五 Taming the Ox

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I don’t dare take my eyes off the ox for a single moment
The dust has just begun to settle

Still gripping the rope, it now hangs slack
Occasionally brushing the ground

The ox comes over and nudges my arm with its nose
I rub his forehead and scratch behind his ears

It’s time to move on
I loosen the knot from around the ox’s neck
He follows me by his own will

Before my eyes
His dark coat becomes white

The difference between an ox and a bull is that an ox has been castrated, producing a more docile creature.

Perhaps up until this point, we really were chasing a bull. But there still remains more cutting off to do…

Taming the Bull

One does not let go of the whip or the rope,
Afraid it will stray and choose the dusty mist.
A well-tended ox becomes gentle,
And even with no rope will follow people by himself.

四 Catching the Ox

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The mountain berries I’d collected for the journey have all been eaten
There is nothing in my knapsack to sustain me
With nothing left but determinationI rope the ox

But the ox resists, the rope irritates his broad neck
He tears through the hills, knocking down everything in its way
With the strength and momentum of the ever-changing universe

I grip the rope tighter, but what hope do I have?

He charges, pinning me to the ground
Pressed beneath its heavy skull and long pointed horns
Then he turns to the rocky peak and disappears in the gathering clouds

Rope hanging down from a tethered cloud
I could walk away now, it would be less painful
But I, too, am stubborn

Somewhere deep within I know I shouldn’t do this, but, oops, I just did…

Mountain streams don’t suddenly change direction, the sun won’t likely rise in the west.

The wonderful thing about the human mind is that it can change its course. But after lifetimes of running wild, it can sometimes seem impossible.

But a friend, and monk, once told me that just acquiring the intention to change immediately creates a huge shift in the momentum of our Karma.

Catching the Bull

With all my energy, I seize the ox.
His will is strong, and his power inexhaustible,
He cannot be easily tamed.
Sometimes he charges to the high plateau,
And there he stays, deep in the mist.

三 Perceiving the Ox

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A magpie calls out from a branch above my head
At the sound, the clouds disappear
The mountain painted in the warm evening light
Bamboo rustles by the river

I’ve traced the ox into an open valley
Without a crag, gorge, or even a boulder to hide behind
Now what brush is there that holds enough ink
 To render the full extent of his horns?

For what ever reason, it seems that there is usually an outer experience accompanying realization. There are many stories of monks attaining enlightenment at the sound of a bell, a drum, or a bird song. The Buddha’s moment of enlightenment happened when, after days of deep meditation, he looked up and saw a morning star hanging in the sky.

The first time I caught a flash of insight (and just about every time since) I immediately got caught up in thoughts of what “I” just experienced, and with that the ox remains at arm’s length.

No thinking or conceptualizing will get me any closer to the ox. I’ll just be sitting there grasping at his tail for eternity.

Why do I even keep making an ox?

Can you look at these words and see only the pixels of the screen?

Perceiving the Ox

A bush warbler sings upon a branch,
Warm sun, soft breezes, green willows on the bank.
Nowhere can the ox escape to hide,
But those majestic horns are difficult to draw.

二 Discovering the Hoofprints

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Disoriented, distracted, unaware, and unmindful

At the bank of the river I sit for a moment to soak my feet
Hands cupped, I bring the cold, clear water to my face
Wet hands rubbing my neck
I feel the dirt running down my back

For the first time, I am aware of the smells surrounding me

Taking in a deep breath, I notice something…
Hoofprints in the soil, leading behind a bamboo grove

There is only one beast that could have left these prints 
But in this fantastic forest which way should I look?
Even its ghostly snort is difficult to place
Whispering from the mountain deep

My first weekend in Korea, I laid out a map of Daegu city on the floor and stared at the lines leading from my building to the downtown area. 

After about 20 minutes of twisting my neck around until it was stiff, I stepped outside and made my way downtown. Though I had a mental concept of what lines to follow, I had no idea what those lines would actually be holding. On the map it seemed like a 15 minute walk, but it took closer to an hour. But once I made it downtown, at the first corner I turned, there was my high school friend. 

Finding the Buddha-Dharma was a similar experience. I read a few books, listened to a few Dharma talks, and thought, “Wow, this is going to be easy!”

Then, reality replaced optimism and I saw the amount of work that must be done. The mind in all its fantasies, elusive, difficult to see. To find the ox first I must pull myself out from this stinking pile of bull, dimming all my senses. It’s difficult realize your own stench when it’s been in your nose for so long.

But when encountering the Buddha-Dharma, I also found a Sangha, friends to help each other along.

Maybe the most important thing of all in finding the hoofprints is finding a direction, a path, a way. 

Discovering the Footprints

By the water, and under the trees,
There are numerous traces.
Fragrant grasses grow thickly,
Did you see the ox?
Even in the depths of the distant mountain forest,
How could the upturned nostrils of the ox be concealed?

一 Searching for the Ox

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The marsh grass sways side to side in the autumn wind
I grasp at the long blades as they brush between my fingers
I’m not sure where the next step will take me
Urged on by a whim and a lost memory

The river winds into the forest, I follow the trail of mist
The mountains, like clouds floating above the horizon
Don’t seem any closer, no matter how far I go

10,000 miles I’ve traveled
Sometimes on moss but mostly jagged stone
My feet are blistered, my muscles ache
My body covered in grime

Left behind are the lullabies of the spring peepers
In this strange land the screech of cicadas pervades these woods.

I didn’t intend to be so influenced by the traditional poem, but looking at it, it reminded me so much of my experience from early childhood until now. The strongest image I carry of my home is the river winding around the cow field, the farmhouse and into the woods. As I child, I used to draw picture after picture of mountains I’d never actually seen. In East-Asia, “10,000” is a traditional metaphor for countless but my home is actually 10.900 km from Seoul (I liked the sound of the word ‘miles’ better). I’d never seen or heard a cicada before coming to Korea, but their presence definitely doesn’t go unnoticed!

So what have I found after traveling all this way? When you get far enough away, you’re on your way back home…

Really, there’s nothing to go off searching for, the ox hasn’t ever left my side. But because I made ‘here’ then ‘there’ happened and everything got divided in the confusion.

The version of the poem I chose to guide me  I found at Ox Herding, a translation of Kuòān Shīyuǎn from The Oxherder, by Stephanie Wada;

Searching for the Ox

One aimlessly pushes the grasses aside in search.
The rivers are wide, the mountains far away,
And the path become longer.
Exhausted and dispirited.
One hears only the late autumn cicadas
Shrilling in the maple woods.

on break…

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Nothing too serious, but I was in the passenger’s seat of a car that was rear-ended the other night, and already having scoliosis, my spine isn’t feeling the greatest (trying to sit straight and meditate felt like I had breast-implants on my shoulders!).

The thing about being in a car accident in Korea is that it’s almost like winning a small lottery, immediately EunBong’s father was calling saying how much money I can get if I spend three days in the hospital. Being a taxi driver, he knows! Even if I get some cash out of it, I’d rather not have the bother at all, but I do need some treatment, so I’m heading to the “taxi driver hospital” for two or three days of acupressure and massage. Shouldn’t be too bad, really, but it’ll be strange being away from EunBong and Fina for the first time.

Next week is also my vacation, so I’ll we’ll be gone for a few days once I get out, so I won’t be around computers much over the next week and a half.

Hope everyone else stays out of harm’s way!