Zen Bunny and the Ten Bulls Part 5: Taming the Bull

Zen Bunny is halfway to Enlightenment!  Or at least halfway to getting drunk on the street corner of the marketplace.  Hey, that’s not cynicism, it’s foreshadowing…

Here is the whole series so far, followed by the links to the individual posts which have more background and commentary.

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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…

Gambling
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

Zen Bunny and the Ten Bulls 3: Perceiving the Bull

 

The third ox-herding picture from the series of ten traditional woodcuts shows the visual discovery of the bull.  Spring is arriving now in my world, too!  Below is the original piece from Paul Reps’ _Zen Flesh, Zen Bones_.  I learned that Reps is considered one of the first American Haiku poets.  He lived from 1895 to 1990.  My wife says he looks like a nice man in this picture:

What a difference a smile and bright eyes make!  He considered Maui, Hawaii home, but spent much time in Asia.

Thinking more about the double-meaning of “bull,” it seems that the foundation of Buddhism is to perceive the BS of “normal life.”  I’m not a Buddhist and think that the Four Noble Truths should be regarded as the “Four Hypothesis.”  Since, to quote John Lilly, “In the province of the mind, what is believed to be true either is true or becomes true,” the belief “life is suffering” can be a hazardous program to run.  Life contains many things, including carrots.  One Taoist contribution to Zen is to enjoy the pleasures of life without getting depressed due their impermanence.

When I was a child, my mother would threaten to withdraw her permission for me to go a slumber party or play with a new toy if I didn’t complete my chores.  It seemed to me that no matter how caught up I was she would find some reason to use such threats.  I remember deciding that I wouldn’t desire slumber parties as Mom’s controlling way of using them as leverage caused too much anguish.  That’s understandable, but childish.  I’ve seen some “fundamentalist” Buddhists apply that immature philosophy to their whole lives, hoping that they will “get off the wheel of birth and death” if they can just stop desiring to have fun.  It can be a circular loop–desiring to stop desiring, craving to end craving, aversion to aversion.  We aren’t that far yet in this third ox-herding picture, we have just begun to see the bull.  One of my favorite Zen Koans is about a fellow hanging from a fraying rope on a cliff with tigers below and mice above (chewing the rope) who delights in the flavor of a strawberry he picks from the cliff face.

The commentary seems to reference initial success at meditation–the senses merge, the gate is entered.  Unity is experienced.  What artist can capture the experience of Samadhi?  Probably not a simple cartoonist like me!

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

Zen Bunny and the Ten Bulls, Part 2: Discovering the Pawprints

 

Paul Reps’ translation of the comment for this second of the traditional Zen Buddhist Oxherding Pictures (the Ten Bulls), from _Zen Flesh, Zen Bones_ (page 138):

Understanding the teaching, I see the footprints of the bull.  Then I learn that, just as many utensils are made from one metal, so too are myriad entities made of the fabric of self.  Unless I discriminate, how will I perceive the true from the untrue?  Not yet having entered the gate, nevertheless I have discerned the path.

Because my mind works largely on puns, I have been contemplating the double-meaning of ‘bull’ in this search for truth.  As we’ll see through this series, there are some interesting twists and insights given in the carefully chosen words.

“Unless I discriminate, how will I perceive the true from the untrue?”

Yes, that is indeed a huge part of my path.  Seeing the bull for what it is, I must declare it untrue so I can know what is true.  The truth isn’t easy to discern, and along this path, there is plenty of bullsh*t to step in.  But being able to see the bullsh*t for what it is indicates that you are on the right path to finding and mastering the bull.  It’s better to be able to follow the path without stepping in the BS, but temporarily dirty paws shouldn’t stop us from pursuing the truth.  As we grow in experience and discrimination, and employ our twitching noses appropriately, we will be able to avoid BS and do a better job tracking down the truth.

Here is the original from Reps’ book:

 

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

Zen Bunny and the Ten Bulls. 1: The Search for the Bull

 

 

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.

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