The ox and the oxherd


That’s a water buffalo, not an ox, in the photo. It reminds me of Svasti, the buffalo boy, in Thich Nhat Hanh’s Old Path, White Clouds.

… the ancient masters devised a way to explain Zen using ox-herding pictograms, which represent ten stages of self-discovery and the pathway to enlightenment. The interpretation of each of the pictures only becomes apparent once a student has passed the stage which the picture represents. All students are unique and may require more time at any given stage. … In the true spirit of Zen, the pictures attempt to explain what cannot be explained.

The ox represents the mind or the self, ego, or pre-conditioned responses. The ox herder is the practitioner attempting to understand his or her nature and, therefore, his or her mind. Throughout the series these two entities slowly merge together until they eventually become one with each other.

From: Guiding a student’s mental development from white belt to Shodan and applying Zen principles into karate and life, by Nicholas Lukich, 3rd Dan Shito-Ryu, and Jason Armstrong, Ph.D. and 5th Dan. Found at

See > The 10 Ox Herding Pictures (with brief explanations, in English)



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