The first picture in the classic versions depicts a little child who is supposed to be perplexed, or is searching for something. An inscription in Chinese characters goes, “In the beginning, suddenly emerged from confusion.” Another description found in other versions of this same first picture of a child just beginning to open its eyes and wonder about things is “the awakening of the fact.”
Our version, sketched by an artist friend of the Maria Kannon Zen Center, is of a cowgirl, looking about and apparently searching for something. This is the first stage in the awakening process asking the question: “What’s this all about?”
This is already a very significant step. In this first stage there is already a kind of awakening, namely, to a mind that asks fundamental questions. This is called “arrival at the Bodhi-mind,” or the mind of awakening. One is unsettled, asking “Who am I?” “How can I live my life in a way that is truly meaningful?” or “What is the meaning of all this?” Before arriving at this stage, perhaps we had been “asleep” many years, taking things in life for granted. We were once a child, then a teenager, and then we move on to adulthood, just following the “normal” stages and routines of human life. We may have gotten married and have started a family, and our children are on their way to leaving the nest, or have done so, so on. Then suddenly, at some point, the big questions start popping up in ways we cannot ignore. They may come when we are thirty or forty or fifty years of age. Or, it may come for some of us at an earlier age. The child in the picture represents that stage that now begins to awaken and ask, “What is this all about?” So the asking of the question leads us to seek ways that will enable us to pursue those questions more assiduously. This is the point where we seek a form of spiritual practice that will launch us in this direction.
The Second and Third Oxherding pictures will be published on March 25.
Originally published on the Maria Kannon Zen Center website as, The Ten Oxherding Pictures: Overview. Oxherding pictures by Jim Crump for the MKZC series.
Featured Image: Discovering the Cow, by Hartwig HDK, CC BY-ND 2.0 from Flickr.com