When it comes to being a practicing secular Buddhist I am a novice. Okay, maybe I am a little more advanced than that, but still I have to admit I am not an authority. So – I’m reading the September 2015 issue of Shambhala Sun and the issue has an article on Zen’s 10 famous oxherding pictures. The oxherding pictures were created by the 12th century Chinese master Guo-an Shi-yuan. The pictures show the path to Buddhist enlightenment. In the pictures, the ox is enlightenment and the oxherder is the meditator.
So I’m sitting in a movie theater about a week after reading it and it dawns on me – I, over the past thirty some years, have been actually living the 10 pictures and their meaning.
So, back to Shambhala Sun and the oxherding article. Each picture is accompanied by a fairly sophisticated explanation. My first reading is with a novice’s appreciation. Now I write about the parallels between my ‘healawake’ journey and the 10 oxherding pictures.
My simplified understanding is as follows: Back in 1976 I begin to experiment with vitamins. I start with taking ever larger doses of Niacin. I have a life changing insight: my pain, my depression, my social isolation has an organic basis. I begin to experiment further with vitamins. I make mistakes (I needed traditional herbal medicine, but didn’t know it). My condition gets worse. Over the years and decades I slowly gain an experiential familiarity with respect to Traditional Herbal Medicine and Naturopathic Medicine (amino acids, vitamins and minerals). With perseverance and persistence i overcome my ecologic illnesses.
Back to the ox pictures:
My first simplified understanding: Before my insight, my internal ecologic pathology is sort of hidden, asleep, but causing my depression(the ox, left alone in the brush, is content). My treatments to fight the inner ecologic illness are not the right treatments and my body rebels, since the infections are deeply rooted in my body. My struggle over them become apparent and are viewed by others as odd behavior (the ox rebels). Over the subsequent 35 years i overcome my ecologic pathologies (the ox is pacified and tamed).
Does my actual experience parallel all 10 pictures? Back to the Shambhala Sun article:
Picture 1 – the description reads – “Here we become aware of our spiritual questions, perhaps ‘Where can I be free from suffering? Who am I? Why does it hurts so much to be me?’ This was me back around 1975 – so I go to the nearest health food store, searching, I buy vitamins.
Picture 4 – the description reads – “Catching the ox-Having become oriented to the nature of the spiritual work to be done, here we must begin to truly do it.” So over the thirty five years i have become oriented to the nature of the work to be done, i.e., i gain experiential familiarity to my pharmacopeia and my body, via insight meditation (mindfulness with respect to my body). My experience and activity is not exactly the same as the picture 4 description, since my actually doing it was simultaneous with my gaining the experiential familiarity.