The Ox Follows: Ox-herding Pictures 4 & 5

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Jon Joseph Roshi of San Mateo Zen considers the 4th & 5th Ox-herding Pictures and poems. Of itself, the Ox follows along—without devices or chains. PZI Zen Online. Dharma talk as recorded March 22, 2021.

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Ox-herding Pictures 4 & 5

Struggling to hold the Ox’s head in the rope, she doesn’t dare let it go. But its habits of old can’t be easily changed. Now it charges up to the highlands, now it loiters in the misty ravine.

Hold the nose rope tight, lest the Ox wander back to its muddy haunts. Properly looked after, this Ox will become pure and gentle. Without devices or chain, of itself, the Ox will follow.

—Kuon Shihyuan, 12th Century poet, 4th and 5th Verse of The Ten Ox-herding Pictures

Verses four and five, for me, together represent the question, “How do we practice?” We do not work with koans holding onto some notion about how we should live. Rather, we bring koans into our lives just as they are. So how should we practice?

“Without devices or chain, of itself, the Ox will follow.”

—Jon Joseph Roshi