TEN OX HERDING PICTURES
BY ANDREW BINKLEY
Drawing upon my experience as a Buddhist monk, my work appropriates ancient traditions, whether they be spiritual or artistic traditions, and especially where the two merge.
The ‘Ten Ox Herding Pictures’ is an appropriated piece based on a 12th Century Taoist and Buddhist depiction of the ten steps one takes towards enlightenment. Each piece in the series speaks of a certain stage and level of progression on this path. This search is an age-old quest in which early Taoists depicted one’s nature, or mind, as a wild ox hidden from sight. Once found, this ox would give a formidable struggle before being able to be trained and ridden home and beyond. This guide has been an inspiration and method of teaching for almost a thousand years, as well as sparking a tradition of depicting its example. In keeping with this tradition and resonating from the classic ink paintings of old, I assemble various photographs from different times and places throughout my travels in China, to comprise a single image. This process of addition and subtraction allowed the piece to emerge, reminiscent of my background as a painter and brought about a translation of this ancient work.
The following are brief descriptions on each of the stages.
1. The Search for the Ox
The ox has traditionally been a representation of one’s true-nature or of the mind. In this stage a man is lost, confused, can neither see where he is nor where he’s going. He searches for the ox, yet is caught in a web of his conditioning and in a state of suffering. Yet this is the first stage; recognizing you are caught and seeking a way out.
2. Discovering the Footprints
The man discovers the markings left by the ox. This may come in the form of hearing from others, reading words, experiencing the presence of someone or something, which opens your eyes. It may also come from becoming aware of the traces of the mind and its reactions. But this understanding is still on an intellectual and conceptual level.
3. Perceiving the Ox
This is where one sees the ox directly, no longer through theory, but through direct experience. Through reflection the ox is perceived, and with this realization there is now no turning back, it has penetrated into your entire perception of the world and self. The ox swims freely, an island unto itself.
4. Catching the Ox
Confronting the self can be like dealing with a raging ox. The ox has been trained for so long to follow its desires, going here and there never quite satisfied. It wants greener grass, its restless and can’t stay still. But now one sees things in a new way, yet the mind is used to its old ways of dealing with situations and has its built up ideas of security. So when the ox is caught and its foundation is rocked a tremendous struggle ensues.
5. Taming the Ox
The man has seen the ox manifesting all the time now and realizes the root of all suffering lies with the mind. An ox herder uses a whip to keep the ox from wandering, just as one must use mindfulness to keep the mind from wandering. As a result the ox becomes gentler and follows its master, but we see in the distance there is still an ambiguous road ahead full of high peaks and low valleys veiled in clouds, still we can see home.
6. Riding the Ox Home
Harmony with oneself and all things. Neither resisting nor controlling, the real effort is to have no effort and allow the ox to follow its own nature home. The practice becomes natural, like planting a seed and allowing it to grow. It may take a month to reach home, it may take a lifetime, but this is not his concern; he’s just riding.
7. The Ox Transcended
The ox never belonged to the man; he discovered it and let it go. But we tend to hold on to it and think of it as me and mine, it is just nature.
8. Both Ox and Self Transcended
Letting it all go. Letting go of time, the world, the ox, mind, other, self, all concepts… It is the space where no thing exists. In ‘Riding the Ox Home’ we had the knower and the mind, in ‘The Ox Transcended’ there is the knower, in this stage there is simply knowing.
9. Reaching the Source
One quote from an unknown poet says, “Out of Emptiness appears that which IS. Poised in mystic selflessness, there is no self in anything particular: The 10,000 things arise and pass away.”
10. In the World
This, the final stage, has been interpreted by some to mean that the enlightened person then goes out and saves the world. For myself, I have always felt that enlightenment is being at peace with the world just as it is. Accepting things just as they are with no attachment or desire for this moment to be any other way, is true liberation.
ABOUT ANDREW BINKLEY:
Andrew Binkley is an American artist, born in Omaha, Nebraska, 1979. In 1996 he attended The Kansas City Art Institute with a major in painting under the guidance of Warren Rosser, and after two years left school in order to travel throughout China searching for places to practice Chan (Zen) Buddhism. Living in China for one year and studying the art, language and philosophies of the Far East eventually led him to Thailand where he ordained as a Theravadan Buddhist monk. Andrew went on to stay for two years following the strict practice of the Thai Forest Tradition, living a life of simplicity and meditation.
After leaving the monastic life, Andrew moved to the island of Maui, Hawaii where he designed and built his own home. Since that time Andrew has been dedicating himself to the practice of art, and has just recently moved to Oahu.
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