Ox Herding at Morgan's Bay 7


This version of the Ten Ox Herding Pictures, which illustrates the different states of mind at different levels of practice, was created by a Ch'an master during the Sung dynasty, but the idea of looking for the ox dates back to the T'ang dynasty. At that time there was a monk who was in charge of stoking fires for the cooking pots down below the kitchen of a monastery. One day a famous Ch'an master observed him at his work and asked, "What are you doing?"

The monk said, "I'm watching the ox."

The master asked him, "In what way are you watching the ox?"

The monk replied, "Every time the ox tries to wander off to eat grass, I rein it in and put it back to work." In other words, every time his mind wandered, the monk pulled it back to the job or method.

It's normal for an ox to eat grass sometimes. In fact, it's necessary for survival. But in this story, the ox is eating grass when it should be working. The ox herder yokes the ox with a rope and stick; practitioners yoke their wandering minds with methods of practice.