五 Taming the Ox
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.
He’s found the ox and caught it; now he’s leading it to pasture.
Day by day, as it is lead to pasture, the ox yields to his stewardship. Ah, what joy.
The meaning of this verse is straightforward and requires little explanation. A Zen master—here again, I’m not sure of names, but I think it was Keihō Shūmitsu (圭峰宗密、780–840; Chinese: Guifong Zongmi)—once said,
To declare enlightenment is not enough. You must put your all into living it.
Translated into the terms of our shin-shin tōitsu method, say you now have a solid understanding of how life works—you understand the central importance of mind—and you have worked hard to cultivate a clear and positive mental state by eliminating worldly desires (煩悩、bonnō)—that is, idle thoughts and delusions. Even so, the moment you let down your guard, all your bad habits, instilled in you over years and years, reappear, and the mind you thought was so clean and pure is once again cluttered and musty. Just when you thought you were free of all those bad habits, they come back to haunt you; you slide back into your old, worn thought patterns. This happens, doesn’t it?
It used to happen to me too, and often. When your shugyō is incomplete, this is what happens, isn’t it? In my case, I would think to myself, “Well, I’ve come this far; that should be good enough,” and the next thing I knew I would be backsliding.
To understand is easy. To carry that understanding forward is extremely difficult.
Obtaining satori—that’s the easy part. It’s carrying that satori forward into the world that is difficult. Just as I often say. “To understand is not to understand. The moment you think you understand is the same moment you lose your understanding.” But few of you people get that, no matter how often I say it.
When I say to one of you, “You. You say you understand, but you don’t understand your understanding” the answer is always, “What do you mean? I don’t understand what you are saying.”
That’s the answer of someone who’s understanding is half-baked. It doesn’t matter what or how well you understand; that understanding is only good up until the present. For as long as you are alive—that means right up until the moment you die—don’t think you understand. Don’t allow the spring that operates your mind to fully unwind; you need to keep it tightly wound [so that it remains alert]. That’s why the people who continue to attend my talks, regardless of whether they understand, are so dear to my heart.
What I am saying is, to become one who’s integrity of mind and body never crumbles takes time and practice. And I’m saying it based on personal experience.
But, then, here’s the thing. Just because the cultivation of mind-body integrity requires austerity and vigilance, don’t make a chore of it. Don’t hang it out as some lofty goal you are trying to achieve. Make it your hobby. Have fun. Once you make it a goal, it becomes a burden; but if you make it a hobby, it becomes enjoyable.
It’s as if you were a woman learning a handicraft: if, instead of worrying about how clumsy you are, you simply relish the pleasure of learning something new, it becomes pleasurable and worthwhile, doesn’t it?