Friday, April 26, 2013

With Bliss-Bestowing Hands Searching for the Ox

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


  1. I recently heard someone call it "remembering" rather than "enlightenment." this resonated with my experience, as apparently it is a "process" of awakening to or remembering who "I am", rather than a one time event with bells, whistles and lights - which takes the "attainment/achievement" quality out of it. It demystifies it, and leaves us to rest in the awareness of "I am", and as you say, "just do it", without thought of "enlightenment" - but just living life... Nice music and lyrics...

    1. Thanks Christine, I like the remembering analogy. Just living life - especially when we act from the heart. I think it's easy to forget to remember when we get distracted. I get distracted easily by thoughts and concepts and have to keep remembering to let them go.

  2. How lovely - 'bliss-bestowing hands'- loved reading/listening to this! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and Libera - they go together so well.

    1. Thanks, Susan. Beautiful music certainly makes a good companion on our endless journey.

  3. Yet, it takes some guts to start giving something related to Dharma. As soon I make an attempt at referring to the teachings of the Buddha in my posts, I feel like a total fraud.

    The world is starving for wisdom though, and if nobody relays what the Buddha said, then he might have taught in vain.

    There's a fine line between trying my best to "redistribute" what I've heard from accomplished masters and corrupting it with my own ambitions. I never know where I'm at.

    1. Hi Gaël, thanks for stopping by to comment. I agree it's tough deciding what and how much to write. It's easy to say, as I often do, 'just follow your heart', but it's often a feeling of discomfort that tells me (I think) that I'm heading in the right direction. I appreciate your wise words over at Growing the roots of happiness!

  4. That early stage the one that is less informed, less certain, less complete is humbling... Remembering this humility as we gain knowledge and comfort in our own skin is empowering. And all this goes back full circle to recognizing how little we know - except that kindness heals at all these points of our awareness. I don't know an instance in anyone's journey where this virtue doesn't lighten the load - Beginning or end. Thanks for this reminder.

    1. Thanks Bea. I agree. Kindness is so simple and so amazing and so precious.

  5. "the Master is... blessing everything he encounters." Is it because he has universal compassion for everything, whether a bit of decaying slime, an angry demon, a very annoying situation or a sick child? Easy to feel benevolent when things are going my way, harder when they aren't. Thanks for the post!
    Ps I have your blog in my reading list but it won't open. I had to do google search to get there.

    1. Hi Herb, nice to 'see' you! I agree. My benevolent/grumpy switch needs a lot more practice not flipping...

      Not sure what the problem is with the reading list link. Blogger was messing around with URLs a while back, e.g. changing the address here from to


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