Ten Bulls
The Zen Oxherding Pictures

All of us have the opportunity of progressive enlightment.. In the twelth century, the Chinese master Kakuan drew pictures of ten taoist bulls and wrote the comments in prose and verse translated here.

The illustrations are modern versions by the noted Kyoto woodblock artist Tomikichiro Tokuriki. My comments are at the end.

1. The Search for the Bull

In the pasture of this world, I endless push aside the tall grasses in search of the bull.

Following unnamed rivers, lost upon the interpenetrating paths of distant mountains.

My strength failing and my vitality exhausted, I cannot find the bull.

I only hear the locusts chirring through the forest at night.

2. Discovering the Footprints

Along the riverbank under the trees, I discover footprints!

Even under the fragrant grass I see his prints.

Deep in remote mountains they are found.

There traces no more can be hidden than one's nose, looking heavenward.

3. Perceiving the bull

I hear the song of the nightingale.

The sun is warm, the wind is mild, willows are green along the shore.

Here no bull can hide!

What artist can draw that massive head, those majestic horns?

4. Catching the Bull

I seize him with a terrific struggle.

His great will and power are inexhaustible.

He charges to the high plateau far above the cloud mists,

Or in an impenetrable ravine he stands..

5. Taming the Bull

The whip and rope are necessary,

Else he might stray off down some dusty road.

Being well trained he becomes naturally gentle.

Then, unfetted, he obeys his master.

6.Riding the Bull Home

Mounting the bull, slowly I return homeward.

The voice of my flute intones through the evening.

Measuring with hand-beats the pulsating harmony, I direct the endless rhythm.

Whoever hears this melody will join me.

7. The Bull Transended

Astride the bull, I reach home.

I am serene. The bull too can rest.

The dawn has come. In blissful repose,

Within my thatched dwelling I have avandoned the whip and rope.

8. Both Bull and Self Transcended

Whip, rope, person, and bull--all merge in No-thing.

This heaven is so vast no message can stain it.

How may a snowflake exist in a raging fire?

Here are the footprints of the patriarchs.

9. Reaching the Source

Too many steps have been taken returning to the root and the source.

Better to have been blind and deaf from the beginning!

Dwelling in one's true abode, unconcerned with that without--

The river flow tranquilly on and the flowers are red.

10. In the World

Barefooted and naked of breast, I mingle with the people of the world.

My clothes are ragged and dust-laden, and I am ever blissful..

I use no magic to extend my life;

Now, before me, the dead tress become alive.


1. Looking for what has never been lost, I do not know which way is the right one.

2. I come to understand that there are a myriad of paths? Which are true and which are false?

3. When I merge my senses, I understand they are all true. Nothing is apart from me.

4. Is the bull my ego?

5. Can my ego be tamed? Is it separate from the world?

6. Struggle and gain and loss are one; I am at rest.

7. I am in the world and the world is in me.

8. No-thing is every-thing.

9. We are what we are.....all in one

10. I need nothing to be content and nothing can make me content and anything can make me content.