Searching for the Bull
(Zen Story)

Alfonso Carrasco

The drawings that are shown here represent the steps that lead to spiritual illumination. These are modern versions of those by painter Tomikichiro Tokuriki. He himself created them based on the original drawings by Chinese Master Chino Kukuan, from the XII century; and these from previous Taoist stories.

They symbolize the combination of the sacred and the profane. The bull represents the animal nature in every human being, it is united to the spiritual nature. The struggle to harmonize the physical impulses and appetites is equivalent to also integrating those of the spirit. The student can use the images to evaluate his advancement or discover in which stage of the spiritual path he is at.

First image : The Search for the Bull
(There are variations in the drawings of the bull and the names given to each stage. I will use "man/men/his/he" in generic form, representing both men and women. Trans.)

This stage represents man when he still doesn't know his true nature, but one way or another, has already started his search. He wishes to find it, though he doesn't even know what it is, nor is he sure of recognizing it when he finds it. Sometimes he experiments with the search as an escape from his present circumstances, that in general are not pleasant. Life as it is, is a heavy load and - he thinks - surely there must be a better way of living. Most of those that have started the "search" are at this stage.

Second image: Finding the path

At this stage, the searcher finds indications, clues in one or more spiritual traditions, he is attracted by books of wisdom, he assists to conferences on the subject, he meets masters and notices that there are others that have followed the same path, he is not the first person to have noticed that there is something subtle to attain. This stage, generally, starts with yoga practice, meditation or other disciplines. Through these he experiences sensations related to the spirit. In the first image the farmer searches all over, without a specific order, whereas in the second image his search is more focussed and better oriented.

Third image: The first glimpse.

This would be considered the first spiritual experience, the student gets to see his true self and feel the kundalai energy that awakens within him. It is equivalent to the first contact with the master that initiates him or transmits him his energy. Kundalai energy is both physical and spiritual in nature. The searcher's objective will be to elevate this energy towards his consciousness instead of repressing or eliminating the animal within. This first insight can also originate from religious experiences in the form of celestial visions. As a summary, the first sight is any kind of vision or unusual experience that stimulates the individual to follow the path towards that which is transcendental.

Fourth image: Capturing the bull

The farmer has caught the animal but it is still stubborn and does not follow him. He has finally caught it but it is obstinate and uncontrolled. Its energy and decision are relentless, at times it runs toward the hills, at other times it stays unmovable in deep impenetrable valleys. It symbolizes our struggle with our basic nature, something that can last a whole lifetime. At this stage a person must analyse if he is advancing and attaining a clearer understanding or he is simply stuck and protecting himself behind certain doctrines or ideas related to spiritual practice.

Fifth image: Taming the bull

This represents the control of our physical or animal nature, this is attained by knowing it, in other words, listening and dialoging with it. The farmer is now directing the bull with the reins and controls it to the extent that the bull lets himself be guided. Little by little the man becomes the master. What he does at this stage is unite his conciousness with the animal nature (basic nature). For example, a professional animal trainer knows that using force you do not tame the animal, only harmonizing his conciousness with the animal conscience can he attain that. This is why many of the effective spiritual development formulas do not try to conquer, dominate, destroy or eliminate the ego, rather they teach you to live in harmony with it. Actually, it is the ego or the mind itself, that promotes the search of one's Self and it must go through all the stages. Thus to talk about eliminating it is absurd.

Sixth image: Riding the bull home

In the Hindu culture, Gods and Goddesses are represented riding on animals as their vehicle. The animal symbolizes the inferior nature that the man dominates and with which he has a good relationship. One must feed and take care of the biological part of our being, without abusing nor relaxing too much. This way the physical vital force becomes an ally. In the drawing we can see how the man is riding the bull without reins, the bull knows where to go and that's where it goes without being directed. He is playing the flute placidly on the back of the bull. The struggle is over, the man has attained the state of enlightment.

Seventh image: The trascended bull

The farmer is alone and happy, sitting by his house, the bull is no longer visible. The man has become one with the Being. Instead of the former efforts, a state of peace and happiness reigns.

Trancendence is a recurring or temporal experience of unity, beyond dualities. It is an exceptional state of conscience. When we live in a dual world, we always experience the opposites: inside - out, happiness - saddness, success - failure, etc. Duality starts with birth and ends with death. Actually, we live not only in duality, but rather multiplicity. Whereas transcendence implies a unity experience, not duality, not multiplicity, that shows us our true nature.

Eighth image: The bull and Self trascended

All has fused itself into nothingness. We can only observe a circle, with nothing inside, which means all opposites have disappeared. At this stage the man can't even say "I'm illuminated" or "I'm not illuminated", they don't exist for him, Unity is all that exists.

Ninth image: Back to the origin

In this image we can see nature in all its splendour, flowers, birds, the river, mountains. It represents what happens after the trascendental experience. Outside the illuminated man, nothing has changed, only man himself has been transformed. He reenters life with different eyes, a new center with another focus guides him. Each time he so wishes he can go within himself and see life through it. All is in peace.

Tenth image: In the world

Buddha, after attaining the state of illumination, almost didn't come out again and return to the world. His compassion for all beings finally took hold and the rest of his life he dedicated to intense social work that transformed culture and society in his time. In this drawing the illuminated man now directs himself to other beings to help them. He puts all his wisdom at their service.

Bibliography

  • Metzner, Ralph. 1998. The Unfolding Self: Varieties of Transformative Experience. Origin Press.
  • Reps, Paul. 1989. Carne zen, huesos zen. La frambuesa.


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