Riding the Ox Home: Stages on the Path of Enlightenment

Riding the Ox Home: Stages on the Path of Enlightenment

by John Daido Loori

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and guideposts are helpful when we undertake a journey. The ten Ox-Herding
Pictures, the accompanying ancient poems, and a modern commentary by John Daido
Loori, sketch the spiritual path encountered in Zen training, a path of
exhaustive study of the self and the realization of the ultimate nature of
reality. The Ox-Herding Pictures can be our

…  See more details below


and guideposts are helpful when we undertake a journey. The ten Ox-Herding
Pictures, the accompanying ancient poems, and a modern commentary by John Daido
Loori, sketch the spiritual path encountered in Zen training, a path of
exhaustive study of the self and the realization of the ultimate nature of
reality. The Ox-Herding Pictures can be our companion on the Way of
self-discovery, our compass and perspective when we need one. They are a
bottomless source of mysterious wisdom to which we can return again and again
for inspiration, and they translate easily into the gritty reality of spiritual
practice that emerges from and grounds us in the inescapable relevance of our
daily lives.

exquisite versions of the pictures found in the book are traditional Chinese
brush paintings by Gyokusei Jikihara Sensei, a modern Japanese master of
calligraphy and a teacher in the Obaku School of Zen. The traditional verses
accompanying them have been translated by John Daido Loori and Kazuaki
Tanahashi, translator and editor of
Unfolds: The Essential Teachings of Zen Master Dogen.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Influential Zen Buddhist teacher Loori, abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery in New York, offers a clear commentary on "The Ox-herding Pictures," a traditional series of (usually) 10 pictures from 12th-century Chinese Zen master Kuoan accompanied by verses. The pictures form a characteristically wry Zen parable about the process of enlightenment. Loori successfully demonstrates his mastery of teaching: he makes the process simple and accessible, even while issuing cautions about how very, very hard the journey actually is. Loori is also a photographer, so his aesthetic sensibility lends richness to his use of the pictures as a teaching device in Zen study and practice. The herd of Zen oxen books continues to grow: Loori's nicely complements How to Raise an Ox by Francis Dojun Cook (Wisdom, May), an introduction to 13th-century Japanese Zen master Dogen that is more conceptual but equals Loori's in being a key to unlocking the considerable treasury of Zen heritage. (Indeed, both authors are students of Japanese Zen master Taizan Maezumi Roshi.) True, there is literature aplenty on Buddhism, but Loori is an authoritative and respected teacher and this small book, with illustrations in traditional brush painting style by Japanese calligrapher Gyokusei Jikihara Sensei, is effectively visual. It will make a great gift for a Zen student. (Aug.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
"Loori is to be commended for his wise and succinct assessment of the spiritual journey and the important role of spiritual practice."
Spirituality & Health

Product Details

Shambhala Publications, Inc.
Publication date:
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
File size:
2 MB

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Read an Excerpt

the Introduction

The path of enlightenment is a spiritual journey of discovering our true nature.
But the fact is that from the very beginning there is nothing to acquire. From the beginning, we are perfect and complete, lacking nothing. During a spiritual journey, in taking up and engaging specific practices, we come to personally experience and verify the reality of that perfection.

the historical Buddha, attained enlightenment through a thoroughgoing study of his life in a seated meditation called zazen. At the moment of his realization,
he directly experienced the very foundation of reality. He exclaimed, "I,
all beings, and the great earth have at once entered the Way." With that statement, the Buddha was unequivocally pointing to his and our intrinsic perfection. A genuine spiritual journey directs itself to this matter. The journey is a return to our original perfect state, the ground of being available to us at every moment. In Zen, we call that perfect state the True
Self, the most fundamental aspect of our life. Each one of us is born with it and will die with it. Some will realize the fact of that perfection, some will not. Nonetheless, it is always present.

Since there is nothing external to attain—nothing that anyone can give us and nothing that we can receive—the spiritual journey is a ceaseless process of investigating ourselves, of digging through the layers of our conditioning to reach the ground of our being. Conditioning is unavoidable. It begins at birth and continues throughout our lives, perpetuated by our culture, parents,
teachers, religions, peers, and society. We all define ourselves through it.
When we reach adulthood we find ourselves living our lives out of this deeply ingrained script. At some point, we may sense that something is not quite right. Feeling unreal, meaningless, or perpetually dissatisfied despite plenty of material goods and good experiences, we become aware of an undercurrent of suffering that permeates our lives. Questions begin to arise, and with them the impetus to find our true humanity and to become completely free.

Each step of a spiritual journey involves this crucial turning point of becoming aware of our most profound questions. In acknowledging our impulse for clarity,
it is then possible to develop our aspiration for enlightenment. Once we are conscious of our deepest yearnings we can begin our practice, realize ourselves, and share that wisdom with others. At each stage along the way this cycle of practice, realization, and actualization is repeated. Again and again and again.

Each step requires the questions of great doubt—"Who am I? What is truth? What is reality? What is life? What is death?" These questions change as the spiritual journey unfolds, but there are always questions. They are the cutting edge of practice. We also need to have faith. Unless we trust ourselves and the process, there is no possibility of being fully engaged. If there is no trust,
skepticism and cynicism arise and we don't receive what the practice offers.
Along with great doubt and great faith we need great determination, the ability to persevere in spite of all odds. Thirteenth-century Japanese Zen Master Eihei
Dogen said, "To study the Way is to study the self, to study the self is to forget the self, to forget the self is to be enlightened by the ten thousand things." Studying the self is the most difficult undertaking any of us will ever engage in our lives. The spiritual journey requires incredible effort because the self is specifically conditioned not to be forgotten. In the process of exploring the self, resistances will come up. But when great doubt,
great faith, and great determination function together in balance, we keep the spiritual journey alive.

Each step of the way is filled with pearls—accomplishments and insights, and fraught with perils—corresponding complications and dangers. The pearls are the discoveries within ourselves that nourish and empower us, and allow us to help others. They shine right at the outset of our journey and continue throughout because this Journey is a process of coming face-to-face with our original perfection. The perils are the sticking places, nests, distractions,
and detours. The spiritual evolution itself creates new tests all along the way. We start with our collection of problems and we create new ones as the process of clarification develops.

Meet the Author

John Daido Loori (1931–2009) was one of the West's leading Zen masters. He was the founder and spiritual leader of the Mountains and Rivers Order and abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery. His work has been most noted for its unique adaptation of traditional Asian Buddhism into an American context, particularly with regard to the arts, the environment, social action, and the use of modern media as a vehicle of spiritual training and social change. Loori was an award-winning photographer and videographer. His art and wildlife photography formed the core of a unique teaching program that integrated art and wilderness training by cultivating a deep appreciation of the relationship of Zen to our natural environment. He was a dharma heir of the influential Japanese Zen master Taizan Maezumi Roshi and he authored many books.

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