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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 | catherine.c.jao@gmail.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 stories of a vast, foundational aspect of being (symbolized by the Ox) buried beneath layers of habitual thinking and pre-occupations. To be alienated from this aspect of being, so the stories claim, is to feel lacking and anguished, regardless of one's circumstances. She finds herself increasingly wondering: How can I determine if these stories are valid? How can I too experience greater peace, depth, connection, and meaning? 

 © 2020 Hoag Holmgren