Enlightenment and the Zen Ox Herding Images
Among the various formulations of the levels of realization in Zen, none is more widely known than the Oxherding Pictures, a sequence of ten illustrations annotated with comments in prose and verse. It is probably because of the sacred nature of the ox in ancient India that this animal came to be used to symbolize man's primal nature or Buddha-mind.
The original drawings and the commentary that accompanies them are both attributed to Kuo-an Shih-yuan (Kakuan Shien), a Chinese Zen master of the twelfth century, but he was not the first to illustrate the developing stages of Zen realization through pictures. Earlier versions of five and eight pictures exist in which the ox becomes progressively whiter, the last painting being a circle. This implied that the realization of Oneness (that is, the effacement of every conception of self and other) was the ultimate goal of Zen. But Kuo-an, feeling this to be incomplete, added two mo
re pictures beyond the circle to make it clear that the Zen man of the highest spiritual development lives in the mundane world of form and diversity and mingles with the utmost freedom among ordinary men, whom he inspires with his compassion and radiance to walk in the Way of the Buddha. It is this version that has gained the widest acceptance in Japan, has proved itself over the years to be a source of instruction and unfailing inspiration to Zen students, and is presented here, as explained on page xvi, with modern ink-and-brush paintings by Gyokusei Jikihara.