57 Days – The Journey (Ten Oxherding Pictures)

The Ten Ox-Herding Pictures, also known as the Ten Bulls or Ten Ox-Herding Poems, is a series of illustrations and accompanying verses that depict the stages of spiritual development in Zen Buddhism. The ten stages are:

  1. Seeking the Ox: The seeker begins their spiritual journey, searching for enlightenment.
  2. Finding the Footprints: The seeker begins to find signs of the path to enlightenment.
  3. Seeing the Ox: The seeker has a glimpse of enlightenment, but it is still distant.
  4. Catching the Ox: The seeker begins to make progress on the path, but enlightenment is not yet attained.
  5. Taming the Ox: The seeker begins to gain control over their mind and emotions.
  6. Riding the Ox Home: The seeker has attained enlightenment and is able to return to the world to help others.
  7. The Ox Forgotten: The seeker has transcended the need for spiritual practice and enlightenment.
  8. Both Ox and Self Forgotten: The seeker has reached a state of non-duality, where there is no separation between themselves and the world.
  9. Reaching the Source: The seeker has reached the ultimate spiritual goal.
  10. Return to Society: The seeker returns to the world and helps others on their spiritual journey.

The Ten Ox-Herding Pictures are primarily associated with Zen Buddhism and the path to enlightenment within that tradition. However, the stages depicted in the pictures may have some broader applicability to other spiritual traditions or even to personal development and self-improvement more generally.

The stages of seeking, finding, gaining control, transcending, reaching a state of non-duality and returning to society can be seen as a general roadmap for self-improvement and growth.

It is also possible to interpret the Ox-Herding Pictures as a metaphor for any kind of personal quest or journey, such as a career, a relationship, or a creative endeavor, and they may serve as a guide to mapping one’s own progress along a path.

It’s important to note that the stages are not meant to be taken literally but rather as a guide to help understand the different stages of spiritual development.

The Ten Ox-Herding Pictures are primarily a product of Zen Buddhism, which originated in China and later spread to Japan and other parts of East Asia. As such, they reflect a different cultural and philosophical tradition than the Western philosophical tradition.

There are some similarities between the stages depicted in the Ox-Herding Pictures and Western philosophical concepts such as self-discovery, self-control, and the search for meaning or purpose in life. However, the ultimate goal of the Ox-Herding Pictures is enlightenment, which is a concept that is specific to Buddhism and other Eastern spiritual traditions.

The Western philosophy, on the other hand, has a different approach and focus, the main objective is understanding the world and human existence through reason, critical thinking and various methods of inquiry. Western philosophers have explored many ideas, such as ethics, logic, metaphysics, politics, and science.

In general, the Ten Ox-Herding Pictures and Western philosophy approach the question of human existence and the meaning of life from different perspectives, with different traditions and methods, but ultimately they aim to help individuals understand themselves and the world around them better.

The Ten Ox-Herding Pictures can be seen as a journey or travel in several ways:

  1. They depict a linear progression: The pictures show a progression from the initial stage of seeking to the final stage of returning to society, much like a journey that starts at one point and ends at another.
  2. They involve movement: The pictures depict the seeker moving from one stage to the next, much like how a journey involves moving from one place to another.
  3. They involve challenges and obstacles: The pictures show the seeker facing challenges and obstacles along the way, such as catching and taming the ox, much like how a journey may involve overcoming obstacles and challenges.
  4. They involve growth and change: The pictures show the seeker undergoing changes and growing as a person, much like how a journey can involve personal growth and self-discovery.
  5. They involve a destination: The pictures depict the ultimate goal of the journey as enlightenment, much like a journey with a clear destination in mind.


Phrase of the Day: In Japanese, the koan is written as: “僧侶は老人に尋ねました、「菩提の意味は何ですか?」” (Sōryō wa rōjin ni tazunemashita, “Bodai no imi wa nanidesu ka?”)

This koan is meant to challenge the idea of seeking enlightenment through intellectual understanding, as the old man replies “I don’t know, I don’t know”. It’s also a reminder that Bodhi or the enlightenment is not something to be attained, but rather it’s the natural state of being that can be discovered by letting go of concepts and ideas.

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