Herding the Ox (part 1)

The Ten Ox Herding verses describe the process of uncovering our inherent, enlightened Buddha-nature, represented here by the ox. Variations of these are popular throughout East Asia as a way of describing the spiritual path. This translation is from Daehaeng Kun Sunim’s Korean version.  For Barry, at Ox Herding 🙂

1. Searching for the Ox
On plains that stretch forward without end,
pushing through the tall grass and brush,
looking for the ox.
Going here and there,
following a nameless river
and unknown paths deep into the mountains.
Utterly exhausted,
yet still no trace of the ox,
In the gathering dusk,
only the sounds of the crickets.

                                          2. Finding Tracks of the Ox

on a river bank,
under a tree,
hoof prints of the ox!
And there,
under the sweetly flowing water,
an ox print clearly seen.
Stretching out before me
as plain as day,
hoof prints!
                                                                                         3. Glimpsing the Ox 

Somewhere a bird is singing.
Under the warm sun,
a peaceful breeze.
On the banks of the river,
the willow trees are brilliant green,
how could an ox hide here!
But look at that massive head,
and those wide horns.
What kind of strength will it take
to drag it back to the path?

4. Catching the Ox

It was a difficult fight,
but at last I’ve caught the ox.
So stubborn and willful,
its strength seemed endless,
like it could tear through mountains.
But at last the ox has come to a standstill.
Long accustomed to roaming here and there,
at last it has come to a stop.

5. Taming the ox

To tame this ox
requires a whip and some rope.
I tied the rope through its nose ring,
but still have to use the whip.
Otherwise the ox will rush about,
rolling in the mud,
or getting stuck in the marsh.
But when he’s tamed,
his gentle, true nature will show,
and he’ll follow me,
even without a nose ring.

(to be continued…)

6 thoughts on “Herding the Ox (part 1)”

  1. Oh, thanks for posting these lovely verses, Sunim! I appreciate their clear, gentle spirit. And also Kunsunim’s recognition of the strength of the ox: “strength…it could tear through mountains.” Wow!

    I learned a lot by writing my own verses to go with the images and I know other people also write verses to reflect their own understanding. You can see my own versions, beginning with the first post in a series of 10:

  2. Nose rings are cruel inventions. However, I notices that my Juingong has me on a leash – every time my attention goes out, even a little bit, I get some (or alot!) suffering, at first I thought it is coinsidence, but it never failed; tough love…

  3. Hi Chong Go,
    This is new to me and I looked up Barry’s site ox-herding, interesting stuff, thanks!

    1. Hi Rachael,
      Barry has a really great, and original version of the first one. I’ve thought about it for a while, and I kind of think the traditional ones start where his first verse ends, but it’s still a great and accurate verse about life and the spiritual path. If someone had a problem with that one, then I would say that’s the first of 11 verses!

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