※ Okay, I'm back from a week and a half of being out of town. Let the posting begin!
A web log that I like to read
posted some photos from 범어사
, a Buddhist temple in Pusan. It got me to thinking that the Sanchon Hunjang knows only the very basics and none of the symbolism behind the boy and cow story that features so prominently in paintings on the exterior walls at many Buddhist temples. So I did a little searching about these In-search-of-the-ox Murals (멱우도 覓牛圖*)
It's a series of usually ten paintings called "In Search of the Cow Paintings 尋牛圖" or "Herding the Cow Paintings 牧牛圖," some people even say "Ten Cow Paintings 十牛圖." The cow symbolizes truth, or one's Buddha-nature 佛性.
Originally there was a Taoist painting series, called the "Eight Cow Paintings 八牛圖," that ended with the scene of nothingness. During the Southern Song Dynasty
(1127 - 1279 A.D.) Zen Master Huoan 확암선사 廓庵禪師 added two more frames to supplement the message of the search for truth. Other sources say Zen Master Qingju was the original artist. There are variations, such as the "Ten Horses Paintings" in China or the "Ten Elephants Paintings" in Tibet. But if you're an antiques collector in search of original Indian or Tibetan Buddhist paintings, I have some sad news that may give you pause. You see, the traditional medium is pigment on the surface of paper that has been prepared by rubbing it down with cow dung
. The same holds true for paintings on the walls of temples
and other structures. I'm sure that there are less offensive smelling things to collect in this world.Some guy
has done a thorough job in describing each of the paintings and its significance in detail. In brief, it consist of the following ten steps.
- Search out the ox (심우 尋牛): Shows a young boy 童子 who has decided to set out in search of the cow. He holds reigns as a symbol of his resolve. This first frame emphasizes the realization that something is lost and the determination to seek it 發心, even though there are no traces of what exactly is missing or where it may be.
- See tracks (견적 見跡): Through diligent effort, the boy discovers the footprints of the ox.
- See the ox (견우 見牛): The boy then catches a glimpse of the ox itself. The ox is dark in color. This symbolizes the fact that, while the devotee has seen hints at his own Buddha nature, he is still stained by attachment to the mundane world.
- Catch the ox (득우 得牛): The boy catches hold of the ox. Although he is still unable to direct the ox in its course, he has taken one step closer.
- Herd the ox (목우 牧牛): The boy takes control of the ox and breaks it as a trainer breaks a wild horse. The symbolism is that the truth-seeker weans himself from the attachment and temptations 三毒 of the world.
- Return home riding the ox (기우귀가 騎牛歸家): The boy returns to the world of enlightenment, which is his home, riding on the purified ox. The boy plays a flute with no holes, which symbolizes the sound of his true nature coming from the deep recesses of his heart. The boy and the ox have become one.
- Cow forgotten, there is only the man (망우재인 忘牛在人): The boy has returned home and no longer has need of the cow. The cow was just a means to reach this state.
- Cow and man are all forgotten (인우구망 人牛俱忘): All has become nothingness 無. The boy has annihilated his individual being and become one with those who have gone before and everything.
- Return to basis, go back to the origin (반본환원 返本還源): The boy, the cow and everything have returned to the original state before they became a separate boy and cow. This is the state of true enlightenment.
- Enter the marketplace and hang your hands down (입전수수 入廛垂手): Without concern for raiment or appearance, the boy returns to help others. As he makes his way through the marketplace, all those who behold him are enlightened
According to several sources, Zen Master Huoan is telling the story of the Maitreya Buddha 彌勒佛, the Buddha of the future, who is to appear on the earth, rule, achieve perfect enlightenment and begin a new school of teachings that will surpass those of of the historical Buddha. All of this according to the Avatamska Sutra 화엄경 華嚴經. The message of this series of paintings is thus that the Miatreya Buddha must be found.
If you'd like to go in search of your own bovine of truth, I have a little comment. Some friends, most notably WH, say that Le Petit Prince place is the best around. I prefer a different place, which was, ironically enough, introduced to me by WH.
*) Okay, okay, you caught me. It's not 멱우도 but 심우도. Still, 尋 is the same as 覓, right?