Thursday, April 16, 2009

Commentary on the Ox-Herding Pictures

Sometimes you get the ox ... and sometimes the ox gets you!

1. Ox? What ox?

In my dreams I'm a rock star.
Please don't disturb my sleep
with talk about some ox.
What ox?

2. I don't even own an ox!

Whaddya mean I'm just a peasant
like everyone else?
If I was a peasant, I'd need an ox.
But I don't even own an ox!

3. The ox perceives you.

Here I am, up on stage.
But what's that ox doing in the audience?
Why is he looking at me like that?
I don't like the looks of this!

4. Running like hell from the ox.

How the hell did that ox
get up on my stage!?!?
Security! Where's my goddammed security!
Somebody help me!

5. No escape - cornered by the ox.

I thought backstage
I'd be safe.
Nobody's allowed backstage
without a special pass!

6. Being stomped on and gored by the ox

Where is everyone?
Why won't anyone help me?
I thought they all loved me,
but now I realize they were all laughing at me.

7. Selling the ox for drinking money. Good riddance!

Well, maybe I did own an ox after all -
but now I'm rid of it.
And I'm off to celebrate
my new found freedom!

8. Missing the ox. It was such a great ox....

Man, that ox was the best ox
anyone ever had.
He was my best friend
in the whole world!

9. Praying for a new ox. I'll be good this time, I promise.

Please Gods, I realize
I made a mistake.
I didn't know any better -
but now I do. Pleeeeeease!

10. Oh, but not this ox. My old ox was much better!

Hey - what's this?
Some kind of joke?
This new ox
is completely unacceptable!

[A much more traditional take on the Ox-herding pictures can be found here.]

"emptiness in my hand"

The Nun Chiyono studied for years but was unable to find enlightenment. One moonlit night she was carrying an old pail, filled with water. She was watching the full moon reflected in this water, when the bamboo strip that held the pailstaves broke. The pail fell apart; the water rushed out; the moon's reflection disappeared. And Chiyono found enlightenment. She wrote this verse:

This way and that way
I tried to keep the pail together
Hoping the weak bamboo
Would never break

Suddenly the bottom fell out:
No more water:
No more moon in the water:

Emptiness in my hand!

Note: This is taken from Zen Flesh, Zen Bones by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki

Underground Bodhisattvas, and Bodhisattvas from Outer Space

While the Buddha was teaching the Lotus Sutra, a group of Bodhisattvas from outer space came to listen. Word had spread across the Universe that there was a Buddha teaching the Lotus Sutra on a planet known as "earth". Some of these outer space Bodhisattvas said, "Oh, cool - the Lotus Sutra. It's about time those earthlings heard the news." But some Bodhisattvas went further, though: they wanted to be there in person to witness this great event, and they also wanted to offer their help to propagate the teaching of the Lotus Sutra to the earth beings.

The Buddha thanked the outer space Bodhisattvas for their offer of help - but then he said: "watch this." And just then vast numbers of Bodhisattvas ready to teach the Lotus Sutra arose "from out of the open space under the ground." The Buddha then explained that all of these "underground Bodhisattvas" had been diligently studying and practicing for countless ages, and that these great teachers are always present everywhere to come to the aid of suffering beings.

But everyone wanted to know how these chthonic Bodhisattvas had learned about the Lotus Sutra if the Buddha was only just now teaching that Sutra on earth. The Buddha explained that he had only appeared to have been born 80 years previously, and had only appeared to attain enlightenment 40 years after that. In reality, the Buddha said, he had attained awakening an inconceivably long time ago, and that he himself had taught the Lotus Sutra to the underground Bodhisattvas before he had even been "born" in this present body.

Tao-Sheng (ca.360-432 AD) has this very "down to earth" explanation of this famous episode in the Lotus Sutra:

"That the earth split and the bodhisattvas welled up suggests that living beings inherently possess an endowment for enlightenment, and it cannot remain concealed; they are bound to break the earth of defilements and emerge to safeguard the Dharma."

* The story of the underground bodhisattvas and the bodhisattvas from outer space is found in chapters 14-15 of the Lotus Sutra.

* Taigen Dan Leighton has a very nice summary of this incident in his book Visions of Awakening Space and Time: Dogen and the Lotus Sutra in the first chapter, which is titled The Pivotal Story of the Lotus Sutra.

* See also Leighton's Dogen's Appropriation of Lotus Sutra Ground and Space.

* The quote from Tao-Sheng is taken from Tao-sheng's Commentary on the Lotus Sutra: A Study and Translation by Young-he Kim.