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Wudang Kungfu & Qigong Series:
Taoist Enlightenment Process in the Light of Ox-Herding Pictures

Writen by Xuezhi Hu, edited by Vietanh
Please follow the requirement stipulated in Copyright if you want to copy it


1. The Preface
2. Ode to Ox-Herding Pictures: Part One
3. Ord to Ox-Herding Pictures: Part Two

Ode to Ox-herding Pictures: Part One

1. Ox not tamed in herd

ox-herding 1

"Ferociously roars the ox,
who dash around with its crooked horns,
rushing about without impediment
till mountain river turns away with road stretching far into distance.
A piece of black cloud overhanging over mouth of a valley,
Who knows, one step after another in farmer’s field, the ox is devastating the young seedling!

Here the ox is a metaphor indicating our heart-mind who has not underwent any discipline. It prefers to go mad and crazy in chasing after what is desirable and lovable, regardless even of the physical life at sometime. Therefore, all sorts of means should be applied to tame it first hand. This looks more close to the ways of Taoist alchemist, rather than practitioners from Chan Buddhism.

Therefore, Lao Tzu said in the chapter 12 as follows:

The five colours make the eyes blind;
The five notes make the ears deaf;
The five flavors deprive the mouth of taste.
Riding and hunting make the mind wild;

The Yellow Emperor went to see Master Kuang Ch'eng, to ask about the administration of the body:

Master Kuang Ch'eng sat up with a start. "Excellent, this question of yours! Come, I will tell you about the Perfect Tao. The essence of the Perfect Tao is profoundly obscure and vague; the subtlety of the Perfect Tao is profoundly elusive and stillness. See nothing, hear nothing, enfold Shen in quietude and the body will go right of its own accord. Be still, be pure, do not labor your body, do not churn up your Jing, and then you can live a long life. There is nothing to be beheld by eyes, nothing to be heard by ears, nothing to be known by heart, then your Shen shall stay in guard for the body, and the body will thereby enjoy long life. Cherish that which is within you, block off what is outside you, much knowledge will do harm.

If it is ways characterizing Chan Buddhism, it would not talk about the unruliness of the heart-mind (ox) when the heart-mind (ox) becomes the main theme in question. Otherwise, slaughter the ox with a sharp sword would not be an easy way to solve the problem (Yes, Chan Buddhism advocates no killing)? If it is way characterizing the six patriarchs of the Chan Buddhism, it would to “keep dusting it in order to prevent it from incur the least dust.” But, why there appears the word “forgetfulness” in later poems? “Forgetfulness” should be typical of Chuang Tzu’s approaches because in Chuang Tzu you can quickly find the passage like “To be forgetful in sitting meditation” which advocates to let heart-mind be in a void, then let all motion gradually come to a standstill, then to fall into forgetfulness of anything, then to forget about everything and follow whatever arises and sinks as it is in total oblivion.

2. The initial tameness

ox herding picture 2

A rope that runs through the nose of ox, I have mounted!
One time dashing off should be well rewarded with a burning pain plus whip lashing!
Even since the beginning the difficulty is the bad habituation to modulate!
Now there comes the task for shepherd boy trying his best to alter the circumstance!

For initial meditation people may find it difficult to be quiet because the heart-mind is easily to subject to the temptation by outside objects. Such instance is much similar to the small children who attend the school at early age: they cannot remain silent and sit there with no motion (this is typical of Chinese education tradition for students in their kindergarten or junior schools!). For them it is really an agony since they are forced to do so.

Most people know it is difficult to tame wild cattle, much worse if with whip in hand riding on the back while you order it to head east, west. You know, in such circumstance, you might risk falling from the back or even fall down to death when the cattle runs crazy. Therefore, the best solution is “mount a rope that runs through the nose of ox, thereby you can easily achieve the effect of ordering the cattle to any direction as you like", which can rid of the risk to be thrown down from the cattle back. In fact, Such a rope denotes "Concentrate the heart-mind" from alchemist’s point of view, and for meditation novice, it indicates a suggestion please place the heart-mind stop at listening. Chuang Tzu said; "Concentrate your mind-will. Hear not with your ears, but with your mind." Yes, for most practitioners they are sure to encounter the difficulties that the heart-mind remains at large and refuses to fall into control.

Some additional methods should be applied to offer a help hand, such as counting the breathing or reversal breathing (belly sticks out when exhale while belly shrinks when inhale) or the visualization of bones of the dead. In a word, to tame the wildness of the heart-mind and that is the point. This can well explain the message “now it becomes the task for shepherd boy trying his best to alter the circumstance.”

3. Modulation

ox herding picture 3

Apply the gradual modulation to cease the boarse wildness,
while gaining the gradual submissiveness little by little.
Wade across rivers, ferry through clouds, unconsciously the cattle begins
to follow step by step.
Still handle the rope with no less strength,
the shepherd boy all day long gets accustomed to the gradual forgetfulness, and of the tiredness.

Starting with concentration, yet later on you may find the heart-mind has gradually been free of much delusional thinking, and it might in an instant follow the some spontaneous motion without any support--despite stray ideas may occur sometimes, but it was soon back on the track with the spontaneous motion again. Accordingly, there comes the effect "wade across rivers, ferry through clouds, unconsciously the cattle begins to follow step by step." But people have to keep paying attention to use the heart-mind to listen rather than using ears, lest it should re-take the former course again to wander around with no constrains.

At beginning such kind of work may be very tired, but after sometime practitioners can gradually get accustomed to it, and the tired feeling may disappear naturally. Here we borrow “ode to Mythical Source and Grand Tao," written by Chao Wen Yee for better understanding:

Once someday attainment achieved it is a fully free excursion,
On reflecting upon the refining and cooking process you would sigh over the hard-working you had done!
Though hard-working it is, yet actually no diligence is required,
As the only work you were required to do is to foster the primeval Shen.
It is regrettable the mind prefers to be busy,
At this critical time either to round of or to set free all is within the play of your hand!

4. Looking back

ox herding picture 4

In the course of time, as meritorious deeds committed in succession,
there comes the time that the wildness comes to an end,
as well as frantic force was gradually transformed into the meekness and gentleness.
But the mountain boy does not open up as much as to reach the stage of by just exchange one for another given,
Therefore, the rope remains tethered still within his hands.

After the practice of concentration of heart-mind, the heart-mind is no longer difficult to tame as before and its wildness begins to be worn down, and it gets to be blurred together with any motion unconsciously. However, this was not the time to enter the second phase "to listen with Chi," because concentrated heart-mind (we should call it true intention) and spontaneous motion has not been fully unified to full extent. The Taoist inner alchemy books prefer to liken concentrated heart-mind to women, the spontaneous motion to men and their combination to the intercourse which caused lots of confusion or even brought about the conceptualization of double cultivation which remains very popular in Western world. People should understand they are but the metaphors and should not be interpreted as one way for enlightenment as most false masters claim.

At this stage, though the two begin to stick to each other, there still has in place the intention sometimes be set up to keep them together. So, “the rope remains tethered still within his hands .”

5. Tamed

Ox herding picture 5

Beside the old stream, under the shade of green poplar trees,
let go from the hands or tighten up the rope
all is been carried out by its own course.
By nightfall green clouds are roaming high over meadow bank,
Shepherd boy is returning yet with no rope tightened up.

At this point there already attained the status of "true intention and spontaneous motion depend upon each other", and any intention to hold them two together is but the attachment in extra as the two have gradually united to form an oneness that cannot split with any easiness. This is the status "to listen with Chi." Even some instant of sense activity may casually enter the non-conscious domain, it would not cause any effect to the state on the account that the true intention has been in love with the spontaneous motion for no one knows how long. Therefore, people do not have to deliberately discriminate who is who.

| Preface | Part One | Part Two |

Wudang Taoism Kung Fu Academy
Mount Wudang Scenery Zone
ShiYan City, Hubei Province, China.
Tel: 0086-136-0988-6620 (foreign)
Tel: (0)-136-0988-6620 (domestic)