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Ten Ox-herding Pictures II: Seeing the Traces

November 28, 2012

by Stephen Damon

By the stream and under the trees,

Scattered are the traces of the lost;

The sweet-scented grasses are growing thick—

did he find the way?

However remote over the hills

and far away the beast may wander,

His nose reaches the heavens

and none can conceal it.


You’ve noticed the traces of another kind of life everywhere—in the bird songs coming from the trees as well as the silence of the early hours of the morning and the late hours of the night.  You notice that if you look deeply into anything you sense something unknown that somehow seems familiar.  When you do this, you experience a part of yourself that is also unknown and yet strangely familiar.  You see that this part of yourself knows how to look and to listen, and how to live this other kind of life. How odd that you haven’t noticed these things before!

You begin to follow these traces wherever they may lead. You search out people who have noticed the traces and are trying to follow them.  Occasionally, you meet someone who seems to have found something, who may suggest that you read some of the Buddhist Sutras and other writings left by buddhas and ancestors.  These teachings seem like breadcrumbs left behind by those who have found their way out of the life in which you feel so trapped. At this stage you really don’t know how to discern the true from the false, the provisional from the essential and yet you do have a “taste” for the truth; you can smell the “sweet-scent” of the thick grasses.

You have much to learn, much to experience, but you do understand something. Some books you read to the end, taking careful notes, and some you toss away after reading just a few pages. You notice that you can discern whether there is an inner authority to what you are reading.  You may not be able to express why you feel that something has this authority, but the feeling is unmistakable—it becomes your guide at this early stage of the path.  Much of what you read, either in the Mahayana Sutras or the talks and gathas left my Zen masters, is incomprehensible and yet you keep on reading and studying.  You have the sense that something is being deposited into you.  This “something” has a presence that acts like a magnet drawing to itself certain kinds of influences that nourish it. As you go on, you see more and more traces—everywhere!

You sense a subtle change of orientation. You begin to sense that the traces you have been following over the hills are also inside you; the objective world is a reflection of the self.  The path is not so much a linear route from here to there as it is a spiral that goes deeper and deeper into the very heart of the present moment, where you find yourself. It is so close that nothing can conceal it.

From → Zen Buddhism

One Comment
  1. Beautifully expressed, I love the closing line. Thank you for sharing & be well ~

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