The Ten Oxherding Pictures Urs App The protagonist of this poetic picture story, a boy herdsman, stands

for none other than you, dear reader. The very "I" that reads these lines through a pair of eyes, the subject of your life,the mind that thinks your thoughts, makes your plans, deals with your desires, and signs your checks, the one that was born of your parents and will die on your deathbed-the protagonist of that unique story that is yours. This "I" is also the starting point of the Zen Buddhist quest. When a Chinese man called Huike, according to a Zen story, met Bodhidharma, the following conversation ensued:
Huike: "Please, Master, bring peace to my heart-mind!" Bodhidharma: "Show it to me, and I will pacify it! Huike: "I have searched for it, but I could not find it." Bodhidharma: "If you could search for it, how could it be your very own heart-mind?"

In Zen Buddhism, the injunction "show me your true self" has a particular ring: the root-source of man's basic dissatisfaction and the engine of his striving is none other than this "I." The Japanese Zen master Bankei, for example, diagnosed the basic human problem as follows:
Your self-partiality is at the root of all your illusions. There aren't any illusions when you don't have this preference for yourself

Rather than being the goal of man's quest, Zen sees the "I" as the very problem. Thus the herdsman (who has an "I" just as all of us do) sets out in search of what he truly is. The object of this search, man's true self, is represented by the ox or buffalo. The quest leads from self-ignorance (picture 1) to the overcoming of the problematic "I" with all of its trappings (including the ox; picture 8) - to, finally, self-awakening (9). In the Indian Upanishads, the highest spiritual goal is the realization that one's own true self, one's atman , is nothing other than the very essence of everything, i.e., brahman. "Tattvam asi ", "Thus thou art," is the articulation of this essence. In terms of the Ten Oxherding Pictures, a classic of Zen literature, that means: your true self, what you really are without realizing it, is nothing other than that ox - or that flower, or your neighbor. Thus the true man in picture 10 is not aloof from the world but rather right here now, in the bustle of the marketplace.

Looking for the ox Pushing aside the weeds of illusion He looks for the ox in the wild Through swollen rivers and distant mountains His path leads far and farther His strength exhausted, he's in despair There's no more place to search Yet hear that lonely autumn song: A Cicada in a maple tree.

Noticing the footprints By a river, among the trees Footprints here and there! Wild thickets, weeds -- or did he now Just catch a glimpse of it? Deep into the mountains His path leads far astray. Its nose may reach the heavens Yet would it leave no trace?

Catching sight The song of a nightingale, listen! It's perching on a branch Warm sunrays and a soothing breeze Green willows on the bank. Ah, there! No way to overlook it, That stately head, majestic horns: A challenge for a painter.

Getting hold of the ox Everything and all he gives, And gets to catch the ox What strength of will, what powerToo tough to shed at once At times it suddenly struts Up, up to higher plains To hide in mist and clouds And rest in deep ravines.

Taming the ox Not letting go of tether and whip Not even for a moment He's careful to not lose his way In the dirt and dust of the world. Well tended and domesticated The ox grows pure and gentle; Without a chain and bridles It follows its master just so.

Riding home Riding high on the ox He leisurely turns toward home The singsong of his flute Vanishing in the evening glow Each beat, each note Full of infinite meaning When one is in tune with the other No need for chat and blabber.

Ox vanished, herdsman remaining Astride his ox at last he reaches The mountains and hills of home. No more ox! The man is serene. Yet though the sun stands high above He still is dreaming the dream While whip and tether lie idle In that thatched-roofed abode of his.

Ox and herdsman vanished Whip, tether, person, ox: ALL IS EMPTY! Blue sky, all and all around: What is there to convey? How to keep a flake of snow Atop a red-hot oven? Get there and you do accord With the founders of our school.

Returning to the source Returning to the root and source: Oh what a waste of effort! Much better to turn blind and deaf Right at this very moment! Inside his hut, he does not see Any object, nothing, outside: Rivers flow onward by themselves And blossoms turn crimson like that.

Entering the marketplace 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. Copyright 1996-2012 Urs App Pictures courtesy of Michel Mohr