As we continue with the Oxherding stories we see in the 2nd picture that our yogi has spotted footprints. They still haven't seen the ox but knows something is there. Each of these pictures point to a significant stage in the gradual unfolding of awakening. They hold both the liberative aspect of the stage and the difficulty or tension that our ordinary mind brings to that stage. We are not trying to get rid of this tension or difficulty. The practice is actually coming to terms with and accepting the tension as a necessary part of awakening. Last month we talked about the difficulties when we are searching for a way out of our problems. We explored the pain and anguish that comes with that searching and the need to stay with it. This month we'll explore what happens when we see footprints or glimpses of what's possible with practice.
The footprints represent our basic, untested trust in the Dhamma. In this stage of our practice, we have heard from teachers, read books and maybe even learned to meditate. We believe there is something to this but we're not sure what it is. Our search takes on new energy but wait a minute, hold on, not so fast. There's still a lot of confusion around whether this practice has any real substance. Maybe it's just the latest fad. This picture is about hopefulness and doubt. Our balance between the two will determine whether we will stay with the search or just give up and go home.
One can be in this stage as a beginning practitioner. Or we can remain in this stage for several years. The difficulty with this stage depends on how long we continue to look outside ourselves for solutions. Awakening is a process of learning to trust our inner knowing. These Oxherding stories are about that process. This picture can represent the possibility and tension of understanding the overall path to awakening, as well as knowing what to do in a moment of suffering. At this point, we have no direct experience of emptiness or liberation from suffering. When we see these footprints we begin to conceptualize about what the ox looks like, in other words, we're conceptualizing what emptiness and awakening looks like by the glimpses of peace in our practice.
Those glimpses are important because they keep us on the path and keep us in a noble search.
With a deep bow...