Ten Bulls or Ten Ox Herding Pictures (Chinese: shíniú , Japanese: j?gy? , korean: sipwoo ) is a series of short poems and accompanying drawings used in the Zen tradition to describe the stages of a practitioner's progress toward enlightenment,[web 1] and their return to society to enact wisdom and compassion.
The calf, bull or ox is one of the earliest similes for meditation practice. It comes from the Maha Gopalaka Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya 33). It is also used in the commentaries, especially the one on the Maha Satipatthana Sutta (Digha Nikaya 22) and the Satipatthana Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya 10).[web 2] As Buddhism spread throughout South-East Asia, the simile of the bull spread with it.[web 2]
The well-known ten ox-herding pictures emerged in China in the 12th century. D.T. Suzuki[web 3] mentions four Chinese versions of the Oxherding Pictures, by Ching-chu (Jp. Seikyo)(11th century),[web 4] Tzu-te Hui (Jp. Jitoku)(1090-1159),[web 4] an unknown author, and Kuò?n Sh?yu?n (Jp. Kaku-an) (12th century).[web 3] The best-known of these is the version by Kuò?n Sh?yu?n.[web 3]
Probably the first series was made by Ching-chu (, Jp. Seikyo) (11th century),[web 4] who may have been a contemporary of Kuò?n Sh?yu?n. In Ching-chu's version only five pictures are being used, and the ox's colour changes from dark to white, representing the gradual development of the practitioner, ending in the disappearance of the practitioner.[web 3]
Tzu-te Hui (?, Zide Huihui, Jp. Jitoku) (1090-1159)[web 4] made a version with six pictures. The sixth one goes beyond the stage of absolute emptiness, where Ching-chu's version ends. Just like Ching-chu's version, the ox grows whiter along the way.[web 3][note 1]
A third version by an unknown author, with ten pictures, was most popular in China.[web 3] It belongs to the Ching-chu and Tzu-te Hui series of pictures,[web 3] and has a somewhat different serie of pictures compared to Kuò?n Sh?yu?n's version.[web 5] The 1585-edition contains a preface by Chu-hung, and it has ten pictures, each of which is preceded by Pu-ming's poem, of whom Chu-hung furtherwise provides no information. In this version too the ox's colour changes from dark to white.[web 3][note 1]
The best known version of the oxherding pictures was drawn by the 12th century Chinese Rinzai Chán (Zen) master Kuò?n Sh?yu?n (?, Jp. Kaku-an Shi-en), who also wrote accompanying poems and introductory words attached to the pictures.[web 3] In Kuò?n Sh?yu?n's version there is no whitening process, [web 3] and his series also doesn't end with mere emptiness, or absolute truth, but shows a return to the world, depicting Putai, the laughing Buddha.[web 3] According to Chi Kwang Sunim, they may also represent a Zen Buddhist interpretation of the ten Bodhisattva bhumi, the ten stages on the Bodhisattva-path.[web 6]
In Japan, Kuò?n Sh?yu?n's version gained a wide circulation, the earliest one probably belonging to the fifteenth century.[web 3] 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.
Liaoan Qingyu (?, Jp. Ry?an Seiyoku) (1288-1363) made another version with five pictures.[web 7]
2. Discovery of the Footprints
Along the riverbank under the trees,
I discover footprints.
Even under the fragrant grass,
I see his prints.
Deep in remote mountains they are found.
These traces can no more be hidden
than one's nose, looking heavenward.[web 9]
3. Perceiving the Bull
I hear the song of the nightingale.
The sun is warm, the wind is mild,
willows are green along the shore -
Here no Ox can hide!
What artist can draw that massive head,
those majestic horns?[web 9]
4. Catching the Bull
I seize him with a terrific struggle.
His great will and power
He charges to the high plateau
far above the cloud-mists,
Or in an impenetrable ravine he stands.[web 9]
5. Taming the Bull
The whip and rope are necessary,
Else he might stray off down
some dusty road.
Being well-trained, he becomes
Then, unfettered, he obeys his master.[web 9]
6. Riding the Bull Home
Mounting the Ox, slowly
I return homeward.
The voice of my flute intones
through the evening.
Measuring with hand-beats
the pulsating harmony,
I direct the endless rhythm.
Whoever hears this melody
will join me.[web 9]
7. The Bull Transcended
Astride the Ox, I reach home.
I am serene. The Ox too can rest.
The dawn has come. In blissful repose,
Within my thatched dwelling
I have abandoned the whip and ropes.[web 9]
8. Both Bull and Self Transcended
Whip, rope, person, and Ox -
all merge in No Thing.
This heaven is so vast,
no message can stain it.
How may a snowflake exist
in a raging fire.
Here are the footprints of
the Ancestors.[web 9]
9. Reaching the Source
Too many steps have been taken
returning to the root and the source.
Better to have been blind and deaf
from the beginning!
Dwelling in one's true abode,
unconcerned with and without -
The river flows tranquilly on
and the flowers are red.[web 9]
10. Return to Society
Barefooted and naked of breast,
I mingle with the people of the world.
My clothes are ragged and dust-laden,
and I am ever blissful.
I use no magic to extend my life;
Now, before me, the dead trees
become alive.[web 9]
In the West, Alan Watts included a description of the Ten Bulls in The Spirit of Zen. The pictures were eventually to influence the work of John Cage, particularly in his emphasis on rhythmic silence, and on images of nothingness. At the same time, through the last picture especially - 'In the Marketplace' - they have provided a conceptual umbrella for those Buddhists seeking a greater engagement with the post-industrial global marketplace. Cat Stevens' sixth studio album Catch Bull at Four is a reference to the 4th step towards enlightenment. On the album, the song Sitting refers to meditation, and the apprehensions that may result from the experiences resulting from enlightenment. Catch Bull at Four was commercially successful and spent 3 weeks in 1972 at number one in the Billboard album charts.
An equivalent series of stages is depicted in the Nine Stages of Tranquility,[web 2] used in the Mahamudra tradition, in which the mind is represented by an elephant and a monkey.[web 10][web 11][note 2][note 3] The Dharma Fellowship, a Kagyu (Mahamudra) organisation, notes that the practice starts with studying and pondering the dharma, where-after the practice of meditation commences.[web 12]