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Ten Ox-Herding Pictures (불교미술_십우도)

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Writer Jogye Date22 Jul 2015 Read2,271 Comment0

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Buddhist Art of Korea_​

Ten Ox-Herding Pictures (十牛圖; Sibu do)

십우도

The ten ox-herding pictures are a series of short poems and accompanying pictures that illustrate the stages on the path of meditation practice, the attainment of enlightenment, and the edification of sentient beings. They are also referred to as the “Pictures in Search of the Ox (尋牛圖)” as they depict a young ox-herder’s search for his lost ox; or “Pictures of Ox Taming (牧牛圖)” as they involve the ox-herder’s efforts to tame his ox. In short, they are Seon pictures which portray the stages of a practitioner's progression towards attaining his or her true self (enlightenment) through the comparison of the practitioner’s mind to the ox.

The first picture is titled “Seeking the Ox (尋牛)” as it depicts a boy monk beginning to search for his ox. The practitioner has aroused an aspiration for enlightenment and is searching for his true self.

The second picture is titled “Discovery of the Footprints (見跡)” wherein the boy monk has found some footprints of the ox. This symbolizes that practitioner has seen some sign of his true self.

The third picture is titled “First Glimpse of the Ox (見牛)” as the boy monk sees the rear or the tail of the ox. The practitioner begins to see the root of things, signaling his approach to enlightenment.

The fourth picture is titled “Catching the Ox (得牛).” The boy monk has finally caught the tail of the ox and harnesses it. This means that he has found his true self but that his mental and emotional defilements have not been cleansed, so he must persevere in practice. The ox is colored in black, symbolizing the practitioner’s mind is still defiled.

The fifth picture is titled “Taming the Ox (牧牛).” The boy monk has put a ring through the ox’s nose and is taming the ox. It is not easy to cleanse the defilements, but with diligent practice, the practitioner is gradually walking toward the enlightenment. Thus the color of the ox changes gradually to white.

The sixth picture is titled “Riding the Ox Home (騎牛歸家).” At last the boy monk returns home, playing a flute, while riding the white, well-tamed ox. Now the ox does not wander any more symbolizing that the meditator is calm as he has found his true self.

The seventh picture is titled “Ox Forgotten, Self Alone (忘牛在人).” The ox is not seen but only the boy monk sits alone. As the ox is just an expedient, he must forget all about it upon returning home. Originally there is nothing to lose or find. The mind is just in its place. It is we who are lost.

The eighth picture is titled “Both Self and Ox Forgotten (人牛俱忘).” There exists only one empty circle. The practitioner realizes that neither the ox nor the self has any substance and that both are empty.

The ninth picture is titled “Returning to the Source (返本還源).” There is only a landscape through which a river flows quietly and red flowers blossom. It means that the meditator has penetrated through the world as it is and now sees all things as they are; the mountains are seen as mountains and water as water.

The tenth picture is titled “Returning to Help Sentient Beings (入廛垂手).” It depicts a monk carrying a sack with his hands extended and walking to a village where sentient beings are in order to save them. This image portrays the newly enlightened practitioner coming forward to save sentient beings.

- excerpt from Buddhist English (Intermediate 2) published in 2014 by the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism

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