Innumerable footprints has he seen in the forest
and along the water’s edge.
Over yonder does he see the trampled grass?
Even the deepest gorges of the topmost mountains
can’t hide this Ox’s nose which reaches right to heaven.
By asking the right questions you begin to sense there might be more to life than you previously thought. You recognise that you can’t continue to live as you have, that you must find a solution to your problems. You can’t keep wandering around lost and confused, you need a route map or path that will take you through the wilderness of your doubt.
So after searching for a while you discover a path. You might not know what the path is or where it’s going, but at least it’s something, so you begin to follow it. There are many paths out of the forest, but the one that will work is the one you create yourself. This doesn’t mean you make it up as you go and believe whatever you want. It means you must find your own path deep within yourself. And your deepest self is your Buddha nature.
In other words, you must do the inner work: not just read books on the dharma or listen to talks by masters, but put what you learn into practise and actually walk the talk. The path will appear under your feet as you walk.
The ox symbolises the True Self, so finding the tracks means you get a sense of where this path is going. The droppings or footprints of the ox along the path act like a trail of breadcrumbs that give you tiny indications that there’s more to life. The true meaning is hidden right under your nose; it’s there no matter which path you choose to walk. Since everything is a manifestation of Buddha nature (or emptiness), then anything can become a footprint or clue on the path. As Pema Chodron says, you start where you are. Everything in your life can be seen as offering the potential to wake you up.
At this stage of awakening, the path is still largely theoretical. You might have a vague idea what you’re working towards, but unless you take action every day, you won’t find it. Acting on your desire to awaken makes it real and brings it down to earth. If the first picture (Seeking the Ox) was when the intention formed to find the path, this is when you act to make that intention real.
It’s interesting that the tracks are found under foot, on the ground, not up in the sky, in a vision, not an angel whispering in your ear or a giant hand pointing the way. The path is rooted in the earth at your feet. It’s in your being, your body and your breath. The path is inside you and always has been.
Next: First Glimpse of the Ox