Tend the Ox
Since you’re studying this path, then at all times – in your encounters with people and responses to circumstances – you must not let wrong thoughts continue. If you cannot see through them, then the moment a wrong thought comes up you should quickly concentrate your mental energy to pull yourself away. If you always follow those thoughts and let them continue without a break, not only does this obstruct the path, but it makes you out to be a man without wisdom.
In the old days Kuei Shan asked Lazy An, “What work do you do during the twenty-four hours of the day?”
An said, “I tend an ox.”
Kuei Shan said, “How do you tend it?”
An said, “Whenever it gets into the grass, I pull it back by the nose.”
Kuei Shan said, “You’re really tending the ox!”
People who study the path, in controlling wrong thoughts, should be like Lazy An tending his ox; then gradually a wholesome ripening will take place of itself.
Do Not Grasp Another’s Bow
“Do not grasp another’s bow, do not ride another’s horse, do not meddle in another’s affairs.” Though this is a commonplace saying, it can also be sustenance, for entering the path. Just examine yourself constantly: from morning to night, what do you do to help others and help yourself? If you notice even the slightest partiality, or insensitivity, you must admonish yourself. Don’t be careless about this!
In the old days Ch’an master Tao Lin lived up in a tall pine tree on Ch’in Wang mountain; people of the time called him the “Bird’s Nest Monk.” When minister, Po Chu-Yi, was commander of Ch’ien T’ang, he made a special trip to the mountain to visit him.
Po said, “It’s very dangerous where you’re sitting, Ch’an master.”
The master said, “My danger may be very great, minister, but yours is even greater.”
Po said, “I am commander of Ch’ien T’ang: what danger is there?”
The master said, “Fuel and fire are joined, consciousness and identity do not stay: how can you not be in danger?”
Po also asked, “What is the overall meaning of the Buddhist teaching?”
The master said, “Don’t commit any evils, practice the many virtues.”
Po said, “Even a three-year-old child could say this!”
The master said, “Though a three-year-old child can say it, an eighty-year-old man cannot carry it out.” Po then bowed and departed.
Tending the ox is a very ancient symbol in the history of Zen. There exist ten paintings in China; the tenth painting has been a cause of great controversy. I would like you to understand those ten paintings, and the controversy, before we start Ta Hui’s sermon on tending the ox.