The Ten Oxherding Pictures, Number 10: Entering the Marketplace, Hands Extended

Behind a brushwood gate, alone in your hut, even a thousand sages don’t know.
Burying your own natural beauty, you avoid the wagon tracks of past wisemen.
Dangling a gourd, you enter the marketplace; pounding your staff, you return to your home.
Visiting wine bars and fish stalls, these become for you the Buddha.

With chest bare and bare footed, you enter into the market.
Covered in the grit of the earth, painted with ash, you break into a great laugh.
Without using the mountain wizard’s secrets,
You teach the old tree and withered flowers how to bloom.

Hands extended, feet walking the sky, the great mountain.
On a withered branch, a bird rests.

 ~ Ku-on Shih-yuan, 12th century poet, Tenth Preface, Verse and Poem, translated from Lectures on the Ten Oxherding Pictures, Harada Sogaku, 1957.

As we get vaccinated, drop our masks, and look to re-enter our personal marketplaces, inevitably we will find our world changed. In this past year-and-some, jobs have changed, relationships have changed, vulnerabilities and strengths revealed. We left something behind, and carry other things into our new life. With hands extended, we deeply re-enter the samadhi of life.

The tenth Oxherding Picture is titled, Entering the Marketplace, Hands Extended. With the previous nine stages of the Ten Oxherding pictures, an iconic representation of the process of awakening in Zen, we had some aspiration for transcendence. We Sought, Saw, Caught and Rode the Ox. Then we Forgot. In the same way, the pandemic forced us to leave the complexities of everyday life, to build a virtual refuge in the mountains. We tried to escape, and also somehow come to terms with our new COVID era. In picture ten, Entering the Marketplace, like Shakyamuni Buddha did himself, we go back down the mountainside into the ordinary world. It was from here that we first departed. We find the samadhi of our lives somehow transformed.

Personally, I didn’t feel that, during the era of COVID, my life was interrupted. It is just different from what I had expected. But life always is different; we are always stepping in the dark. Last summer was Dante’s Inferno in Northern California: record drought, devastating wildfires, a thick pall of sickly smoke hung in the air for weeks, a resurgence of the virus. Step by step, however, we found our footing. Though winter rains have been disappointing, this spring, for me, has been just glorious. Weather warm and not too dry, my garden roses are as big as saucers. A sense of rebirth is in the air as I reunited face-to-face with my daughters, my siblings and friends. Trips away with my partner have been an adventure, and a relief. As our dedication goes, joy has spread to every corner of the house; we take joy in each others’ joy.

“Why do we practice?” writes Harada Daiun Sogaku, Pacific Zen’s Dharma grandfather three-times removed, who passed at 90 in 1961. “Certainly, to settle our own lives. But even more important, we practice to extend our hands to those who are in need. We practice to ‘Wake all the beings of the world/To set endless heartache to rest,’” as he quotes the first two Great Vows.

“If we don’t practice,” he goes on, the world will long remain dark place. If we do practice, for the first time, peace will come to the world.”

Why do I practice? Why do I teach? I no longer know why I began to sit Zen decades ago, and don’t really know why I teach. I guess it is because I am compelled by forces beyond my knowing to enter the marketplace, with hands extended. It is the deep samadhi of my life.