The Oxherding Pictures

2 of 5

1. Looking for the Ox

"Looking for the Ox" shows a beginning practitioner who has heard the teachings of the Buddha and believes we each have Buddha-nature and the ability to attain liberation. However, he has no personal experience of Buddha-nature and must use methods of practice, such as meditation and prostration, to discover the original self.

2. Seeing the Tracks

The practitioner discovers ox tracks in the second picture. His mind has begun to calm and he has a sense of something, but he sees that the ox is not easy to find. Searching for Buddha-nature is like looking for a mountain through a thick layer of clouds. Others say it is there, but you are uncertain of what you see. Is it a cloud or a mountain? The beginning practitioner has only seen tracks. Do they belong to the ox? At this point you are attracted to practice, and practice impels you to search. Practice enhances your faith. This is seeing the traces of the ox.

3. Glimpsing the Ox

In the third picture the practitioner sees the ox's tail. Earlier, the sight of tracks gave him the faith to practice diligently and now suddenly he sees an animal. This is also described as seeing the face of pure mind, or the momentary disappearance of self-centeredness. This picture is sometimes described as seeing one's intrinsic nature, but it is only a glimpse of something -- only the tail of the ox.