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Ruminations on Zen's Cows  

Part 13: Xu Yunís Commentary on the Oxherding Pictures

by Ming Zhen Shakya, OHY

The following is a composite of several translations of Master Xu Yunís "Eleven Stanzas on the Song in Praise of Tending an Ox as Requested by the Students of Gushan Buddhist Institute." (Unfortunately, we do not have the actual pictures Xu Yun was looking at when he wrote his comments.)

1. Pushing Aside the Grass to Look for the Ox

Wanting to break through to Emptiness with my white cudgel
I cried out louder than the bellowing Ox, mooing through my senses.
I followed mountain and stream searching for the Ox, seeking it everywhere.
But I couldnít tell in which direction it had gone... west?... or east?

2. Suddenly Seeing Tracks

On I searched... into the mountains and along the river banks.
But in every direction I went, I went in vain.
Who would have suspected that it was right where I stood;
That I needed only nod my head and my true Self would appear before me.

3. Seeing the Ox

Its wild nature is now calmed in lazy sleep.
By the stream, under the trees, crushing the blades of dew laden grass
The Ox sleeps without a care.
At last I have found it... there with its great head and horns.

4. Piercing the Oxís Nose

I rush forward and pierce the Oxís nose!
It wildly jerks and jumps
But I feed it when it is hungry and give it water when it thirsts.
Then I allow the Oxherding Boy to take care of it.

5. Training the Ox

I have supported you with great care for many years
And you plow - not mud and water, but clouds!
From dawn until dusk, the natural grass sustains you
And you keep your master company by sleeping out of doors.

6. Returning Home Riding the Ox

What place in these cloudy mountains is not my home?
Thereís greenery everywhere - so lush itís hard to tell
Crops from wild grasses. I donít intrude on planted fields.
I ride the Ox and let him graze along the roadside.

7. Keeping the Person Because of the Ox

I went from the city to the edge of the sea
I returned riding backwards in a white ox wagon.
Into this painted hall comes a spinning red wheel.
The New Bride finally arrives, and from my own house!

8. The Bride and the Ox are Forgotten

I remember the old days as I brush out dead ashes from the cold stove.
Silently, without a trace, I pace back and forth for no reason.
But today the ice is broken by a plum blossom!
A tiger roars, a dragon growls, and all the creatures of the universe surround me.

9. Returning to the Origin and the Essence

Every thing and every creature under the sun has its own nature.
Hasnít this knowledge been passed down through generations?
When the Ox suddenly roars like a lion
Everything in the universe reveals such infinite variety.

10. Coming Home with Folded Hands

How wide are the horizons of the spinning earth!
The moonlight leads the tides and the sunís light will not be confined
Within the net of heaven. But in the end all things return to the One.
The deaf and dumb, the crippled and deformed are all restored to the Oneís Perfection.

11. The Concluding Song

In the beginning there was nothing, nor was anything lacking.
The paper was blank. We pick up the paint brush and create the scene...
The landscape, the wind whipping water into waves.
Everything depends upon the stroke of our brush.
Our Ox lets the good earth lead it,
Just as our brush allows our hand to move it.
Take any direction, roam the world to its farthest edge.
All comes back to where it started... to blessed Emptiness.

The Oxherder, the Spinning Maiden and the Ox. Ceramic figurine at Hsu Yun Temple, Honolulu.

Ruminations On Zen Cows ©1998 Ming Zhen Shakya


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Last modified: November 26, 2004
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