Master HsuYun’s Ten Oxherding Poems

Poems on the Oxherding series, by Master Hsu Yun

The Oxherder, the Spinning Maiden and the Ox.

Ceramic figurine at Hsu Yun Temple, Honolulu.

Master HsuYun made several poems around the theme of the Oxherding pictures, this is the 10 images version (he also wrote a 12 poems version that we will post in a few weeks).

This version was originally posted at the old website of the our Order :

These are simple and direct poems helping us to understand the way Great Master HsuYun saw and used these classical Oxherding images and poems, a classical theme of our Chan/Zen tradition.

1. Pushing Aside the Grass to Look for the Ox

Wanting to break through to Emptiness with my white cudgel
I cried out louder than the bellowing Ox, mooing through my senses.
I followed mountain and stream searching for the Ox, seeking it everywhere.
But I couldn’t tell in which direction it had gone… west?… or east?

2. Suddenly Seeing Tracks

On I searched… into the mountains and along the river banks.
But in every direction I went, I went in vain.
Who would have suspected that it was right where I stood;
That I needed only nod my head and my true Self would appear before me.

3. Seeing the Ox

Its wild nature is now calmed in lazy sleep.
By the stream, under the trees, crushing the blades of dew laden grass
The Ox sleeps without a care.
At last I have found it… there with its great head and horns.

4. Piercing the Ox’s Nose

I rush forward and pierce the Ox’s nose!
It wildly jerks and jumps
But I feed it when it is hungry and give it water when it thirsts.
Then I allow the Oxherding Boy to take care of it.

5. Training the Ox

I have supported you with great care for many years
And you plow – not mud and water, but clouds!
From dawn until dusk, the natural grass sustains you
And you keep your master company by sleeping out of doors.

6. Returning Home Riding the Ox

What place in these cloudy mountains is not my home?
There’s greenery everywhere – so lush it’s hard to tell
Crops from wild grasses. I don’t intrude on planted fields.
I ride the Ox and let him graze along the roadside.

7. Keeping the Person Because of the Ox

I went from the city to the edge of the sea
I returned riding backwards in a white ox wagon.
Into this painted hall comes a spinning red wheel.
The New Bride finally arrives, and from my own house!

8. The Bride and the Ox are Forgotten

I remember the old days as I brush out dead ashes from the cold stove.
Silently, without a trace, I pace back and forth for no reason.
But today the ice is broken by a plum blossom!
A tiger roars, a dragon growls, and all the creatures of the universe surround me.

9. Returning to the Origin and the Essence

Every thing and every creature under the sun has its own nature.
Hasn’t this knowledge been passed down through generations?
When the Ox suddenly roars like a lion
Everything in the universe reveals such infinite variety.

10. Coming Home with Folded Hands

How wide are the horizons of the spinning earth!
The moonlight leads the tides and the sun’s light will not be confined
Within the net of heaven. But in the end all things return to the One.
The deaf and dumb, the crippled and deformed are all restored to the One’s Perfection.

11. The Concluding Song

In the beginning there was nothing, nor was anything lacking.
The paper was blank. We pick up the paint brush and create the scene…
The landscape, the wind whipping water into waves.
Everything depends upon the stroke of our brush.
Our Ox lets the good earth lead it,
Just as our brush allows our hand to move it.
Take any direction, roam the world to its farthest edge.
All comes back to where it started… to blessed Emptiness.