Tony Patchell recently shared with me the Zen tale of Ten Bulls, a story about the journey to self-awareness. I am going to share it with you here over the next ten days, with comments as they come up for me.
The text and drawings are excerpted from Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings. The story is by Kakuan, transcribed by Nyogen Senzaki and Paul Reps, and illustrated by Tomikichiro Tokuriki. (Comments in italics are part of the text.) Copyright Charles Tuttle and Co. (Hopefully that covers all the legal bases...)
1. The Search for the Bull
In the pasture of this world, I endlessly push aside the tall grasses in search of the bull. Following unnamed rivers, lost upon the interpenetrating paths of distant mountains, My strength failing and my vitality exhausted, I cannot find the bull. I only hear the locusts chirring through the forest at night.
Comment: The bull never has been lost. What need is there to search? Only because of separation from my true nature, I fail to find him. In the confusion of the senses I lose even his tracks. Far from home, I see many crossroads, but which way is the right one I know not. Greed and fear, good and bad, entangle me.
I have always been a seeker...of knowledge, of home, of the heart of goodness. My seeking began innocently enough, as a child raised in a Christian family, doubting the religion, finding more questions than answers at Sunday school. I separated completely from that faith at a young age, and turned instead towards a moral ethic, something I felt existed apart from spirituality. I made up rigid rules for myself, and expected others to follow them as well. By the time I was 20, I had come face to face with so many betrayals and obstacles that I lost hope in that explanation.
For many years after that, I wandered. Without planning, I somehow managed to always choose the hardest path: the rockiest relationships, the most challenging situations. I became split into two people: the cynic who believed only the worst in people, and the innocent who continually hoped for the best. That held true for the way I felt about myself as well. I both hated myself, and loved my intentions.
By the time I was in my mid-30s, I was emotionally spent and physically exhausted. I had all but abandoned the thought that it would ever be anything but what it was at that time - living hell. I cannot find the bull. I only hear the locusts chirring through the forest at night. I was lost in that night, and fear had overcome me to the point that I truly believed morning would never come.
In the commentary, it says: Far from home, I see many crossroads, but which way is the right one I know not. Greed and fear, good and bad, entangle me. That was me, caught up in a tangled web of uncertainty. My whole life had become the search. In a way, though, I guess I was lucky. Things were so bad, that it was obvious it was time to find a new way. For that I am grateful.