The first book I read on Zen & Taoist philosophy was Paul Reps’ _Zen Flesh, Zen Bones_. I was still in high school, and took a summer trip the Oregon coast with my family. Curiously enough, I recall having a dream about Einstein juggling dice, and also bought a book that next day called _The Future Now_ with Einstein on the cover juggling dice. At least, that’s the order my memory has it in…
After reading the traditional Zen Koans, I meditated for the first time, sitting and ‘staring at the wall.’ Little did I know the lifetime path this would set me on, but I was ready for an enlightening adventure.
At the end of the book, Reps has a special section for the Ten Bulls, or Oxherding pictures, which is a series of woodcuts detailing the allegorical search for enlightenment. I have plans to discuss in detail the contributions of Taoism/Daoism to Zen Buddhism, and this must have been the first reference I saw to it. Reps writes (page 133):
In the twelfth century the Chinese master Kakuan drew the pictures of the ten bulls, basing them on earlier Taoist bulls, and wrote the comments in prose and verse translated here. His version was pure Zen, going deeper than earlier versions, which had ended with the nothingness of the eighth picture. It has been a constant source of inspiration to students ever since, and many illustrations of Kakuan’s bulls have been made through the centuries.
One thread you may pick up from my overlap of Taoism, Zen, and Cartooning is the art history which connects them. Scott McCloud, author of _Understanding Comics_ likes to use the phrase Sequential Art (from Will Eisner) to define the comic medium. What is a series of 10 sequential illustrations with accompanying text other than a comic strip? It is encouraging that the most brilliant and inspirational Taoist and Zen teachings are illustrated this way. Much of the Japanese Sumi-E painting tradition is more reminiscent of fine comic art than the typical notion of ‘masterpiece painting’ of the Renaissance, etc. This fits the spontaneous, naturalistic philosophy that underlies it.
It is my honor to present my Zen Bunny versions of the Ten Bulls. Perhaps you are new to this series, or perhaps you, too, encountered Paul Reps book or another version along your path and will smile at my light-hearted rendition. You may see the illustrations and poems from Paul Reps’ book a few places online, such as http://srivathsan-margan.blogspot.com/2010/03/10-bulls-by-kakuan.html.
Please note that Zen Bunny lives on carrots, “likes,” and comments.
Zen Bunny and the Ten Bulls:
A Cute Adaptation of
the Traditional Ox Herding 10 Woodcuts
See the individual post links for background, references, and commentary.