When I lived in Daegu, I would usually head to Palgong Mountain if I was in the city for the weekend. The eastern tip of the small range has a nice, hour long hike up to Gatbawi, a stone carving of Maitreya, the future Buddha, Mireuk in Korean. The trail passes a couple temples and small hermitages. One hermitage, not far from the stone stairs that complete the way to the top, I always made a point of stopping at on the way down, if not on the way up. The paintings that adorn the outer walls of the temple are of a common theme, but this was the first place I saw them. Temples often have murals or paintings depicting scene’s from the Budha’s life. These ones have a slightly different theme, the are metaphors of the Zen path to enlightenment, an old Koan explaining the way.
They begin with a man in search of his big, brown ox, rope and whip in hand. He follows the trail of hoof print until, at last, he spots his ox Initially, it’s a struggle move the large, stubborn beast. After perseverance, the ox finally budges. Before long, the man is riding on the back of the ox, now turning from brown to white. They return to the house, where at peace, the man is no longer concerned with the ox. Alone, he takes of into the mountains to complete his journey.
I’ve wanted to write about these for a while, but I really didn’t know much more about them than what my friend had told me when we passed by the temple. A few weeks ago, I started noticing a blog titled “Ox Herding” amongst the blog lists of some of my friends and on other blogs about Buddhism. I’m not sure how he came across my blog, but he even started leaving me thoughtful comments on my posts. His name is Barry Briggs, and he was a student of Zen Master Seung San. His Ox Herding blog focuses on the Ox Herding images, their explanations, and little bits of Zen view. He’s done such a great job of writing about the Ox herding pictures that anything I have to say about them is tremendously lacking in comparison.
So, here are some links to the OX Herding blog’s great commentary on herding the Ox, including videos and links to other beautiful images:
Barry also has two other blogs, Go Drink Tea! (we must have been Dharma Brothers in another life!) it’s actually a collection of Zen Koans, and Zen Women (I know my mom will appreciate this one ^^), the title pretty much speaks for itself.