bright moon-light is empty and shadowless
 with all the ten-thousand objects in it;
If anyone should ask the meaning of this,
Behold the lilies of the field and its fresh sweet-scented verdure.

How wide are the horizons of the spinning earth!
The moonlight leads the tides and the sun's light will not be confined
Within the net of heaven. But in the end all things return to the One.
The deaf and dumb, the crippled and deformed are all restored to the One's Perfection.

Bare-chested and bare-footed, he comes
out into the market-place;
Daubed with mud and ashes,
how broadly he smiles!
There is no need for the miraculous
power of the gods,
For he touches, and lo!
the dead trees are in full bloom.

Barefoot and bare-chested, I mingle with the world;
Though covered with dirt, I beam with joy.
Without the need for secret miraculous powers,
I make flowers bloom from withered wood.

Back in the beginning
Reality reached.
Going beyond the senses
I sense
the need for form.

Returning to the world,
one is invisible:
no doer, only the doing;
every deed a part
of the functioning
of totality.
Pu-tai smiles and walk on.

Bare - chested and with naked feet
He bursts into the market
Full of dirt and ashes
His face one big wide grin.
No need for magic potions
From adepts and immortals:
He simply lets a withered tree
Erupt in blazing bloom

Barechested, barefooted, he comes into the market place.
Muddied and dust-covered, how broadly he grins!
Without recourse to mystic powers,
withered trees he swiftly brings to bloom!

This picture is the worst offender of the series. It is invariably misread. As we've previously noted, despite the fact that the Oxherder, himself, is one of the two figures (the smaller one), most commentaries assume that the fat, disheveled man is the subject of the illustration. He clearly is not. He is one of the drunks that the Oxherder, in his Bodhisattva role, is preaching to and converting. Needless to say, this mis-identification is the cause of considerable modern mischief. Many commentaries which eliminate the Oxherder from the picture identify the slovenly but happy drunk as the fully-enlightened "Bodhisattva." The entire work of spiritual discipline is thus reduced to justifying a return to human society as a wine-drinker and carouser. When the work began, the Oxherder was thin, neat, thoughtful and sober. When the work ended, he was fat, slovenly, insouciant and drunk. The message simply conveys the antinomian idea that the liberated person is at liberty to be a libertine, which, of course, is patently absurd. A man does not become a true Zen master and then become a drunk. It can be, and often is, the other way around.

The enlightened being might be anybody 
who has renounced the world to help others 
towards the path. Selfless service becomes 
the hallmark of wisdom.

The tenth stage is the fullness and completion of the full ten stages. And what does this depict? Here we see the child again, in playful mirth. In India the statues of the Buddha are usually emaciated, giving a sense of asceticism and world-renunciation, of transcendence. In China, however, the pictures of the Buddha are always associated with mirth and laughter and gaiety. So he is depicted as a very roly-poly person, always laughing and happy. And so the Chinese deity of happiness and mirth came to be identified with the figure of the Buddha. Our version depicts the cowgirl meeting a jolly person on the road, and they join in play. This tenth stage is experiencing that sense of joy and mirth and playfulness in one’s daily life, no matter what. Another depiction of this stage is the return to the market place. We are back in the concrete struggles of our daily life. And yet, we are now able to live them, live right in the midst of them, with a sense of playfulness and inner freedom. We transcend life’s struggles and challenges, not by escaping them, but by plunging ourselves right into them with a new sense of freedom and equanimity, with a sense of humor and a sense of acceptance. This is the stage wherein the powers of compassion gush forth in our lives and enable us to live no longer seeking anything for ourselves, but in service to others, toward the alleviation of suffering and the promotion of the well-being of all.


Suzuki's History, from the Manual of Zen Buddhism

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:

"Even beyond the ultimate limits there extends a passageway,
Whereby he comes back among the six realms of existence;
Every worldly affair is a Buddhist work,
And wherever he goes he finds his home air;
Like a gem he stands out even in the mud,
Like pure gold he shines even in the furnace;
Along the endless road [of birth and death] he walks sufficient unto himself,
In whatever associations he is found he moves leisurely unattached."

Jitoku's ox grows whiter as Seikyo's, and in this particular respect both differ from Kaku-an's conception. In the latter there is no whitening process. In Japan Kaku-an's Ten Pictures gained a wide circulation, and at present all the oxherding books reproduce them. The earliest one belongs I think to the fifteenth century. In China however a different edition seems to have been in vogue, one belonging to the Seikyo and Jitoku series of pictures. The author is not known. The edition containing the preface by Chu-hung, 1585, has ten pictures, each of which is preceded by Pu-ming's poem. As to who this Pu-ming was, Chu-hung himself professes ignorance. In these pictures the ox's colouring changes together with the oxherd's management of him. The quaint original Chinese prints are reproduced below, and also Pu-ming's verses translated into English.

Thus as far as I can identify there are four varieties of the Oxherding Pictures: (1) by Kaku-an, (2) by Seikyo, (3) by Jitoku, and (4) by an unknown author.

Kaku-an's "Pictures" here reproduced are by Shubun, a Zen priest of the fifteenth century. The original pictures are preserved at Shokokuji, Kyoto. He was one of the greatest painters in black and white in the Ashikaga period.


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