The Oxherd Series – The Ox Transcended – Modern Koans

Posted by in Buddha, Modern Koans, Oxherd Series, Writings


The Oxherd Series is a collection of 10 images and commentary on the quest for enlightenment.  Its source is the Zen tradition. What you’re reading here is a satirical, but not all together purposeless, treatment of these so called stages. Using excerpts from one of my favorite cartoons, Bob’s Burgers, I hope to bring this old story into the present.

Here’s a koan for you:

At what point do you transcend the fact that there is a cross dressing 2400 lb steer in your kitchen?

My teacher would often say, “I don’t like the word practice, the word cultivate seems more appropriate.” Practice implies getting ready for something – the big game, the recital, or your times tables test.  But life isn’t broken up into scrimmages and games.  It’s always on. Today’s effort counts the same as yesterday’s.  If you make a mistake today, you will experience the consequences, no matter what. The same goes for making a great play or a kind gesture.  It all counts.

It is important to avoid the instinct to view enlightenment as an end Click To Tweet

Cultivation, a farming word, seems more appropriate. The more mindfully we go about our plowing, planting, feeding, and caring for our crop, the more likely we will reap a good harvest. But when the spring comes and the grain starts to dwindle, the farmer must begin anew.

This stage in the Oxherd series can often be misunderstood to say that there is an end to cultivation. The poem puts it enigmatically, abandoning the whip and the rope. But I would say no.  This is transcendence.  Think of it like this. When we first learn to feed ourselves, the task of making a meal has an end in mind.  When you’ve eaten, your efforts have served their purpose.  But for some, the art of cooking can be a pleasure. Your creations take on a life of themselves – e.g. New – Baconings). The fact that you have to eat has not gone away, but the act of cooking is the act of living itself.  Something that can be done fully and well.

It is important to avoid the instinct to view enlightenment as an end. It doesn’t show up on the calendar, its an aspect of being and thus always there. It’s there whether you’re practicing how to knit or actually knitting.  Whether you’re practicing your instrument or actually playing it.  When you’ve transcended the idea that there is a difference between practice and doing, the idea that you can do one without the other becomes ludicrous.

Astride the Ox, I reach home.
I am serene. The Ox too can rest.
The dawn has come. In blissful repose,
Within my thatched dwelling
I have abandoned the whip and ropes..

Next: Both Ox and Self Transcended

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Modern Koans is an ongoing series that recognizes that good questions are often more important than their answers.

The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man. ― G.K. Chesterton

Dialectic Two Step, Modern Koans, Verse Us, Say What?, and Minute Meditations all copyright Andrew Furst

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Andrew Furst

Author of two books, Poet, Meditation Teacher, Buddhist blogger, backup guitarist for his teenage boys, lucky husband and technologist
Andrew Furst
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