Zen Bunny and the Ten Bulls 4: Catching the Bull

Paul Reps translated the original comment:

He dwelt in the forest a long time, but I caught him today!  Infatuation for scenery interferes with his direction.  Longing for sweeter grass, he wanders away. His mind still is stubborn and unbridled.  If I wish him to submit, I must raise my whip.

So we have set out to find the bull, we saw his footprints, and now we have found him–he is a handful!  Untrained but very strong, we need a rope and a whip to tame and guide him.

This sounds like our subconscious mind.  The allegory is of the spiritual journey.  In the meditative tradition, one of the main early challenges is controlling the “monkey mind” which in this case is the “bull mind.”  Before deciding to master meditation, most people  believe they have control of their mind.  But when you sit still and try to focus on one thing, you soon find that your mind pulls you up mountains and down into caverns.

Does this also have the double-meaning of “bull” as discussed in the third ox-herding picture?  Zen, like the Tao, aims to be simple and natural.  Then why are there so many supernatural offshoots to Buddhism and Taoism?  Does it really help one in the spiritual journey to engage in magical thinking which makes everything more complicated?  It seems to me that Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) and Lao Zi (Lao Tzu) were philosophers that wanted to cut through the supernatural BS that was all around them, and get to the root of the matter–what IS.  As usual, there was a glimmer of hope around their genius, but then it became enshrined in more supernatural BS and next thing you know they are regarded as Gods and suddenly have a pantheon of support staff which can be invoked for everything from riches to good test scores.  I’m not against either of those, but *really* what do you think Buddha or Lao Zi would say if they were here and someone said “Hey, Buddha, I really dig you.  Can you bless me with some money, like perhaps a winning lottery ticket?  I’m really bummed by old age, sickness, and death, can you fix that for me too, or should I look up Lao Zi for that?”

I thought I was just making something up with that lottery ticket joke.  If only…

The Gambling Buddha is depicted sitting with his lucky peach (a symbol of prosperity, long life and beauty). The Gambling Buddha can be carried when playing games of chance or be placed next to lottery tickets. He can bring luck with investments if placed by your computer. Because he sits with his lucky peach the Gambling Buddha can also be used when you are taking a chance in love relationships. Carry him with you during troubled relationships. Color of carrying bags vary.

Yes, this is the same Buddha that taught “Desire is the root of suffering, end desire to end suffering.”  Again, I’m not a Buddhist, though I’m influenced by some Buddhist theories and practices.  Not the Gambling Buddha, though.

It’s so easy to get distracted.  One minute, you’re sitting down to control your mind after being inspired by Zen philosophy, the next minute you’re dreaming of winning the lottery (and all the good deeds you’d do with the money!) and thinking that perhaps with a Gambling Buddha on your desk you’d have that sort of lucky magic.  Do you break out the whip and get back to focusing your mind, or does the bull pull you to Las Vegas?

Yes, there’s plenty of bull to catch.  We not only have our own mind, which is full of all sorts of wily tricks and traps, but we have the external world, always trying to get in our mind and distract it with temptations.  The bull of your mind is strong.  It could carry you anywhere, help you plant a field of goals.  Or it could yank your arms out of socket and trample you to smithereens.  You’d better break out your whip, as cruel as it sounds.  Or just let the bull go and hop on home, if bull-taming isn’t for you.

Here’s Paul Reps’ original page from _Zen Flesh, Zen Bones_ (the graphic is a centuries-old woodcut):


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.

Part 1:  The Search for the Bull

Part 2:  Discovering the Pawprints

Part 3:  Perceiving the Bull

Part 4:  Catching the Bull

Part 5:  Taming the Bull

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