Ten Bulls

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Ten Bulls or Ten Ox Herding Pictures (十牛; Japanese: jūgyū, Chinese: shíniú) is, in the tradition of Zen Buddhism, a series of short poems and accompanying pictures that are intended to illustrate the stages of a Mahāyāna Buddhist practitioner's progression towards enlightenment, as well as his or her subsequent perfection of wisdom.

History[edit]

Vietnamese water puppet depicting a scene in the parable.

The pictures first appeared in their present form, as drawn by the Chinese Chán (Zen) master Kuòān Shīyuǎn (廓庵師遠), in the 12th century, and may represent a Zen Buddhist interpretation of the ten stages experienced by a Bodhisattva as outlined in various Mahāyāna sūtras, most particularly the Avataṃsaka Sūtra.

Each picture is accompanied by commentary in prose and verse. The pictures and texts are believed to be based on the work of an earlier Taoist scholar. They first became widely known in the West after their inclusion in the 1957 book, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings, by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki.

The Ten Bulls[edit]

Ten Bulls (by Tokuriki Tomikichiro, 1902–99).

The pictures, poems and short pieces of prose tell how the student ventures into the wilderness in his search for "the Bull" (or "Ox"; a common metaphor for enlightenment, or the true self, or simply a regular human being), and how his efforts prove fruitless at first. Undeterred, he keeps searching and eventually finds footprints on a riverbank. When he sees the bull for the first time he is amazed by the splendour of its features ('empty and marvellous' is a well known phrase used to describe the perception of Buddha nature). However, the student has not tamed the bull, and must work hard to bring it under control. Eventually he reaches the highest Enlightenment, returns to the world and 'everyone I look upon becomes enlightened'.

Common titles of the pictures in English, and common themes of the prose, include:

  1. In Search of the Bull (aimless searching, only the sound of cicadas)
  2. Discovery of the Footprints (a path to follow)
  3. Perceiving the Bull (but only its rear, not its head)
  4. Catching the Bull (a great struggle, the bull repeatedly escapes, discipline required)
  5. Taming the Bull (less straying, less discipline, bull becomes gentle and obedient)
  6. Riding the Bull Home (great joy)
  7. The Bull Transcended (once home, the bull is forgotten, discipline's whip is idle; stillness)
  8. Both Bull and Self Transcended (all forgotten and empty)
  9. Reaching the Source (unconcerned with or without; the sound of cicadas)
  10. Return to Society (crowded marketplace; spreading enlightenment by mingling with humankind)

Reception and commentary[edit]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

Media related to Ox-herding pictures at Wikimedia Commons