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Oxherding Pictures Index


十牛圖 Shiniu tu [Jūgyūzu]
The Ten Oxherding Pictures
Introduction and verse by
廓庵師遠 Kuoan Shiyuan [Kakuan Shien], 12th century,
translated by Lewis Hyde in three English versions: “one word ox”, “spare sense ox”, and “American ox”
Paintings by
Max Gimblett

The product of a collaborative meditation by two internationally known artistic visionaries, Max Gimblett and Lewis Hyde, oxherding is based on the Song-Dynasty Chinese “Oxherding Series,” a Zen Buddhist parable of self-discovery comprised of pictures and verse.

Max Gimblett’s ink drawings are abstract "demonstrations" of the text, not realistic illustrations, manifesting his personal vision and spiritual connection to the themes of the series. Lewis Hyde’s multiple English translations of the Chinese poems suggest several possible readings, with varying nuances of meaning and tone. The two artists’ joint approach frames the poems as a text open to interpretation and invites a larger discussion of the ways we make meaning and develop theories of knowledge.

Each Oxherding text will appear in three different English versions by Lewis Hyde: a “one word ox” which sticks slavishly to the Chinese (one word per character), a “spare sense ox,” which puts each Chinese syntactic unit into a simple English sentence, and an “American ox” (or “fat American ox”) which takes considerable liberties while trying to be faithful to his intuitions about the meaning of the series.

Max Gimblett's drawings, 2008,
sumi ink and mineral spirits on HMP Woodstock, handmade paper, 23 × 31”

Max Gimblett, a masterful painter, draftsman and Rinzai lay monk has a long and distinguished career as a sumi ink painter and regularly collaborates and exhibits calligraphy with his teacher, Zenen Dairyu, Great Dragon. Gimblett has participated in over 100 solo exhibitions, and his work was featured in the recent exhibit The Third Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia, 1860-1989 at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. A major monograph, Max Gimblett, was released in 2003, and the catalogue The Brush of All Things was published in 2004. Gimblett's works are in the collections of Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.; The Getty Research Institute for the History of Art & the Humanities, Los Angeles; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco; Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; and Auckland Art Gallery – Toi O Tamaki, Auckland. More at www.maxgimblett.com.

Lewis Hyde is a poet, essayist, translator, and cultural critic. His 1983 book, The Gift, illuminates and defends the non-commercial portion of artistic practice. Trickster Makes This World (1998) uses a group of ancient myths to argue for the kind of disruptive intelligence all cultures need if they are to remain lively, flexible, and open to change. Hyde recently publishedCommon as Air: Revolution, Art, and Ownership. A MacArthur Fellow and former director of undergraduate creative writing at Harvard University, Hyde teaches during the fall semesters at Kenyon College, where he is the Richard L. Thomas Professor of Creative Writing. During the rest of the year he lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he is a Fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. More at www.lewishyde.com.


I: Searching for the Ox

“One-Word Oxherding”
Search        Ox


From         start                 not                lost
what         use                  search            for

Because    abandoned       awakening
so              become           scarce

Living        near                dust
and           therefore         loss

Home        mountain         gradually       distant

Branched   roads              suddenly        change

Gain /        loss                 blazing           up

Right /      wrong              blade             rising



Without     bounds
                 stirring          grasses
                                      leaving,     tracking      down

Waters      broad
                 mountains     distant
                                      road           more        obscure

Strenght    exhausted
                 spirit             weary
                                      no              place        to-hunt

But            hearing
                 sweetgum     trees
                                      evening     cicada       song   


“Spare Sense Oxherding”
Searching for the Ox


From the beginning nothing was lost;
there is no need to search.
Turning away from awareness,
that's how neglect arises.
Move toward dust:
loss will follow.
The family mountain grows more distant,
the forking roads are useless now.
"Gain" and "Loss" catch fire;
"Right" and "Wrong" sharpen swords.




Searching, pushing through endless underbrush.
Wide waters, distant mountains, darkening path.
Strength exhausted, spirit weary, no hint of where to hunt.
Just hear the evening cicadas sing in the sweetgum grove.


“American Oxherding”
Searching for the Ox

The Ox is never really lost, so why hunt for it? No oxherd can see what he has turned his back on. Five kinds of hunger have led him this way and that. What was home a moment ago is now a confusion of crossroads and dirt paths. Desire for gain and fear of loss circle like tongues of fire. An obsession with right or wrong marks everything, like a blade sharpened on both edges.


Alone in the deep woods, despairing in the jungle, searching for nothing!
Flood-swollen rivers, mountains beyond mountains, the trail endless and unchanging.
Bone-tired, heart-weary, the whole thing seems hopeless.
No sound but the evening cicadas singing in a grove of maple trees.


II: Seeing the Traces


“One-Word Oxherding”
See                        Tracks


Following          sutras               understanding             meaning
reading             teachings         perceiving                    footprints

multiple             vessels             are           one              gold

all                     things               are           one’s           self    

right /               wrong               unable                         to-distinguish

true /                false                 how                             to-separate

not-yet             enter                 this                             gate

merely              achieve            ”see                             tracks”



River          beside
                 trees              under
                                      tracks            unexpected

fragrant     grasses        
                 scattered       about
                                       doesn’t          he            see?

Although    in                  mountains
                 deep              even              deeper     places

Distant      heavens        
                 that                nose
                                       how               conceal    it?

“Spare Sense Oxherding”
Seeing the Tracks


By relying on the sutras and reading the teachings
understand the meaning and perceive the footprints.
As it is clear
that multiple gold vessels are a single metal,
so understand
that all things in the world comprise one’s self.
If unable to distinguish true from false
how to tell the real from the fake?
This gate has not yet been entered.
One only gets this far: ”Seeing the tracks.”


By the waters, under the trees, many surprising tracks.
Sweet-smelling grass scattered about—isn’t it obvious?
Even in dark mountains or hidden recesses,
how could that heavenly nose be concealed?


“American Oxherding”
Seeing the Traces


He can sense its traces while reading the sutras, hearing the teachings. No gold vessel is like any other, but all are made of gold. He and the world, they are made of the same stuff. Still, he wonders, shouldn’t good and evil be set apart? Trying to separate out the truth he ends in confusion. If there is a gate, he has not gone through it. Were those really the traces of something, or is this a joke?


In the woods, along the riverbank, strange marks all around.
What has bent the sweet grass down just there?
The deepest canyons, the highest peaks—nothing can hide that constellation.
The Nose of the Ox.


III: A Glimpse of the Ox

“One-Word Oxherding”
See               Ox


Follow        sound                able               to enter
See            place                 encounter      source

”Six           Roots”                gate     
all              perceptions        without          error

Within       all                      actions
all             sources              become           apparent

Water        in                      salt                 flavor

Paint         within                binder             blue

Low /         high                  eye                 discerns

is               not                   separate          thing



Yellow        oriole
                 branch           on
                                       one          call            call

Sun           warm
                 wind              gentle
                                      shore        willow        green

Just           this
                 more             not
                                     avoid         meeting     place 

Full-grown full-grown    
                  head            horns
                                      painting    difficult      to-complete


“Spare Sense Oxherding”
Seeing the Ox


Follow the sound and the way opens;
see the place and come to the source.
At the root of each sense is a gate:
perception there is not muddled.
Inside all actions
the source becomes clear.
Like the salt in seawater,
like the binder in blue paint,
the eyes distinguish high from low
and see that ”it” is not a separate thing.


Yellow oriole on a branch—one call after call.
Warm sun, gentle wind, green willows on the riverbank.
Just this and no more: the meeting is unavoidable.
Stately head and stately horns: hard to finish that painting!


“American Oxherding”
A Glimps of the Ox

If he would only listen to everyday sounds he would get it in a second. As for the senses: it was the cicada that made the ear! The thing itself is there no matter what we do. It is like the salt in water and the binder in paint. Rightly opened, the eye sees no difference between the water and the well.

The meadowlark sings, sitting on a branch.
Warm sun, light breeze, green willows by the river.
The Ox stands right there; where could he hide?
That splendid head, those stately horns,
what artist could draw their likeness?


IV: Catching the Ox

“One-Word Oxherding”
Get               Ox


Long          hidden            distant            places
this            day                 encounter       it    

Because     there               superior
so              difficult           to-pursue

Loves         sweet             greenery
so              without           discipline

Stubborn    mind              still                  strong

Wild           nature            still                  lively

Want          to-get            pure                tameness?

Must          add                whip                hitting



Exhaust         entire
                     vital           energy
                                      get             ahold         it

Heart-mind    strong
                     strength    vigorous
                                      finally         difficult      to-subdue

Some             times
                      just          arrives     
                                      high            land           summit

Also               enters
                     hazy          clouds
                                      deep           regions       to-dwell   


“Spare Sense Oxherding”
Getting the Ox


Today one comes upon it,
long hidden in distant places.
Because it rules these regions
it is not easy to chase after.
Its love for sweet foliage
has left it untamed.
Its stubborn mind is still strong,
its wild nature still lively.
If you want true domestication
you really apply the whip.


All one’s vital energy spent, one gets hold of it.
Its heart is strong, muscles vigorous: these are ultimately hard to erase!
sometimes it shows up in the high mountains,
Other times goes to live in deep valley clouds and mist.


“American Oxherding”
Catching the Ox

Today the oxherd laid his hands on the Ox. That beast, free since birth in high and uncut meadows, would rather go its own way. No ring has ever pierced its nose; the memory of sweet-smelling grass muscles its back. If the oxherd hopes to ride this Ox he will have to use his whip.

He must hold the rope with all his might
for the Ox is two-thousand pounds of old habit.
One moment it runs to the high meadows,
the next it is lost in a fog-bound riverbottom.


V. Taming of the Ox

“One-Word Oxherding”
Herd             Ox


First           thought          just                   rising
next           thought         close                  behind

Because     awakened       
There-       fore             
Become      truth

In              confusion
There-       fore              
Become     false

Not            from              circumstances     had

Only          from               heart-mind         born

Nose          rope               firmly                 pull

Not            allow              other                  impulse  



Whip          rope
                 all                  times
                                      not              distant        self

afraid        it
                 leap               away
                                      enter            dust          dirt

join           together
                 herding         achieve
                                      pure             warm         harmony

halters       bindings
                 without         constraints
                                     willingly         follows       person  


“Spare Sense Oxherding”
Herding the Ox


First thought just rising, other thoughts follow behind.
Being awakened, one comes to embody the truth.
Being confused, one embodies delusion.
Delusion does not arise from the outer world;
Only the mind can give it birth.
Pull the nose-rope firmly.
Do not let it wander at will.


Always keep the whip and rope close at hand
for fear it might leap into the dust and dirt.
In true herding they are joined in warm harmony.
Unfettered by halters and ropes, it follows the person by itself.


“American Oxherding”
Taming the Ox

One thought rises in the mind, then another and another. When the oxherd is rightly awake, he observes their coming and going. When he sorts them right from wrong, a great confusion gathers. That tangle of crossroads lies inside the skull, not outside. Hold the nose rope firmly, or every rising thought will send it wandering.

If he does keep the whip and rope near at hand
the Ox will soon seek out the nearest mud wallow.
But care for it properly, and it becomes gentle, clean;
it will follow the oxhers willingly, the rope gone slack.


VI. Riding home

“One-Word Oxherding”
Ride              Ox                        Return            Home


Shield        spear                 already          ceasing
gain           loss                   return-to        emptiness

Sing           rustic                song
of              wood-                cutter

Play           unrefined          tune
of              -----                  children

Body         across                ox                  back

eyes          look                   clouds            heaven

called        back:                 not                 turn

lured         surrounded:      not                 stop



Riding        ox
                 meander        along
                                      soon               return        home

Bamboo      flute
                  sound          sound
                                      accompany     sunset        clouds

Each          beat
                 each             song
                                      un-                limited        meaning

Knowing    harmony
                 what              need
                                      flap                lips             teeth [chatter]   


“Spare Sense Oxherding”
Riding the Ox Back Home


When struggle ceases, gain and loss return to emptiness.
Singing a woodcutter’s rustic song,
Piping a simple children’s tune,
Lying across the ox’s back,
Looking into the cloudy sky:
If called back, he will not turn,
If lured or baited, he will not stop.


Wandering along, soon to return home riding the ox.
The bamboo flute song echoes with the sunset clouds.
Every beat and every tune unlimited in feeling.
Knowing this harmony, what need is there to talk?


“American Oxherding”
Riding Home

The struggle is over. As for gain and loss, he can’t remember what the problem was. Lying on the Ox’s back, he hums a forest tune; he plays flute songs learned in childhood. The sky seems larger than the earth. None of the five hungers can turn his head. Call to him, offer him anything—he will not hear you.

He is riding home but seems to be in no hurry.
Evening mist absorbs the flute tones. Their harmony
carries his heart to the horizon line.
Talk about grass is not what keeps this Ox alive.


VII. Ox Forgotten

“One-Word Oxherding”
Forget         Ox                    Remain            Person


Dharma      without             second          dharma:
ox              temporarily        was               purpose

Analogy:    snare /              rabbit     
have          different            names

Clarify:      fish-trap            fish
have          different           qualities

Like           gold                  emerging        ore

like            moon                leaving           clouds --

one           whole               cold                 light

mighty       sound              beyond            time



Riding       ox
                 already          obtains
                                      arriving        home         mountain

As-for        ox,
                 empty           -----
                                      as-for           person,      idle

Red           sun
                 late               afternoon
                                      still               day-          dreaming

Whip         rope
                 idle               stopped
                                      thatch          room          within  


“Spare Sense Oxherding”
The Ox Forgotten, the Person Remaining


The dharma doesn’t have a second dharma:
The ox served a temporary purpose.
By analogy: the snare and the rabbit are two different things.
To clarify: the fishtrap and the fish have different qualities.
Like gold coming out of the ore,
Like the moon leaving the clouds,
One cool light already shone
Before time came into being.


Riding the ox he has already arrived at his mountain home.
As for the ox, it is empty; as for the person, he is at rest.
Late day’s red sun, and still he is lost in dream.
The whip and the rope lie idle under the thatched roof.


“American Oxherding”
Ox Forgotten

What was all about? Alone now, the oxherd feels quite at home. On this path, one thing is not two things. When the rabbit is caught, the snare may be abandoned. When the fish is caught, why stand there holding the net? See: like gold drawn from dross, like the moon risen from clouds, this world has always given off a single light.

He could not have gotten home without that animal,
but oh, the Ox has disappeared and the man sits by himself, content.
His reverie does not bear the red mark of solar time.
The rope and whip lie idle under the cabin thatch.


VIII. Self and Ox Forgotten

“One-Word Oxherding”
Person         Ox                     Alike          Forget


Worldly      desires              drop               away
Holy           intentions          all                  empty

Having-      Buddha             place:
no              need                 seek               out

Without-    Buddha             place:
urgent       must                 pass                by

Either        side                   not                 touch

Thousand  eyes                  difficult           peering

Hundred    birds                 offering           flowers,                 

one            scene                shamed          heart



Whip         rope
                 person          ox
                                     all              belong        emptiness

Blue           sky              deep
                 wide             words         cannot       penetrate

Red           stove
                 flame            above
                                     how            survive       snow?

Arriving      here
                 only              then
                                     join            ancient       teachers  


“Spare Sense Oxherding”
The person and the Ox Both Forgotten


All worldly emotions fall away;
all sacred sentiments are empty.
No need to linger in places where the Buddha is;
in places where there is no Buddha, quickly pass by.
Neither side exists.
A thousand eyes would have difficulty detecting [such a person].
A hundred flower-offering birds:
that scene would be one long farce.


Whip and rope, person and ox: all are empty.
Words cannot reproduce the vast blue sky.
How could snowflakes survive the flames of a forge?
One can only join the ancestors by arriving at this place.


“American Oxherding”
Self and Ox Forgotten

This serenity scatters no light. No holiness appears. If he thinks he is a Buddha, it passes quickly. Proud that he is not a Buddha, that goes too. Five hundred fully-enlightened ancient ones cannot see anything special in the man. If a hundred flower-bestowing birds circled his room, he would feel the deepest shame.

Empty whip, empty rope, empty Ox, empty human being.
”The vast blue sky” is not at all the vast blue sky.
Think of snow falling on a blazing fire,
Just there the spirit of the ancient masters is fully present.


IX. Going Back to the Beginning

“One-Word Oxherding”
Return         Roots                     Go-Back           Source


Since         origin                 pure               clean
not             receive               one                dust

Observe     formed              things     
their           thriving            withering  

Dwell         non-                  interference
its              still                    quiet

Not            identify             illusory            change

How           require              more               improvement

Water         green              mountain         blue                 

Sit              watch              success           defeat



Return       root
                 go-back          source
                                       already        cost            effort

How          equal              down
                 directly           as-if            blind           deaf?

Hut           inside
                 not                 see
                                       hut              outside       things

Rivers       naturally
                 without           bounds
                                       flowers        naturally      red 


“Spare Sense Oxherding”
Returning to the Roots, Going Back to the Source

It was originally pure and clean and has gathered no dust.
See the thriving and withering of forms;
Live in te still and quiet of non-action;
Do not identify with illusion and change.
How could anything be improved?
The waters are blue, the mountains are green.
Sit and watch success and defeat.


Returning to the roots, going to the source—that already took effort.
Better to have been, right away, as if blind and deaf.
Sitting in the hut, see nothing outside the hut.
the rivers overflow by themselves, the flowers bloom red.Going back to the Beginning


“American Oxherding”
Going back to the Beginning

The dust never had any dust. Bodies grow and decay, delusions form and dissolve, identities come and go… Live in the still place between; it need no improvement. The waters are blue. The mountains are green. Change without end: sit and watch.

Seeking the Source, the One True Origin: why all this seeking?
Better to stay at home as if ears and eyes had never opened.
He sits in the cabin. There is nothing to hunt for beyond the gate.
The streams flow and flowers open, vividly red.


X. Entering the Marketplace with Helping Hands

“One-Word Oxherding”
Enter              Market                  Hanging             Hands


Scrapwood    gate                  just                shut
thousand      sages                not                 know

Bury             the                    scenery      
of                 one’s                 self

Leave           road                   ruts
of                 old                     worthies

Carry            gourd                 enter              market

Walk             cane                  return             home

Wine             shop                  fish                 shop

Influence      make                 become           Buddhas



Reveal         chest
                   bare            feet
                                      enter          market        arrive

Apply          soil              ashes
                  smear          smile           fill               cheeks

Needing      not
                  immortal      ones
                                     deep           secrets         riddles

Just            teach
                  withered      tree
                                     release        flowers        open 


“Spare Sense Oxherding”
Entering the Marketplace with Hanging Hands


His makeshift gate is shut tight; a thousand sages wouldn’t know him.
He has hidden from the view the beauty of himself.
He leaves the beaten path of the old worthies.
He enters the marketplace carrying a gourd
and goes home with a walking stick.
In the wine shops and fish stands
people are transformed into Buddhas.


His chest uncovered, barefoot, he comes into the marketplace.
Smeared with mud and ashes, he smiles broadly.
He does not need the coded secrets of the immortals.
He just shows the withered trees how to release their flowers.


“American Oxherding”
Entering the Marketplace with Helping Hands

He has closed the cabin gate behind him. Not even the wise notice him as he walks by. He has left all the apparatus of spiritual life behind. He follows the path before him, not trying to match the footsteps of ancient teachers. He carries a gourd into the market and comes home leaning on an old stick. Drinkers in traverns and butchers in meat shops see him and they wake up.

Barefoot, bare-chested, he enters the market.
Dusty, spattered with mud, how broadly he grins!
He has no need of magic powers.
Near him the withered trees spring into bloom.