Oxen Allegories


Oxen Allegories


Oxen Allegories

The Mindful Ox

Regarding my Four Allegorical Drawings from the Path of Awakening :
( Click to see the drawings: The Mindful Ox )

“Buddhas neither wash sins away with water, nor remove the sufferings of beings with their hands. They transfer not their realizations to others. Beings are freed through the teaching of truth ‒ the nature of things.”
(From the Sutras)

(Note: I am posting this article to provide a more complete description of The Mindful Ox drawings than that which appears with each drawing in the collection; not as a complete analysis — literally volumes have been written on the subject of awakening — but as an introduction for visitors that are unfamiliar with Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, and as well, a confirmation to those who are. In this article, I’ve introduced some Sanskrit words and shown them in italics.)

These allegorical drawings represent the four basic, time-honored stages of awakening and enlightenment found in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, set forth originally nearly three thousand years ago by an almost mythical prince in India, and later to be refined by some of our planet’s most brilliant minds. In them, I’ve portrayed the mind as an ox. Even though oxherd drawings are more a form of Chinese (Ch’an) and/or Japanese (Zen) Buddhist art tradition than Tibetan tangka art, I decided to not depart from this established form, yet have Westernized it.


Drawing 1: SAMSARA

In SAMSARA, we are seen following the ox as it streams its thoughts, looking back to see if we are following, as we hope that in following, our thoughts will materialize and deliver to us our deepest desires for happiness. Yet, even in the achievement of our highest goals, we find ourselves repeating the same cycle of suffering we previously experienced. This cycle then starts over and again, failing repeatedly to yield to us the satisfaction we seek. As a result we grasp for more, all the while following behind empty-handed while our lives spill over with confusion. Surprisingly, this suffering, in samsara, stems directly from a complete and utter misconception of the manner in which we exist.

Our conventionalized, differentiated worldviews have the tendency to conceal from us rather than reveal the non-differentiated nature of existence we seek. and the subsequent confusion is thereby perpetuated. In our persistence a steady stream of fabricated consciousnesses (delusion) form and comprise our daily lives.

For the individual willing to make the effort, there can be an end to ignorance and suffering. The next drawing leads to letting go of misconceptions and finding a way forward.

Drawing 2: HINAYANA

To be clear, this process is not one of building something or adding to ourselves, but one of finding and getting in touch with what already exists within each of us — that which is, and has been there all along.

Our suffering stems basically from the misconception of the manner in which we exist. In the hinayana, the ‘foundation vehicle’, we learn to accumulate and cultivate insights to a more precise nature of existence and our place in it by first taming the ox in quiet meditation (shamatha) and learning the mind’s operations.

In sitting meditation we develop ‘mindfulness’, which is re-cognizing what goes on … with the ox. Once established, calm abiding blossoms naturally that then, in our everyday activities, post-meditation (vipashyana) begins, expanding outward in awareness, while bringing fresh insight as nourishment. The two practices eventually becoming indivisible. Beginning to see things as they are breaks the power of preconceptions one by one, and we eventually find a preference for isness, carrying us away from our discursive, inner gossip.

Altogether, a window opens and we begin to see the non-differentiated nature of Creation. Having been liberated from our fabrications and selves, we begin a practice of perfection.

Drawing 3: MAHAYANA

This next phase of awakening is known as the mahayana, or, ‘great vehicle’, the vehicle that bears us upon the bodhisattva (awakened being) path of perfection to wisdom and compassion. Our ox is led about in a ten-fold practice of perfecting virtues. In the hinayana the practice was directed to the liberation of the individual, but now, the ego abandoned, in the mahayana the aspiration for awakening becomes directed to the benefit of others.

With discipline (shilaparamita), letting go of aspirations of self-enlightenment allows the mind to rest in its natural state, and take its natural course of actualizing our true nature. With it comes omniscience (knowing the nature of all things) and rest in our natural state of mind, which is clarity, the union of mind and body, and speech, the experience of joy, appreciation and compassion. And as well, equanimity. This is Wakefulness.

Remember — we have built nothing new, but removed the obscurations and conditions that pre-existed. This has been within us all along.

Drawing 4: VAJRAYANA

The final leg of the path is the continuum (tantra) of indestructible, foundational, transformation. The diamond vehicle is an unceasing play of the natural state of dependent arisings. In this, the only action left is to let go completely of practices, doctrines, preconceptions. Let go of all that arise from our internal fortifications, ancestrally built for survival. Let go of effort.

Where previously we made a huge effort, our practice now becomes effortless … yet we still sit. We meditate, but formlessly. Effortlessly. The separation between sitting and taking action, or even thinking, that was once definable, no longer exists — all is non-meditation. There is no difference between samsara and nirvana and all is ‘one taste’ yet distinct in nature.

While we experienced previous instances of wakefulness, vajrayana implants the aspect of continuity (tantra) and freedom from all duality and conditionality. Ultimately, all is let go completely as we are restored to our right mind. We blissfully ride the ox home.

In an analysis of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, I find there is no ‘attainment’ or ‘enlightenment’. There is only preparing conditions for two eventual onsets: liberation and omniscience. In this, I wish everyone well.  –Michael

“Seeing, but not attaching to these views, I knew and saw inner peace.”
(The Buddha Before Buddhism; Gil Fransdal)


Back to the drawings: The Mindful Ox

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