ZEN: 10 Bulls & What Is Zen?

10 Bulls

Narrated by: Peter Coyote
Length: 1 hrs 2 mins
Language: English

Ten Bulls or Ten Ox Herding Pictures is a series of short poems and accompanying drawings used in the Zen tradition to describe the stages of a practitioner’s progress toward enlightenment, and their return to society to enact wisdom and compassion.

Kuòān Shīyuǎn’s Ten Bulls

  • 1. In Search of the Bull
    In the pasture of the world,
    I endlessly push aside the tall
    grasses in search of the Ox.
    Following unnamed rivers,
    lost upon the interpenetrating
    paths of distant mountains,
    My strength failing and my vitality exhausted, I cannot find the Ox.
  • 2. Discovery of the Footprints
    Along the riverbank under the trees,
    I discover footprints.
    Even under the fragrant grass,
    I see his prints.
    Deep in remote mountains they are found.
    These traces can no more be hidden
    than one’s nose, looking heavenward.[web 9]
  • 3. Perceiving the Bull
    I hear the song of the nightingale.
    The sun is warm, the wind is mild,
    willows are green along the shore –
    Here no Ox can hide!
    What artist can draw that massive head,
    those majestic horns?[web 9]
  • 4. Catching the Bull
    I seize him with a terrific struggle.
    His great will and power
    are inexhaustible.
    He charges to the high plateau
    far above the cloud-mists,
    Or in an impenetrable ravine he stands.[web 9]
  • 5. Taming the Bull
    The whip and rope are necessary,
    Else he might stray off down
    some dusty road.
    Being well-trained, he becomes
    naturally gentle.
    Then, unfettered, he obeys his master.[web 9]
  • 6. Riding the Bull Home
    Mounting the Ox, slowly
    I return homeward.
    The voice of my flute intones
    through the evening.
    Measuring with hand-beats
    the pulsating harmony,
    I direct the endless rhythm.
    Whoever hears this melody
    will join me.[web 9]
  • 7. The Bull Transcended
    Astride the Ox, I reach home.
    I am serene. The Ox too can rest.
    The dawn has come. In blissful repose,
    Within my thatched dwelling
    I have abandoned the whip and ropes.[web 9]
  • 8. Both Bull and Self Transcended
    Whip, rope, person, and Ox –
    all merge in No Thing.
    This heaven is so vast,
    no message can stain it.
    How may a snowflake exist
    in a raging fire.
    Here are the footprints of
    the Ancestors.[web 9]
  • 9. Reaching the Source
    Too many steps have been taken
    returning to the root and the source.
    Better to have been blind and deaf
    from the beginning!
    Dwelling in one’s true abode,
    unconcerned with and without –
    The river flows tranquilly on
    and the flowers are red.[web 9]
  • 10. Return to Society
    Barefooted and naked of breast,
    I mingle with the people of the world.
    My clothes are ragged and dust-laden,
    and I am ever blissful.
    I use no magic to extend my life;
    Now, before me, the dead trees
    become alive.[web 9]