Ten Bulls of Zen and Yoga

“Sometimes letting things go is an act of far greater power than hanging on or defending.”
Eckhart Tolle


How do you develop a deeper yoga practice? — Ride the bull home.

There is a very beautiful teaching in Zen called, ‘The Ten Bulls of Zen.” The ‘Ten Bulls of Zen’ is a metaphoric depiction of stages of self-actualization. It is a model of the path to enlightenment, but when applied to our yoga path, can shed much light onto where we are heading.


The first of the ten depictions, is that of an ox-herder who has the realization that one of his oxen is missing. Symbolically, this is a representation for what each of us is missing in life. It can be the desire for greater health, strength, community, love, compassion, etc and our ‘ox’ is constantly changing. On a deeper level, the ox-herder represents the material self; this identity that we so closely associate ourselves with. The ox represents the essential self; who we are at the core of our being.


The second depiction is of the ox-herder spotting the footprints of the ox. The footprints symbolize the path to finding what we are looking for — that there is actually a way out. For the yogi, yoga is that path.


The third depiction is of the ox-herder getting a glimpse of the ox and the fourth depiction is of him catching it. This is the practice that we go through on our mat day after day. Some days are good and others torturous. This is where the commitment to the yoga practice is tested. It is a grueling battle when the past, present and future all collide and only when we can succumb to the process of catching the ox, can we tame it.


Taming the ox is the fifth depiction, but not many people arrive here. The ones that do have the realization that the practice is not the end. For the yogi, this is when the discovery that there is more than breath and form comes. It is the radical knowing that the austerities alone are not what satiate ones desires. True peace and serenity flow from the meditative state. There is tremendous freedom when we can come to this place. Attachment ceases to exist. Expectation vanishes. The practice is nothing more than a practice.


In the sixth depiction, the ox-herder rides the bull home.


In yoga, the body and mind are vehicles in which we can access our true self, but they must be distinguished from them. This separation of the two is goal of the yoga. They allow us to see the light within.The final four images are of this letting go of the practice and identity in an expression of the greatest of surrender to what is. This is how we develop a deeper yoga practice.

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