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The Ten Oxherding Pictures were first compiled in 12th century China as a series of images and accompanying texts in an attempt to inspire practitioners by elucidating the various stations of practice and realization as encountered in the Ch'an (Zen) Buddhist tradition. Over the centuries, the original series has been reinterpreted and reimagined many times, in many cultures.
Images below by Catherine Jao, used by permission (sumi ink on handmade paper mounted on shikishi | email@example.com | www.facebook.com/catherine.jao.art). Text by Hoag Holmgren, expanded from No Better Place: a New Zen Primer (Middle Creek, 2019) .
In the first picture, The Search for the Ox, a solitary seeker, the Oxherder, is on a quest. She probably has access to adequate shelter, food, and safety. She may even have wealth, power,
and a Tesla. Nonetheless, she experiences a deep existential ache. Something is missing. Culturally sanctioned definitions of success feel hollow. She has heard of a vast, foundational aspect of being (symbolized by the Ox) buried beneath layers of habitual thinking and preoccupations. She finds herself increasingly wondering: can this Ox bring me greater peace, depth, connection, and meaning? What is this Ox? Where is it? The search for the Ox has begun.