From Publishers Weekly
Since the ninth century, students of Zen Buddhism have drawn a parallel between the individual path to enlightenment and the story of the herder and his missing ox. There are 10 stages in the parable, beginning with the search for the ox, in which a boy is racked with doubt because "Nothing has been lost in the first place,/ So what is the use of searching?" In the final stage, the boy reappears as the Buddha of the Future, enlightened. The scroll reprinted here is the oldest known version of the Japanese Ten Oxherding Songs, dating to 1278, and the only known example with illustrations in color along with the calligraphy. An introduction by Stephanie Wada, associate curator of the Mary and Jackson Burke foundation (which holds the manuscript) explains, in scholarly terms, both the story and the origins of this scroll and its ten circular drawings (one for each song) and poems. Nothing she writes, however, can have the impact of the eighth part of the parable: with just a wide, empty circle from which both the boy and the ox have vanished, this stage indicates that the attachment to "self" and earthly things has been relinquished. The delicacy and unstudied precision of the calligraphy's brushwork furthers the feeling. Even a Zen novice can appreciate the message of this parable, lovingly inked more than 700 years ago.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
About the Author
Stephanie Wada is Associate Curator at the Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation, one of the most extensive private collections of Japanese art outside of Japan. She has taught courses in Asian art at Temple University, Parsons School of Design, Columbia University, and the City College of New York. She lives in New York City.