The traditional series of ten ox-herding pictures depict the spiritual journey from ordinary life through realization of emptiness, and the return to the everyday. The Vision Cow appeared one day on the way home from Drake’s Beach and became the basis for a modern updating of the ancient paradigm: a cow realizes its true nature and is saved from all suffering, benefiting all beings. Here are some notes on the series:
The Ordinary Life of Cows
Grazing, lazing, plenty
of grass and lots of
space. What’s not to
like? Each is a chosen
one. Who says there is
no pleasure here?
What a surprise: this feeling of
being fenced in and regimented in
lines. How did I get myself into
this? There must be some way out
of here. But where?
The Vision Cow Appears
Generating the way-seeking
mind one aspires for liberation
and is rarin’-to-go: full of ideas
about how to attain the true
way, knowing for sure the best
way to be and sticking to it.
The Vision Cow Searches
One’s sincere heart leads one on.
Where are those greener pastures
we’ve heard so much about? What
were the ancient sages thinking
when they said, “Samsara is
nirvana?” Doesn’t seem like this
could be the place.
The Vision Cow Stops for Lunch
At last a tongue-tip taste of the
dharma comes home to the heart.
Not chasing after imaginary things,
the ordinary is sacred after all.
Wellsprings of gratitude surface.
The Vision Cow Heads for Home
Ideas of where to go, how to be,
what to do, all these control trips
start to drop away. Already knowing,
there is no need for guidance. As
the poet Mary Oliver says, “Just let
the soft animal of your body love
what it loves.” Giving the cow its head,
home is everywhere you turn.
The Vision Cow Disappears
No tamer, nothing to
tame. No cow, no quest.
With no self-image to
be maintained, the self
settles on the self. Yet
somehow a lingering
sense of having gotten
somewhere leaves one
in a dream state. What
path is here? Is there
some where to stay?
Cow and Vision Disappear/Beginners’ Mind
“Udder” darkness. “From the first not a
thing is.” “Even to call it something
misses the mark.” Empty and complete
a single line runs through everything.
Far beyond “self and
udder.” With nothing to
attain and nothing more
to prove at last one sits
peacefully serene. Sitting
quietly, the grass grows.
Whole worlds appear
and disappear. “My mind
is a field of blessedness.”
Return to the World with Bliss-Bestowing Udder/Lunch with a View
A cow is completely a cow,
and the whole world rejoices.
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