Zen Ox Herding 3: First Glimpse of the Ox

A nightingale warbles on a twig,

the sun shines on undulating willows.

There stands the Ox, where could it hide?

That splendid head, those stately horns,

what artist could portray them?

This is where you get a glimpse of the truth you’re seeking. It isn’t full enlightenment because you only see the tail of the ox, but you realise that the truth of your Buddha Nature was hidden in plain sight all along. Now you know from your own experience that the dharma teachings are true. You no longer have to take others at their word. Faith is transformed into direct experience.

This stage of awakening is called kensho in Zen and it occurs as a result of grace. It’s not something you can force or make happen. Anadi explains:

“The ox has to enter the landscape of our perception in order to be identified – it has to show itself to the seeker. This revelation is a function of grace, initiation, or transmission. A seeker cannot simply stumble upon the ox because it must agree to be seen: it descends from another dimension that cannot be bridged either through practice or self-enquiry.”

This doesn’t mean that meditation is a waste of time or that you shouldn’t bother searching. You need to prepare your mind and this is best done through learning concentration and meditation which gives you the discipline to understand what you see when it does finally happen.

The first glimpse of the ox can also come upon you unawares. Instead of finding the ox, the ox finds you.

This is what happened to me. I wasn’t on the spiritual path and wasn’t searching for anything. All I knew was that I was unhappy. There had been many ‘ox droppings’ along the way, but I was unable to make sense of them. I didn’t know to look for the path – I didn’t even know it was there. So the ox ambushed me and knocked me onto the path. It was only after that first glimpse, what I now call First Contact, that I began to search.

So it looks like I stumbled upon the ox, but perhaps not. The glimpse you receive at this stage feels like the recognition of something you’ve always known – like coming home. The truth is always there, just waiting to be remembered.

Whatever the cause and however it happens, it’s important to remember that just because you’ve seen into the true nature of everything doesn’t mean you have mastery. And once you’ve had your first glimpse of the truth, it’s not enough, you want more. You want to see the whole Ox, not just its tail…

Next: Catching the Ox

Painting by Jikihara Gyokusei and Verse by Kuoan Shiyuan

Read whole series here