The Ten Ox-Herding Pictures

This depiction of the Ten Ox-herding Pictures, also know as The Ten Bulls, stems from the Zen tradition of Buddhism and represents the stages one goes through in taming the mind. Though of Buddhist origin, it is relevant to the journey of gaining mastery over one’s mind, and being in the world with the intent and gifts to benefit others regardless of one’s faith tradition or beliefs. I revised the text to make the series more inclusive and to express a non-denominational vocabulary. 

(I carved the images from linoleum blocks while living in a little cabin on the coast of Orcas Island, by kerosene lamps, during a long cold winter. By the time I got done with the 10th one my carving had improved to to where I went back and re-carved the others!)

Carvings (1977 ) and narrative (2012) offered by Susan Shannon, M. Div.

1. The Search for the Bull       


One feels there is a missing piece that is preventing a sense of wholeness. Looking for fulfillment on the outside has not produced lastingly positive results. There is a sense that the ego is not all there is, but what else is there? One can feel the presence of a larger mystery, but is not sure how to find it.


 2. Discovering the Footprints    


One begins to see that the inner and outer conflicts created by ego directly relate to the pain in one’s life. In seeing this, the footprints of the bull become visible! There is a way out of this pain and the footprints just might lead to the mystery that just might lead to freedom. No choice but to follow them!


 3. Perceiving the Bull        


When you see the bull you also see the mystery. The ego lessens its hold that is replaced with a new sense of openness and generosity. You relax into simply being, without attachment and aversion, and become comfortable with the newfound self that contentedly exists regardless of the constantly changing events of day-to-day life.


 4. Catching the Bull             


Even though you catch the bull, you also see that your ego still exists and continues to try to steer you into judgment and criticism. You see that the skillful means which led you to seeing things just as they are must be used daily, just as a newfound muscle needs exercise in order to develop. You have the benefit of momentum as once you see the bull you are able to begin training the bull. Qualities such as patience, peacefulness, contemplative observation and compassion grow along with this new sense of being.


  5. Taming the Bull    


Once caught, the bull is tamed by the engaged awareness of meditative knowledge and the transcendent wisdom gained by an expanded view of self. The bull becomes gentle and obedient, more focused and content.


 6. Riding the Bull Home 


There is no longer a search for joy, as joy is felt within. The bull obeys the greater master and becomes a rich, creative energy, and singing the very song that leads one home.


7. The Bull Transcended    


Once home, the bull dissolves into oneness with being. There is no bull, and the true nature of all reality is seen from a place of total peace. The wisdom voice that was so new becomes more and more familiar as it reveals itself to be your own voice. All efforts to manipulate reality are abandoned in place of a pure, simple acceptance of what is.



8. Both Bull and Self Transcended        


One is relaxed in the absence of striving and non-striving. One finds the peace without any aversion or attraction of what simply exists.


  9. Reaching the Source       


There is a sense of spaciousness and openness and a distinct absence of fear. Energy exists which does not need to be looked for; one is rich within rather than needing to be enriched by outside means. One feels inner warmth. The pulsations of compassion increase and deepen one’s feelings of love and connection with self and others. There is the feeling of finding a treasure within from which communications and activities reflect.


 10. Into the World                                 


This is the fully awakened state of being in the world. One’s positive deeds multiply like one moon reflected in a hundred bowls of water no matter where you are or what the deed. What is in front of you is your task. You have merged with your true place in the world and are welcomed by all the wise ones who have taken this path before you.





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