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The Ten Oxherding Pictures of Zen: Series 2

English translations from poems by Kaku-an
Chinese poems by Kuo An Zhe


I. Searching for the Ox

Alone in the wilderness, lost in the jungle,
      the boy is searching, searching!
The swelling waters, the far-away mountains,
      and the unending path;
Exhausted and in despair, he knows not
      where to go,
He only hears the evening cicadas singing in
      the maple-woods.


II. Seeing the Traces

By the stream and under the trees, scattered
      are the traces of the lost;
The sweet-scented grasses are growing
      thick -- did he find the way?
However remote over the hills and far
      away the beast may wander,
His nose reaches the heavens and none
      can conceal it.


III. Seeing the Ox

On a yonder branch perches a nigheingale
      cheerfully singing;
The sun is warm, and a soothing breeze
      blows, on the bank the willows
      are green;
The ox is there all by himself, nowhere
      is he to hide himself;
The splendid head decorated with stately
      horns -- what painter can
      reproduce him?


IV. Catching the Ox

With the energy of his whole being,
      boy has at last taken hold of the ox:
But how wild his will, how
      ungovernable his power!
At times he struts up a plateau,
When Lo! he is lost again in a
      misty unpenetrable mountain-pass.


V. Herding the Ox

The boy is not to separate himself with
      his whip and tether,
Lest the animal should wander away into
      a world of defilements;
When the ox is properly tended to,
      he will grow pure and docile;
Without a chain, nothing binding, he will
      by himself follow the oxherd.


VI. Coming Home on the Ox's Back

Riding on the animal, he leisurely
      wends his way home;
Enveloped in the evening mist, how
      tunefully the flute vanishes away!
Singing a ditty, beating time,
      his heart is filled with a joy
That he is now one of those who know,
      need it be told?


VII. The Ox Forgotten, Leaving the Man Alone

Riding on the animal, he is at last back
      in his home,
Where lo! the ox is no more; the man
      alone sits serenely.
Though the red sun is high up in the sky,
      he is still quietly dreaming,
Under a straw-thatched roof are his whip
      and rope idly lying.


VIII. The Ox and the Man Both Gone out of Sight

All is empty -- the whip, the rope,
      the man, and the ox;
Who can ever survey the vastness
      of heaven?
Over the furnace burning ablaze,
      not a flake of snow can fall:
When this state of things obtains,
      manifest is the spirit of the
      ancient master.


IX. Returning to the Origin, Back to the Source

To return to the Origin, to be back
      at the Source -- already a false step this!
Far better it is to stay at home,
      blind and deaf, and without much ado;
Sitting in the hut, he takes no
      cognisance of things outside,
Behold the streams flowing -- whither
      nobody knows; and the flowers
      vividly red -- for whom are they?


X. Entering the city with Bliss-bestowing Hands

Bare-chested and bare-footed, he comes
      out into the market-place;
Daubed with mud and ashes,
      how broadly he smiles!
There is no need for the miraculous
      power of the gods,
For he touches, and lo!
      the dead trees are in full bloom.
Last modified: July 11, 2004
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