The sixth stage is riding the ox home. We are now able to feel that we are on our way home. We can ride the ox and it doesn’t try to jump and throw us away like a bucking bronco anymore. It is now fully one with us, and we are comfortable riding the ox. But still, there is more to come.
The seventh stage is about forgetting the ox, leaving the child to simply sit there and be relaxed. Now, even the ox is gone. At this stage one is no longer thinking about oneself, no longer having to pursue words like “dharma” or “enlightenment” “true self,” and so on. We are home with ourselves, at home in the universe, and we don’t need to think about looking for something else. We are at peace where we are.
At the eighth stage, both the boy and the ox are forgotten. There is an empty circle represented here. There is no longer any ox, that is, no longer any sense of conceptualizing “truth” or “dharma” or “true self” or whatever. There is also no subject (I, me, mine) attempting to conceptualize or verbalize those terms. Both the subject and object are gone. In the seventh stage, the concept of truth, God, holiness, dharma and so on have disappeared, and you’re simply living life in its pure simplicity. The eighth is a stage where even thoughts about yourself are no longer an issue. In some versions, of the oxherding pictures, this eighth stage is given as the last stage. The ten stage version, however, has an important message that we are also invited to consider, and experience for ourselves.
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