In Zen, a herdboy’s search for his lost oxen has served as a parable for a practitioner’s pursuit of enlightenment since this Buddhist sect’s early history in China. In the eleventh century, the Song-dynasty Zen master Guoan Shiyuan (active ca. 1150) codified the parable into ten verses (gāthā), recorded and illustrated in this handscroll. The parable proceeds from the herdboy losing his ox and following its tracks to recover the animal to, in the next-to-last verse, transcending this world. In a final stage representing the attainment of Buddhist enlightenment, the herdboy becomes one with Budai (Japanese: Hotei), the manifestation of the future Buddha Miroku (Sanskrit: Maitreya). Dated by an inscription to 1278, the present scroll is the earliest known Japanese illustrated copy of the parable and the only extant version with color illustrations.
One aimlessly pushes the grasses aside in search. The rivers are wide, the mountains far away, and the path becomes longer. Exhausted and dispirited, one hears only the late autumn cicadas shrilling in the maple woods. —Trans. Gen Sakamoto
By the water, and under the trees, there are numerous traces. Fragrant grasses grow thickly, but did you see the ox? Even in the depths of the distant mountain forest, How could the upturned nostrils of the ox be concealed? —Trans. Gen Sakamoto
A bush warbler sings upon a branch, warm sun, soft breezes, green willows on the bank. Nowhere can the ox escape to hide, but those majestic horns are difficult to draw. —Trans. Gen Sakamoto
With all my energy, I seize the ox. His will is strong, and his power endless, and he cannot be tamed easily. Sometimes he charges to the high plateau. And there he stays, deep in the mist. —Trans. Gen Sakamoto
One does not let go of the whip or the rope, afraid it will stray and choose the dusty mist. A well-tended ox becomes gentle, and even with no rope, Will follow people by himself. —Trans. Gen Sakamoto
Riding the bull, I leisurely wander toward home. Exotic flute melodies echo through sunset clouds. Each beat and each tune is indescribably profound. No words are needed for those who understand music. —Trans. Gen Sakamoto
Riding on the ox, he has come home. There is no ox there, and he is at ease. Although the sun is high, he is still dreamy. The whip and rope abandoned in the thatched hut. —Trans. Gen Sakamoto
Whip, rope, man, and ox, all are non-existent. The blue sky being vast, no message can be heard, Just as the snowflake cannot last in the flaming red furnace. After this state, one can join the ancient teachers. —Trans. Gen Sakamoto
In returning to the fundamentals and going back to the source, I had to work so hard. Perhaps it would be better to be blind and deaf. Being in the hut, I do not see what is outside. The river flowing tranquilly, the flower simply being red. —Trans. Gen Sakamoto
He enters the city barefoot, with chest exposed. Covered in dust and ashes, smiling broadly. No need for the magic powers of the gods and immortals. Just let the dead tree bloom again. —Trans. Gen Sakamoto
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Title:Ten Verses on Oxherding
Period:Kamakura period (1185–1333)
Medium:Handscroll; ink and color on paper
Dimensions:Image: 12 1/4 in. × 20 ft. 6 in. (31.1 × 624.8 cm)
Credit Line:Mary Griggs Burke Collection, Gift of the Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation, 2015
The bull, sacred in India to Buddhists and Hindus alike, was accorded a special place in Chinese lore and in the teachings of Chan (J: Zen) Buddhism. Bulls are frequently mentioned in the Chan parables known as gongan (J: kōan), which were composed by Buddhist masters to help their pupils attain enlightenment. In these parables, which probably originated in the literature of ancient Indi a, the stages of an individual's journey toward enlightenment were likened, allegorically, to a herdsman's search for his runaway ox. Most of the parables, which are known collectively as the Ten Ox-Herding Songs, were composed in the mid-eleventh century, and at least a dozen different versions are extant. It is not known when the Ox-Herding Songs were first illustrated, but an edition was published with wood-block prints by the Southern Song priest Guoan Shi yuan (fl. ca. 1150). Some of these prints made their way to Japan, perhaps during the early years of the Kamakura period , and became extremely popular among Zen Buddhists, who had them reprinted; the copies served as models for later versions.
This handscroll, acquired by the Burke Collection in 1999, is a rare work in many respects. It is both the earliest known Japanese copy of an illustrated Chinese example, predating by about two hundred years the better-known scroll in the collection of Shōkokuji, Kyoto, and the only extant example with paintings in color. It is unusual in that it bears a dated inscription, in this case one that corresponds to the year 1278. Finally, it has survived intact, whereas most emaki of the Kamakura period have been cut apart and the sections dispersed.
The handscroll is composed of sections of text interspersed with painted scenes, ten in all. At the beginning is a preface, entitled "The Ten Ox-Herding Songs by the Monk Guoan, of Liangshan, Dingzhou," attributed to a disciple of Guoan named Ciyuan, which explains in twenty-four lines the basic doctrine of Buddhism—that all sentient beings possess the potential to attain Buddhahood. The preface is followed by the allegory of the ox herder, a seeker of truth. Each of the ten steps he must take to achieve enlightenment is represented by a heading, an explanatory paragraph in prose, and a four-line verse that reiterates the concept expressed in the prose section. The verse is followed by a picture in a circular frame, which most likely symbolizes the primary Zen principles of perfection and completion. At the end of the scroll is an inscription that gives the date as "Kōan boin chūshun" —the eighth month of the first year of the Kōan era (1278)—as well as a name that may be read as Kōgi or Kōgi's kao, an abbreviated signature.
The ten scenes of the Ox-Herding Songs describe the progress of Everyman (the herdboy) toward enlightenment, accompanied by the True Self (the ox). As the boy proceeds, the distance between them is diminished, until eventually they are brought together. Their unity in the Absolute is symbolized by the circle of nothingness in the eighth scene (h).
a. Looking for the Ox: A herdboy dressed as a boy of Tang-dynasty China has been separated from his ox. He is confused by the several mountain paths, and as doubt assails him he gingerly tries one of the roads.
b. Seeing the Footprints of the Ox: By studying the teachings of the sutras, the boy begins to understand the meaning of the first signs he encounters—the footprints of the ox—and he resolutely sets out on his journey.
c. Seeing the Ox: The boy spies the ox, whose head and back are visible. A faithful rendition of the verse, the scene depicts the ox, his head crowned with stately horns; the sun is bright reel, and a nightingale sings.
d. Catching the Ox: The ox, which has been roaming in the wilderness, is wild and difficult to catch. With the energy of his whole being, the herdboy tries to subdue it.
e. Herding the Ox: When the beast is properly attended, it will grow pure and docile.Thus the boy must keep a firm grip on the cord; he must not waver.
f. Returning Home: His mission is accomplished, and the boy's heart is full as he rides the ox homeward.
g. The Ox Forgotten, the Boy Remains: Back home, the ox is no longer seen. The red sun is bright in the sky; the boy sits serenely, his whip and rope also forgotten.
h. Both Boy and Ox Forgotten: Serene emptiness, a state of mind from which all desire has been eliminated, is symbolized by the image of the empty circle.
i. Returning to the Source: The waters are blue, the mountains green, and the flowers a vivid red, yet the boy has transcended all manifestations of the transitory world.
j. Entering the City: The boy appears as Hotei, a potbellied, bare-chested wanderer, the reincarnation of Miroku, the Buddha of the Future, whose presence brings Buddhahood to all sentient beings. By merging with Hotei, the herdboy reaches his final destination.
The rather small size of the sheets, about 25 centimeters (91 7/8 in.) wide, mounted in scroll format suggest that the work was originally in book form, most likely in imitation of the model on which it was based. Later examples (fig. 29) surely resembled this ink-monochrome model, certainly among the earliest printed versions of the Ten Ox-Herding Songs to have been introduced from China. Kōgi, whose signature appears at the end of the scroll, must have inscribed the text and was most likely a Zen monk-scribe. Clearly, the painter of the scenes was trained in the traditional style of Japanese narrative illustration, taking the pictorial elements from the Chinese model but embellishing them with color and detail. The repetition of small triangles in the depiction of waves in the first scene (a) and the gnarled tree trunk with dark ink accents in the ninth (i) are characteristic of many late-thirteenth-century illustrations, such as those in the Saigyō monogatari emaki (Illustrated Life of the Monk Saigyō) in the Tokugawa Art Museum, Nagoya, and the Man'no Art Museum, Osaka. The depiction of the ox, whose muscular body is rendered in thread-thin brushstrokes, is comparable to that of the famous bulls in the Shungyū zu (Scrolls of Excellent Bulls), dating to the late thirteenth century.
The Burke scroll is a precursor of the many ink-monochrome versions of the Ox-Herding Songs made during the Muromachi period (cat. no. 53). It suggests that during the thirteenth century there was a vogue among yamato-e painters for copying printed books newly introduced from China. Enlivening the illustrations with color, the artists elevated them to the level of fine emaki.
[Miyeko Murase 2000, Bridge of Dreams]
 D. T. Suzuki 1927, p. 355.  Fontein and Hickman 1970, pp. 113–18.  Kawase Kazuma 1970, pls. 394, 395.  Barnet and Burto 1982, pp. 82–81.  Descriptions of the scenes are based on the translations of prose paragraphs in ibid. and verses in D. T. Suzuki 1927.  Fontein and Hickman 1970, pp. 117–18.  Komatsu Shigemi 1979.  The Shungyū zu are divided among several collections; see Takeuchi Jun'ichi et al. 1989, no. 5.  A similar example of this type of transformation is the Kannan emaki of 1217, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Kannonokyō emaki 1984.
Sorimachi Jūrō JapaneseJapan, before 1982; [ London Gallery Ltd. Japanese, Tokyo, 1999; sold to Burke]; Mary Griggs Burke , New York (from 1999; transferred to Foundation); Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation , New York (until 2015; donated to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Japanese Art from The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," March 30–June 25, 2000.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Enlightening Pursuits," February 28–August 5, 2001.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Written Image: Japanese Calligraphy and Paintings from the Sylvan Barnet and William Burto Collection," October 1, 2002–March 2, 2003.
Museum of Fine Arts, Gifu. "Enduring Legacy of Japanese Art: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," July 5, 2005–August 19, 2005.
Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum. "Enduring Legacy of Japanese Art: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," October 4, 2005–December 11, 2005.
Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. "Enduring Legacy of Japanese Art: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," January 24, 2006–March 5, 2006.
Miho Museum. "Enduring Legacy of Japanese Art: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," March 15, 2006–June 11, 2006.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Celebrating the Arts of Japan: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," October 20, 2015–May 14, 2017.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Another World Lies Beyond: Chinese Art and the Divine," August 24, 2019–January 5, 2020.
Wada, Stephanie. The Oxherder: A Zen Parable Illustrated. New York: George Braziller, 2002.
Tsuji Nobuo 辻惟雄, Mary Griggs Burke, Nihon Keizai Shinbunsha 日本経済新聞社, and Gifu-ken Bijutsukan 岐阜県美術館. Nyūyōku Bāku korekushon-ten: Nihon no bi sanzennen no kagayaki ニューヨーク・バーク・コレクション展 : 日本の美三千年の輝き(Enduring legacy of Japanese art: The Mary Griggs Burke collection). Exh. cat. [Tokyo]: Nihon Keizai Shinbunsha, 2005, cat. no. 33.
Murase, Miyeko, Il Kim, Shi-yee Liu, Gratia Williams Nakahashi, Stephanie Wada, Soyoung Lee, and David Sensabaugh. Art Through a Lifetime: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection. Vol. 1, Japanese Paintings, Printed Works, Calligraphy. [New York]: Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation, , p. 20, cat. no. 31.
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