Zen Steps to Enlightenment


I’ve always loved the Ten Oxherding Pictures as a metaphor for awakening. The image above is the first in this interesting depiction, accompanied by the following stanza:

I. Undisciplined

With his horns fiercely projected in
the air the beast snorts,
Madly running over the mountain
paths, farther and farther he
goes astray!
A dark cloud is spread across the
entrance of the valley,
And who knows how much of the fine
fresh herb is trampled under his
wild hoofs!

Please visit this site to view — and meditate upon — the other nine images. You’ll find yourself in each one, with an emphasis on a particular stage that resonates in the present moment.


4 thoughts on “Zen Steps to Enlightenment

  1. Hawk Sr says:

    …Visited and printed!

  2. Hawk Sr says:

    Michael: Here’s a reflection and then a question or two.

    After doing a time of breathing exercises, I took time to observe the drawings and the ten progressive explanations in “The Ten Oxherding Pictures of Zen.” I am sure than my Western mind-set has me looking at them with a high degree of rationalism. I am saying to myself something like, “The cosmos calls us to a life that is disciplined. We are not individuals in the sense of being independent from the rest of creation. Only through discipline can we find a place of harmony that turns out to be the most liberated kind of existence….” And so on.

    Question: Does the sense of release experienced through the breathing exercises invite one to then meditate rationally as above? Or is the emptying process the goal?

  3. adreampuppet says:

    Hawk: Does the sense of release experienced through the breathing exercises invite one to then meditate rationally as above? Or is the emptying process the goal?

    Michael: The Oxherding Pictures are meant as a metaphor for an awakening process, and Zen philosophy sees this process as universal — it is The Way, though it obviously takes on a different form for each seeker. It is meant as a tool for understanding where we are in the process, and for how to more skillfully deal with what comes next. I don’t think that it is necessarily a linear process — we need to approach it in a flexible spirit of feminine receptivity, acknowledging that one stage is no better than the next, and that the early stages are in no way inferior to the later stages. It is a recognition that our life is a series of events, any one of which has the potential for opening up profound understanding of the overall journey.

    Discipline has its place in the practice, just as letting go has its place. In the beginning of a meditation practice, discipline is required to “push through” our initial resistances, which are in themselves a barrier to meditative absorption. Absorption — the activation of the Divine transformative energy known as Chi, Kundalini, Prana, Spanda, Jhana, Sacred Nectar, etc. — is the initial goal of skillful meditation, because once it is activated, the need for brute discipline is much reduced, because the Divine transformative energy of meditative absorption puts us on “automatic pilot” with regard to sticking with the practice. Paradoxically, he/she who gives rise to meditative absorption appears to lead a very disciplined existence, because its transformative energy literally burns off the desire for diversionary pursuits, leaving us with what the Buddha said is the only legitimate desire — meditative absorption.

    So my answer to your question is that the issue takes care of itself. Discipline is required in the beginning, after which it is replaced by a more automated process born of meditative absorption. The Buddha fully understood the importance of cultivating “jhana,” in that it makes possible the mastery of the rest of his instructions.

    Let me know if I’ve missed the gist of your question…!

  4. Hawk Sr says:

    You’re on target!

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