Ox Herding Pictures: Seeking the Ox


Desolate through forests and fearful in jungles, 

he is seeking an Ox which he does not find.

Up and down dark, nameless, wide-flowing rivers, 

in deep mountain thickets he treads many bypaths.

Bone-tired, heart-weary, he carries on his search 

for this something which he yet cannot find.

At evening he hears cicadas chirping in the trees.

The first stage of awakening is the search for meaning. This usually starts with looking outside yourself: for worldly pleasures, success, money, the perfect relationship, owning cool stuff, or filling your head with interesting ideas and philosophies. This is really an attempt to make your life more comfortable so you can avoid pain and suffering, but in the end, none of it works – at least, not for long.

After a while you become disillusioned. You want more from life, but nothing you do or own gives you want you really need. You may not even be sure what you really need, you just know something is wrong. You may experience a loss of purpose and direction, and begin to question everything in your life. This could be as simple as feeling mildly perturbed and a bit grouchy, or it could be a full-blown dark night of the soul. This can happen at any time in your life. You’re not sure what you want, you just know you don’t have it.

Whatever happens, the start of the journey always involves a leap of faith. You don’t know what to do or even what you’re searching for, but you know there must be more to life than what you’ve found so far.

The feeling of bewilderment and uncertainty may not be fun, but its essential. Without the great doubt at the heart of your life, you wouldn’t begin the search for more. Finally you stop looking for answers in the outside world and turn inward and start to ask what your life really means. So the search begins…

Next: Finding the Tracks

>Read the whole series here

Painting by Jikihara Gyokusei and Verse by Kuoan Shiyuan


5 thoughts on “Ox Herding Pictures: Seeking the Ox

  1. I find it interesting how oxen quests play a part in both Far East and ancient Greek stories. Occasionally, it’s a bull or cow mentioned. ‘Stories that involve lovers separated by some barrier, like a river/the Milky Way. But, there seems to be a general oxen vibe to these tales. I don’t know as many stories of lost sheep (as Little Bo Peep describes).

    I’ve used some thread of this quest for oxen/cows in a recent work of mine, a quest to find 50 women, disguised as oxen, who are the missing daughters of a farmer.

    I will read more into what you’ve posted in good time. I just saw the onset and was reminded of all I had found, relating to oxen, separation and a journey/quest for reunion.


    1. Mythology often uses the same symbols around the world – and I’m not sure why. I’ve never come across the story you mention of the missing women disguised as oxen – interesting…


      1. I think they are called the Daenades/Daenides? A man had 50 daughters promised to 50 princes. The women, for some reason, killed most of the princes. One story says 50 daughters were turned into cows. Another says they were sent to the underworld to pour broken urns of water for eternity. In the story of Cadmus, he went looking for a prize cow and was told by an oracle to build a city where the cow stopped to drink. [I just blended them together.]

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Uuuh. No. See, they were turned into cows after doing the killing. The punishment varies with the teller of the story. But, they were just one group of “emotionally violent” women punished for their audacity. We don’t really know if the men did anything to earn such fates. A few survived, though. So, not all of the homes were unhappy.

          Liked by 1 person


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