In Buddhist scripture from ancient times sages have compared the human mind with a wild ox. The ox, the most useful beast of burden in those days, had to be captured, tethered and broken to a harness of sorts, a long slow process which eventually made available to man the great power of the beast. Following the example in the story, the Zen initiate is encouraged to directly experience his own mind through zazen (sitting meditation), subdue anxieties and desires, experience oneness with all, and find ultimately great peacefulness (satori).

“INTRODUCTION. Among the various formulations of the levels of realization in Zen, none is more widely known than the Oxherding Pictures, a sequence of ten illustrations annotated with comments in prose and verse. It is probably because of the sacred nature of the ox in ancient India that this animal came to be used to symbolize man’s primal nature or Buddha-mind. The original drawings and the commentary that accompanies them are both attributed to Kakuan Shien (Kuo-an Shih-yuan), a Chinese Zen master of the twelfth century…

Desolate through forests and fearful in jungles,
he is seeking an Ox which he does not find.
Up and down dark, nameless, wide-flowing rivers,
in deep mountain thickets he treads many bypaths.
Bone-tired, heart-weary , he carries on his search
for this something which he yet cannot find.
At evening he hears cicadas chirping in the trees.

“The Ox has never really gone astray, so why search for it? Having turned his back on his True- nature, the man cannot see it. Because of his defilements he has lost sight of the Ox. Suddenly he finds himself confronted by a maze of crisscrossing roads. Greed for worldly gain and dread of loss spring up like searing flames, ideas of right and wrong dart out like daggers…”

See all the drawings at: Ten Oxherding Pictures

We as devotees would replace the 8th step as seeing Krishna, the Ultimate Cowherd, with the ox, 9th with having our consciousness fixed in that image of Krishna, and the 10th with going out and sharing Krishna consciousness!

Wouldn’t it be nice if some devotee artist would Krishnize this classic?