Bull Herding

The Bull Herding Story

The bull is a metaphor for the ‘Self’, grasping it, taming it, merging with it and finally just carrying on with everyday life. The Bull Herding pictures depict the progress of a Zen student as a cowherd in search of the lost bull. 

1. Looking for the Bull
2. Noticing the Footprints
3. Catching Sight of the Bull
4. Getting Hold of the Bull
5. Taming the Bull
6. Riding Home
7. The Bull has Vanished
8. Bull and Herder Vanished
9. Returning to the Source
10. Entering the Marketplace

For a human through ignorance is bereft of soul (1), and, like the cowherd, once roused for the search, trudges on in the almost imperceptible footprints (2), till he discovers first the tail (3) and then the body of that which he seeks. Next ensues the struggle for mastery (4)–a fierce combat and terrible warfare between the mundane senses and the inner light. The herdsman conquers (5), and, seated on the back of the now docile animal, goes serenely on his way, playing a simple melody on the flute (6) thus he forgets himself and the beast. To him the day is sweet, with its green willows and crimson flowers. These vanish again, and he delights to move about in the pure moonlight, where at once he is and yet is not (7). Thus, to Zen thinking, victories over the inner self are more true than the austere penances of the mediæval hermit, who tormented his flesh instead of disciplining his mind. The body is a crystal vessel, through which the rainbow of the Great Existence is to shine (8). The mind is like a great lake, clear to its bottom, reflecting the clouds that hover over it, sometimes ruffled by winds which make it foam and rage, but only to settle down into the original calm, never losing its purity, or its own nature (9). The world is full of a pathos of existence which is yet merely incidental, and one must battle and war with serenity and imperturbability, as if going to the everyday, ordinary marketplace(10).
(Text by Kakuzo Okakura, 1904, images from a 14th cent. Japanese scroll.)

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