Zen Ox-herding 8: Both Ox & Self Forgotten

Whip, rope, Ox and man alike belong to Emptiness.

So vast and infinite the azure sky

that no concept of any sort can reach it,

over a blazing fire a snowflake cannot survive.

When this state of mind is realised

comes at last comprehension

of the spirit of the ancient Patriarchs.

As we saw in the introduction, this picture was originally the last in the series: the empty circle depicting the True Self or Oneness. It’s impossible to describe this stage. This is the moment when the veil finally drops and the truth is revealed, the truth you’ve been carrying inside you all along.

Both subject and object are gone. There’s no self, no ox, no dharma, no True Self. All concepts are empty.

The subject (oxherd or small self) and object (ox or Buddha nature) are both transcended. If you have a subject, then there has to be an object. If there’s an object, you need a subject to see it. One implies and creates the other interdependently. But at this stage of the path that duality dissolves. There’s no subject or object. No inside or outside.

This is satori: the realisation of the true nature of reality where there’s no separation between self and other because there is no self or other. The small self doesn’t become one with the Self or Buddha nature, it simply vanishes. It was never really there – just a necessary illusion to bring you to this realisation.

This often happens when you least expect and usually when you’ve given up searching for it, as in the previous stage (Ox Forgotten). This was certainly true for me and I tried to capture it in words (like an idiot) here: Stop Making Sense

The circle in the picture symbolises the True Self. It’s not a perfect closed circle, but an ‘imperfect circle’. This represents things as they are: imperfection is perfect as it is. The fact that it’s not closed means it’s open to infinity.

You are this circle: complete and empty, open to the universe and unlimited potential.

But you can’t stay in this state of pure transcendence and emptiness. The realisation must be brought back down to earth and the next two pictures reveal how. To complete your journey into Buddha nature you must return from Oneness back into the world…

Next: Returning to the Source

Painting by Jikihara Gyokusei and Verse by Kuoan Shiyuan

Read whole series here