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Riding the Ox Home

January 10, 2013

by Stephen Damon

Riding on the animal, he leisurely wends his way home:
Enveloped in the evening mist, how tunefully the flute vanishes away!
Singing a ditty, beating time, his heart is filled with a joy indescribable!
That he is now one of those who know, need it be told?

The struggle is over; the boy is no more concerned with gain and loss. He hums a rustic tune of the woodsman, he sings simple songs of the village boy. Saddling himself on the ox’s back, his eyes are fixed on things not of the earth, earthy. Even if he is called, he will not turn his head; however enticed he will no more be kept back.

At this stage, our struggle to find the lost part of ourselves is over. We see that it is we who have been lost, we who have needed to be disciplined. Now as we become more intimate with the whole of ourselves we no longer need the whip and the reign to discipline our unruly minds. We are not quite “one” with our true nature, but we are no longer “two.” We are no longer concerned with gaining anything and we see that there is nothing to lose. We hum a tune of the woodsman and sing the songs of a village boy, and hear a melody, older than time itself.

We leisurely wend our way through the evening mist because we see that there is no place we have to get to. We feel at home wherever we are. Many years ago, I recall taking my very young daughter to my first teacher’s home which was decorated with various religious statues from the East. As she admired a Buddha statue from Indonesia, my teacher asked her how she felt. She replied, “It feels like home.” And he responded, “You should feel like that wherever you go.” I don’t know if she remembers what he said, but I have kept it with me as a compass of sorts.

As we make our way through “the jungle” of our lives, our eyes may take in the tall trees and green grasses, our ears may hear bird songs, but our mind goes beyond the earthly, beyond everything that we have known. We are living in the second rank of Zen where we experience the ultimate within everything we see, hear, and touch. Other translations say that we have gone beyond. Having gone beyond everything, we return to where we started. Having gone beyond all conventions, all distinctions and all characterizations, we see that there is no near or faraway, there is nothing to get beyond, so there is no getting beyond. Living this way we experience a joy that is indescribable. This feeling of joy goes beyond any experience of happiness that we might have had before. We feel a deep satisfaction in the way things are.

Dukkha, the First Noble Truth taught by the Buddha is now translated as a dissatisfaction with our lives. This dissatisfaction often brings us to our practice. If we continue to practice diligently we will experience an indescribable deep satisfaction with things just as they are. We may have struggled with the ups and downs of our practice for many years, but now having made contact with our original nature, we feel an indescribable joy that feels easy and natural. W are now free to move leisurely through the turbulence of our lives. And yet we do have a direction, we keep our gaze forward the way we do when we sit Zazen, and even if we are called, we will not turn our heads; however enticed we will no more be kept back.


From → Zen Buddhism

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