The Ten Ox-Herding Pictures are traditionally considered to represent stages along the path of awakening. The first picture is of a beginner; in the last picture, the beginner has become a master. For present purposes, I'm skipping the steps in between.
The beginner appears to be intent on seeking. The master seems to have found, mastered, and transcended whatever he was looking for, and now, for lack of better words, is blessing everything he encounters.
The boy in the tenth picture looks remarkably like the beginner in the first - perhaps a hint that beginning never ends, or in T.S. Eliot's words, the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.
In Original Dwelling Place, Robert Aitken Roshi wrote:
I spend time with inquirers disabusing them about absolutes. When someone who has read a little in Zen Buddhism asks me if I am enlightened, I respond without hesitation that I most certainly am not. When someone asks me how many koans I have passed, I respond that I am still working on my very first koan and that I haven’t passed it yet. This is not false modesty but is true to the very bottom. There is enlightenment beyond enlightenment, passing beyond passing. Each milestone on the path may seem a be-all and end-all experience. Everything falls away. The everyday self disappears. Yet the path continues to open out.
Experience is the moment; the path is endless practice.
The tenth ox-herding picture brings to mind words from another tradition:
… I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. (Revelation 21:6)
The point I seem to be trying to make is that it’s never too early to spread kindness. No need to ‘attain’ something first. Just do it. The marketplace awaits your bliss-bestowing hands.
Oh and the flip side of that is, do we really believe there is something to attain? Or, perish the thought, that we have attained it?
Lately I've been discovering the music of Libera.
I am the day, soon to be born
I am the light before the morning
I am the night that will be dawn
I am the end and the beginning
I am the Alpha and Omega
The night and day, the first and last