八 Man and Ox, Both Forgotten
This is the continuation of a lecture by Nakamura Tempū on the meaning of the “Ten Ox Herding Pictures” of Zen Buddhism. To go to the beginning of the lecture, click here.
The eighth picture is called “Man and Ox, Both Forgotten.” Look at it: Both the man and his ox are gone—forgotten. There’s nothing left!
What is to be said? It was all but a dream arising out of lawless mind.
Just a circle, what in Buddhism is called ensō (円相). So, just what does this circle stand for? The innate luminosity of mind. The Buddha nature. The heart of mercy. The great way of heaven and earth.
In Zen, it points to the peace wherein all things are equal; it’s a symbol of the absolute state of existence wherein, in the ten directions of heaven and earth [the eight horizontal directions plus up and down], there is only emptiness. Sōsan (僧璨、died 606; Chinese: 鑑智僧璨、Jianzhi Sengcan), Zen’s Third Patriarch, describes it in his poem Shinjin-mei (信心銘、Chinese: Xinxin Ming; Precept of the Believing Mind).
Round tranquility, just as the primordial emptiness. Nothing lacking, nothing in excess.
That’s the ensō; that’s the way it’s explained in Buddhism. In other words, the circle symbolizes that state wherein there is neither satori nor confusion; once you progress this far in your shugyō, you are beyond all attachments.
If there’s no confusion, then there can be no satori, no waking up from confusion. Just as I said earlier: There’s only evil when there’s good. And there’s goodness because there’s evil, right? So, awakening (satori) only comes to someone who’s asleep (confused); because there’s confusion, there’s such a thing as satori.
When you get to this stage that we’re talking about, both confusion and awakening disappear. You no longer live in a world of enlightened saints and ordinary people, of good and bad people; you’re beyond all that. No more putrid, self-righteous preoccupation with satori; no more chasing of cloudlike worldly desires.
No clouds, no moon; even the trees have withered. Up in a clean-swept sky.
“Up in a clean swept sky” doesn’t mean a head lost in the clouds the way yours are. It simply means emptiness. That’s the circle wherein man and ox both disappear.
You’re looking at me with funny expressions on your faces. Okay, let’s see if I can say it in a way you can understand.
In this state, there’s no such thing as unpleasantness or foul smells. That’s because you have left them behind. No unpleasantness or foul smells. No putrid residue of self-importance attached to satori. No sickness or medicine. No prestige or class. No money or wealth. Buddhism calls this the casting off of attachments (放下しつくす、hōge-shi tsukusu).
In Zen, it’s also called “residing in the Buddha nature, alone and cheerful” (仏性独郎、bussyō doku-rō). Also “disinterested clarity” (恬淡明朗、tentan meirō) and “gallant vivaciousness” (颯爽溌剌、sassō hatsuratsu). “Residing in the Buddha nature, alone and cheerful”—this means that when residing in his Buddha nature, one is blissful in his solitude. “Disinterested clarity” and “gallant vivaciousness” are terms describing qualities of that state.
For as long as you cling to the notion, “I’m practicing the Way (I’m engaged in shugyō),” or, “I’m awakened to the Truth,” you still smell; you’re still trailing residue. You still have desires. The person who is really realized doesn’t smell—he doesn’t trail anything. In fact, he looks like an ordinary man. The only time you can tell he is different is when something sudden happens. Because he reacts differently.
To you, the man who looks distinguished is distinguished; the man who carries an air of being awakened is awakened. But if you understand the meaning of the circle in the picture, you see they aren’t the real thing.