Tag Archives: oxherding pictures

The Bird and the Ox on Waking Up

Last weekend I was enjoying a discussion about ego with the Dharma en Español group, a gathering of practitioners who study the Spanish translation of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind at SFZC City Center on Saturday mornings. We were exploring the ways in which our views about the world reinforce the idea of a separate self, which is THE fundamental delusion of our lives. Eventually an example was needed, and I offered this one:

You are sitting zazen, and begin to hear the chirping of a bird. You think to yourself, “Ah, this bird is trying to help me wake up!”

Can you find the ego-self in this scenario? It reminds me of the 10 Oxherding pictures – particularly number 9, which appears after the empty frame…

Ox herding picture no. 9

Do you see the bird? Do you see the one who sees the bird? Or the one who hears it? Which is to say, the bird does not appear to arise in order to teach you something. The bird is simply bird; it is there to be the bird it must be, due to the coming together of the particular set of circumstances of the moment. The same applies for the hearer, who is an aggregation of a set of circumstances of the moment, which include a bird sound. This is not to say that the bird and the hearer do not influence one another. They most certainly do if there is any sense contact, or even thought of sense contact. So it is clear that they do not apparently arise independent of each other in the moment of contact. They co-arise in the moment. Yet, there is an aspect of the unknown. The hearer cannot know all of the conditions which appear to create bird or even appear to create self in that moment. This is what Dogen meant when he said, “When one side is illuminated, the other is dark.”

The difference between a deluded view of this event and an awakened view of the event is the perspective. One perspective thinks that the bird exists only in relation to the hearer. The other perspective is that the bird and hearer are in relation to one another and to the myriad circumstances of the universe, with neither apparently arising solely based on itself or the other. So the hearer cannot hear oneself in relation to bird. One can only hear bird. And at the moment of hearing bird, the hearer is one with bird, inseparable from bird, and from all the other conditions of the moment.

This phenomena is especially important to consider when dealing with other people. We can have a perspective of them which is totally caught up in the way we believe that they are serving us, or not serving us, rather than taking the view that we are together co-arising in the moment. In fact, our view of them is as much a factor in each others co-arising as some physical factors.

This kind of discovery happened to a friend of mine who recently wrote to me about his practice. His intention was not to be a cause of suffering for others. He had this wonderful intention, and was very aware of it in his day-to-day life. However, one day it dawned on him that this view was based on his idea that he could control the suffering of others. It became instantly clear that this was an ego-based intention. So, acknowledging that error, my friend could take up the same vow but with Right View, the view of the fundamental interconnected, and yet unknowable nature of those he wants to serve. Now that intention can take flight!

Going Beyond the Rainbow

Last night I attended the dharma talk at SFZC City Center. The speaker was an invited guest, Ayya Anandabodhi. As one of the first nuns to be ordained in America in the Theravadan tradition she, and Ayya Santacitta, have received quite a bit of attention. Myself, I’d been inspired by their vision of starting a practice place for women, and had been meaning to visit the Vihara for a while. It’s just down the road a piece, near the ocean at the edge of San Francisco. But, this nun’s life was full enough that I never quite made it there.

Still, as sometimes happens, our paths crossed. What a lovely, unexpected arising. I’d gone down to visit another nun, Sister Santussika, who has even more recently begun a nunnery, this one in Millbrae. When I arrived, I found that the Ayyas were there, as well as Anandabodhi’s attendant and other women who give generously of their time to the two sanghas. I was quite pleased to make all of their acquaintance. As it happened we, together with Ajahn Guna, Santussika’s son who is also a monk, gathered together in front of the main altar and chanted a bhikkhuni blessing for the new temple. We chanted in both Pali and English, and despite the fact that it was all a new form for me, I felt comfortable and integrated.

A Visit to the Karuna Buddhist Vihara
August 2012

So it was with a sense of anticipation that I went over to City Center, to visit with a new friend, in way. And a truly fascinating thing happened. I’d had a late dinner due to waiting on another friend. When I went up to Blanche’s apartment to change into my robes, I noticed that Anandabodhi and Maria, her attendant who will soon be ordained sangha too, were waiting in the usual place to go down to give the talk. Stepping past them into Blanche’s room, I became aware that the sky in the window seemed to be a bit more colorful than usual. I pulled back the curtain only to find a broad, wondrous rainbow arching over the entire city, framed by a rose-colored sky. It was stunning, and I motioned to the nuns to come have a look. Then, the most amazing thing happened. Ayya Anandabodhi looked at the rainbow and said, “Oh, it’s for a woman we know. The rainbows seem to come out for her.” Even though it had just appeared, even though it could be seen in this place where she was waiting, even though, as Maria pointed out, there hadn’t even been any rain that day and it was nearly twilight, Anandabodhi didn’t think that the rainbow was for her. Her first thought was that it was for her friend.

Rainbow 6 c. Entheos

Rainbow 6 c. Entheos

This was, for me, a teaching in generosity and selflessness – a way of seeing the world that didn’t being with “me” or “mine.” She saw the world as a gift for others and smiled in gratitude for my having shown it to her. Reflecting on this moment, I’m reminded of the 10 Oxherding Pictures, wherein the practitioner, represented by a boy growing up, goes through two phases of realization about his relationship to the world. In one phase, he experiences the joy of releasing the deluded view of the world as being about him or related to him. Later, that same practitioner sits down to ponder the stillness of releasing the sense of himself as defined by the world. For me, Ayya Anandabodhi demonstrated at least the first and maybe also the second when she, in a fleeting instant, declined to accept the rainbow as a gift to herself. Beautiful!