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Searching for the Ox

By Tuere Sala

TUE FEB 08, 2022

This is the start of a new year and a new blog. I will send one post a month to foreshadow the month's discussion. For those of you who have not come to a sit this year, we will be looking at the 10 Ox-herding Pictures. Each picture comes with a short verse. They represent the struggle we have as practitioners living in samsara (the conditioned world). The ox (or bull) represents what can be called the true self, Buddha-nature, emptiness, and/or anatta (non-self). The oxherder represents each of us as practitioners. And the pictures tell the story of a practitioner's journey towards greater peace and acceptance with seeing things as they truly are. The ox-herding tales are primarily instructional teachings. They are designed to be reflected upon and practiced with. Do not let the simplicity fool you. They represent important turning points in our practice experience. The verses point to several things one could contemplate within the experience. Together the pictures and the verses can broaden our awareness of the nature of the path to awakening with all its challenges and benefits.

The pictures follow a specific sequencing. We will look at a different picture each month. The first week of the month we will look at the picture and verse. During the subsequent weeks of the month, we will explore the picture in greater detail. On the last week, we invite you to bring whatever artistic expression of the month's practice to the Thursday night sit and share it with the sangha. One final note - this is a significant and important Zen teaching. We, however, are not a Zen sangha. Instead, we will use these pictures as an opportunity to view our practice from a different lens, allowing us to maybe see past some of our habit patterns and habitual states of mind. 

The Buddha said the result of Dukkha is bewilderment or a noble search. To live in Samsara (the conditioned world) is to live with Dukkha. When our attention is scattered, we get lost in problem solving mode - judging, comparing and fixing. This causes us to search endlessly for external solutions in an effort to bring happiness, joy and contentment in our lives. The problem is that these external solutions are inherently ephemeral and unreliable. Even knowing this we continue to put our trust and faith in these external solutions leaving us weary and unsatisfied.

At some point, each of us come face to face with this dissatisfaction and exhaustion and face a decision to continue down the same path or to find an alternative path. This alternative path, however, is elusive. We have no idea where to start, how it works, or if it will even work. All we have is some hearing of the Dhamma and a heart belief in its truth. This is the place our oxherder is at and the place we are standing in whenever there is Dukkha. The choice we face in this moment is whether to stick with our usual ways of handling Dukkha (regardless of whether it works, it's familiar) or turn towards something new. What we are unaware of is that liberation is also present in this moment. It's just obscured by the noise of our searching.

This month's practice will focus around the felt sense experience of this searching. What does it take to quiet the noise of searching? What does it take to turn towards something new? How do we know we're at a crossroad between bewilderment and a noble search? Feel free to Join us on Thursday where we will come to some understanding together.


With a deep bow...