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Oxherding pictures


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A series of ten pictures that developed within the Ch'an tradition of China as a way of presenting a model of the path of meditation and attainment of enlightenment (bodhi) using an artistic metaphor. ‘Herding an ox’ as a literary metaphor for learning to control the wanderings of the mind dates back to the T'ang dynasty (618–907) and came to be quite popular within Ch'an circles. Sequences of pictures developed showing the practitioner as a herdsman training an ox which became gradually whiter in each subsequent picture in the series, until by the end it had disappeared completely, making the point that to tame the mind was to eliminate it as a separate object of clinging. Such sequences could have from five to eight pictures. In the 12th century, the master Kuo-an Shih-yüan created a set of ten pictures that has become the standard version. In order, the pictures are as follows: (1) searching for the ox; (2) seeing the traces; (3) first glimpse of the ox; (4) catching the ox; (5) taming the ox; (6) riding the ox home; (7) ox forgotten, self alone; (8) both ox and self forgotten (depicting a blank circle); (9) return to the origin; (10) returning to the city with gift-bestowing hands. These pictures have served as both teaching aids and objects of meditation for Ch'an and zen practitioners since Kuo-an's time.

(1) searching for the ox; (2) seeing the traces; (3) first glimpse of the ox; (4) catching the ox; (5) taming the ox; (6) riding the ox home; (7) ox forgotten, self alone; (8) both ox and self forgotten (depicting a blank circle); (9) return to the origin; (10) returning to the city with gift-bestowing hands

Subjects: Buddhism.


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