The Ox-herding Chart of Chan Buddhism 
and the Enlightenment Process

 Rewritten and translation by Hu Xuezhi,

edited by Muriel Kirton


For many years, the English translation of the Ox-herding Chart of the Chan Sect of Buddhism has attracted a great deal of interest and attention,  and has been the subject of intensive study by Western readers. The illustrated poem was composed in classical Chinese, which unfortunately means that, for many readers in mainland China today,  the meaning can be difficult to grasp, since the opportunities to study classical Chinese literature are limited.  As things stand, the Chart seems to have gained much more popularity in America and Japan than in mainland China where people, nowadays, would rarely hear of it being used or referred to by mainland Chan Buddhists. 

Several years ago, I read a martial arts novel by Huang Yi, which had a title along the lines of  “Shatter the Emptiness into Many Pieces”, He made liberal use of the poem from the Ox-herding Chart to describe how, in the course of his study and practice, the hero of the novel, progressed step by step towards the attainment of immortality. However, as  regards the tangible nature of his achievements, we are merely offered descriptive words and phrases about the nature of the mind, and the hero’s diligent advancement towards ‘sudden enlightenment’. We are in no sense given  descriptive details or an explanation regarding the regulation of the breath or the deployment of Chi. In the practice of inner alchemy (immortality study), it would be characterized as ‘talk concerning only mercury, as yet without lead.” You can easily deduce from this that the author is simply a poet or literary scholar of the Wei and Jin Dynasty, whose interest lay in crafting metaphysical and mythical stories compiled from  a mix of different elements and components lifted from Chan literature.

However, after a detailed/careful reading and contemplation of both the chart and the accompanying poems, I was suddenly struck by the realization that the Ox–herding Chart reveals many of the features that define the practical process of inner alchemy practice (immortality study). There may be some Buddhists or scholars from the Chan Sect who would refute my observation, but after many days of meditation, it seems that I feel more certitude about my assertion.

Let me explain. I had a sudden insight that the chart can be understood as an illustration which depicts the sequence of progressive stages leading  to the attainment of immortality, with each stage being described and characterized by different symbols, each holding a specific meaning. As we know, for the Chan sect, there is Chan poetry, and for immortality practice there is NeiDan (inner alchemy) poetry. Chan poetry is often characterized by the subtlety of a full moon located far beyond the pointing finger, whereas NeiDan poems most often feature highly metaphorical, artistic concepts which lie somewhere between that which can be perceived, and that which is totally beyond  any perception whatsoever. 

Immortality teaching does not talk about ‘immediate or sudden enlightenment’, nor does it make assertions such as “All things created by cause and its accessory conditions have no reality” Similarly, it does not promote concepts such as “immediately become an immortal’’.  Yet its gradual and progressive approach can lead to success, when followed systematically from the beginning, and pursued without the omission of any necessary steps.  Nonetheless it seems to hold little attraction for practitioners from the Chan sect, even though it truly leads upwards, like a super-straight ladder.

Although the Chan sect often talks about immediate, or sudden, enlightenment and the  realization of full attainment free from all hindrance, we should not take that to  mean that we are freed from the need to apply effort, either prior to, or subsequent to, reaching that attainment. Otherwise, Huineng (the sixth patriarch) would not have been required to toil over the grindstone for nine months before reaching his attainment, nor would he have been required to run to join a hunting team, and, thereafter embark on practices, which lasted for nineteen years. Later on, when he began to teach, what did he teach? Well, in the beginning he taught the chant “Prajna Paramita’’ (Reaching the Other Shore). To speak truthfully, the goal of the Chan Sect, is  to arrive at a  state of mutual affinity between teacher and disciple, while for the study of immortality the goal rests on the infusion of varying  levels of Yang Qi.  In essence,  both lie well beyond the descriptive faculty of either spoken or written language, as regards the authentic aptitude,  ability and skills involved.

The study of Chan, and its subtlety, lies in Chan’s allegoric connotations, or ‘the understanding which is gained in an instant’. This incorporates a rational element, but leaves no opening for any form of speculation. Only mutual affinity can prompt the sudden perception and understanding of the allegorical meaning, which, primarily, arises from the attained idea that “all things that are produced by cause and associated conditions, have no reality”, and “the mind remains unimpeded, no matter what.” 

The subtlety of immortality study, however, lies in the Mysterious Pass ,which serves as the only channel of communication connecting both the Pre-heaven and Post-heaven domains. The Mysterious Pass lies neither within, nor outside, the corporeal body, and neither within the interior nor the exterior. It presents itself only when the interior resonates with the exterior, so allowing the natural to concur with the artificial, with the prerequisite that both Shen and Chi are already sufficient for the process. We can use the analogy of love to illustrate the state of being: the feeling of love between a woman and a man arises spontaneously, and the majority of people know that love cannot be forced. Similarly, both emptiness and naturalness, begin to meet in harmony and communicate with each other, though both vary in the degree to which they become apparent.

You may perhaps wonder whether it is possible for immortality study /internal alchemy and the study of Chan to meet up with each other in one place, or on one thoroughfare, without there being obstacles between them ? Let us read the following passage which is an excerpt from Chuang Tzu, entitled “The Fasting of the Mind”, translated by Victor H. Mair

“I have nothing further to propose,” said Yen Hui. “I venture to ask you for a method.”

“Fasting,” said Confucius. “I shall explain it for you. If you do things with your mind, do you think it will be easy? Bright heaven will not approve one who thinks it will be easy.”

“My family is poor,” said Yen Hui, “and it’s been several months since I’ve drunk wine or tasted meat. May this be considered fasting?”

“This is fasting suitable for sacrifices, but it is not fasting of the mind.”

“I venture to ask what ‘fasting of the mind’ is,” said Hui.

“Concentrate your mind-will. Hear not with your ears, but with your mind; not with your mind, but with your Chi. Let your hearing stop with the ears, and let your mind stop with natural concordance. Chi, however, is vacuous and empty, accommodating all. There is none but Tao who dwells in the empty vacuity. And becoming empty and vacuous is the fasting of the mind.”

 “Before I am able to exercise fasting of the mind,” said Yen Hui, “I truly have an identity. But after I am able to exercise it, I will no longer have an identity. Can this be called emptiness?  “Exactly so!” replied the master. “Let me tell you. Enter and roam about this realm, but without any awareness of what the realm is. In the event of arrival in it sing in concert with it; in case of no arrival in it stop at the cessation. Let the door open and close, by its own course. House all as an undivided whole and lodge in that which takes the course all in its natural way. Then you are close to it. To leave no footprints is easy; to walk on no ground is difficult.

“If you are impelled by human feelings, it is easy to be false; if you are impelled by nature, it is hard to be false. I’ve only heard of creatures that fly with wings, never of creatures that fly with nonwings. I’ve only heard of people knowing things through awareness, never of people knowing things through unawareness. Observe the void – the empty room emits a pure light. Good fortune lies in stopping when it is time to stop. If you do not stop, this is called ‘galloping while sitting.’ Let your senses communicate within and rid yourself of the machinations of the mind. Then even myriad things are transformed. It is that to which Yao and Shun bound themselves, and that which Fuhsi and Chich’u exercised all their lives. All the more is it suited for the masses.”
The famous inner alchemist Chen Yingning once wrote 24 stanzas  of NeiDan poetry. Below, we have selected two for your appreciation:


The first poem

Ultimate reality shines forth, illuminating the grains of sand which line the banks of the river Ganges
Those of the world, the sages, the enlightened, all, at their origin, sharing one common source.
Each, when free of thoughts arising, converging in stillness towards complete expression,
Yet, when moved by just one single sense, is already eclipsed by clouds.

Ridding oneself of all affliction. And to what end? The addition of illness!
Drawing near to true thusness. And to what end? The emergence of a diverging path!

Meekly following the predestined relationship as it arises and keeping the mind free of hindrance. And to what end?

Nirvāna, birth and death, do but compare to hollow flowers floating in the air. 


The second poem 

Overcome emptiness, free yourself of accumulated kalpa and endure for a billion years, 

Bid farewell to the canoe that ferried us to the far shore.

End your endless search for the countless tomes written on immortality, even though you know the final words have not yet been composed.


So what is meant by ‘the final words’?  Are they words that could not be uttered, or words that the author did not wish to voice? The answer, provided by Chen Yingning, is that the author did not dare not to voice the words, since it may have alarmed the readers. So exactly what words were they? To find the answer let us turn to the illustrations and consult the poems of the chart.
Ode to the Ox-herding Chart
1. The untamed Ox outside the herd

Ferociously, the ox bellows and, free of all constraints,
Thrusts about with its crooked horns,
Racing wildly round the mountain 

To where the river turns away, and the road stretches off into the far distance.
A bank of black cloud hangs over
the opening to  the valley

And who can tell how much destruction is wrought to the young seedlings    

Trampled underfoot in the farmer’s field!

Here the ox is a metaphor for the heart-mind, which has not been reined in or subjected to any form of discipline. It prefers to be free and uncurbed, chasing after whatever it finds desirable or congenial, pleasing or compelling, even at the expense of physical and emotional wellbeing. Accordingly, all possible means should be employed to tame it and take it in hand. This concept seems to correlate more closely to the methods of the Taoist alchemist than the practitioner of Chan Buddhism.

A propos, Lao Tzu said in chapter 12 of the Tao Te Ching:

The five colours make the eyes blind;
The five notes make the ears deaf;
The five flavors rob the mouth of taste.
Riding and hunting make the mind wild;

Therefore, The Yellow Emperor went to see Master Kuang Ch’eng, to ask about the administration of the body: 

Master Kuang Ch’eng sat up with a start. “It is excellent, this question of yours! Come, I will tell you about the Perfect Tao. The essence of the Perfect Tao is profoundly obscure and vague; the subtlety of the Perfect Tao is profoundly elusive and still. See nothing, hear nothing, enfold Shen in quietude and the body will go right , of its own accord. Be still, be pure, do not labor your body, do not churn up your Jing, and then you can live a long life. There is nothing to be beheld by the eyes, nothing to be heard by the ears, nothing to be known by the heart, thus your Shen shall guard the body, and the body will thereby enjoy a long life. Cherish that which is within you, block off what is outside you, too much knowledge will do you harm. 

If the poem was intended to characterize the teachings of the Chan sect, it would not talk about the unruliness of the heart-mind (ox) when the heart-mind is the main issue under consideration. Otherwise, slaughtering the ox with a sharp sword would not be the answer to the problem (Particularly since Zen Buddhism is opposed to killing). Similarly, if it is intended to characterize (the teachings of) the six patriarchs of the Chan sect, we might expect to be given the directive  “keep dusting it to prevent it from incurring the least speck of dust.”  So, why then does the word “forgetfulness” appear in later poems? The concept of “forgetfulness” reflects the approach of Huang Tzu where you readily find passages such as “To be forgetful in sitting meditation”, which advocates combining the heart-mind with the  breathing (listening  to the breath), and allowing the heart mind and breath to harmonize and become at one with each other.  Thereafter, falling into forgetfulness of both breath and heart-mind, forgetting about everything, in complete oblivion and without intervention, following whatever arises or fades away.


2. The Initial Taming of the OxTaking a rope, I run it through the nose of the ox, and cling fast!


His first attempt to go haring off is well rewarded with burning pain from the lash of the whip !
But, with the determined strength of  ingrained, wild inclinations,

He struggles against all change and modification. 

Now the ox-herd boy must bring his full abilities to bear on his struggle to transform the ways of the ox!

In meditation people may initially find it difficult to keep their thoughts and mind quiet, since the heart-mind is easily drawn by objects and attractions outside itself. This can be likened to young schoolchildren who cannot remain silent or sit motionless (a requirement that, in the Chinese education system, reflects the behavior traditionally expected of children in kindergarten or junior schools!). For them, it truly is agony, since they are forced to comply). 
Most people know that it is difficult to tame a wild ox, especially if, whip in hand, you mount on its back and order it to head east or west. In that situation, you know that you risk falling from its back, or even falling to your death, when the ox runs amok. Therefore, the best solution is to “cling fast to a rope that runs through the nose of the ox’’, thereby easily directing the ox to move in any direction you choose, and avoiding the risk of being thrown from its back. In fact, from the standpoint of an alchemist, such a rope denotes the breath. For a novice in meditation, it indicates that the heart-mind should rest upon the breathing. Yes, for most practitioners, it is certain that they will encounter difficulties created by the heart-mind that remains at large, and refuses to come under control. 


To facilitate the process, additional methods should be introduced, such as counting the breath, or using reverse breathing (expanding the abdomen  when exhaling, and contracting it when inhaling). This clarifies the words Now the ox-herd boy must bring  his full abilities to bear on his struggle to transform the ways of the ox!


3. Beginning the Process of Modification

With modifications and adjustments, he steadily tempers the wildness of the ox,

Winning its slow but sure submission.
Wading across rivers or sailing through clouds, the ox begins to follow instinctively, one step at  a time.
All day long, still handling the rope with no less strength,
The ox-herd boy grows accustomed to the gradual forgetfulness, and tiredness.

Start with counting the breath, and after some time, you may find that the heart-mind has been gradually been freed of  much of its delusional thinking, and begins to follow the inhaling and exhaling of the breath without the need for assistance. Even though stray ideas may at times arise,  the heart-mind  will soon be back on track with the breath once again. Accordingly, the experience arises of “wading across rivers or sailing through clouds ,  the ox begins to follow instinctively, one step at  time,.” However, from time to time, the attention of the heart-mind must be re-focused upon the breath, lest it should resume its former course,  and again wander around with no constraints. 

At the beginning such intensity of effort may be very tiring, but with time, practitioners slowly become accustomed to it, and the feeling of tiredness disappears in a natural fashion. Here, we refer to “The Ode to the Mythical Source and the Grand Tao,” written by Chao Wen Yee to elucidate:

When, one day, attainment is achieved, it is a fully free excursion. 

Reflecting upon the process of refining and cooking, you will sigh over the effort expended

Through striving, even though, in truth, no diligence was required, 

Since the work requires only the fostering of the primeval Shen. 

It is regrettable that the mind prefers to be active. 

At this critical time, whether to hone, or be set free, all is held within the palm of your hand!
4. Looking back

In the course of time, as meritorious endeavors successively bear fruit

Little by little, it comes to pass that wildness reaches its end,

And, slowly, frenzied force becomes meek  gentleness.

Yet, being not yet sure this will remain constant and unchanged

The mountain boy still holds  the rope tethered within his hands.

After the practice of counting the breath, together with listening to the breathing, it is less difficult to tame the heart-mind than before. Its unruliness begins to be worn down, and, unconsciously, it begins to cleave to the breath. However, this is still not the right time to enter the second phase, which is “to listen with Chi”, since the heart-mind and breath have not yet been fully unified. Taoist inner alchemy books prefer to use metaphor. The heart-mind is likened to women, and the breath to men, and the combining of the two is signified through the symbol of sexual intercourse. This has led to considerable confusion, resulting in the theory of dual cultivation between men and women, which continues to be a popularly held concept in the western world. It should be understood to be but metaphor, and should not be interpreted as one of the paths to enlightenment, as most false masters claim. 

Although, at this stage, the heart-mind and breath  begin to attach to each other, it is necessary to ‘set the intent’ to keep them conjoined, in order for them to hold together. Thus,  “The mountain boy still holds the rope tethered within his hands.”


5. Tamed

Beside the old stream, under the shade of green poplar trees, 

Allowing the rope to drop from his hands, or tightening it up, 

All has been accomplished in its own way.

By nightfall, green clouds roam high above the meadow, 

The ox-herd boy is returning, yet the rope hangs loose.

At this point, the condition of “the heart-mind and breathing depending upon each other” has already been attained. Any further intention to hold them joined together has simply become a prolongation of excess ‘attachment’ , which is unnecessary, since  the two have gradually united to form a ‘oneness’ that cannot readily be split apart. This state is known as “to listen with Chi.” Even though there may occasionally be moments when the senses become active, and dispassionately enter the non-conscious domain, it will have no effect due to the fact that the heart-mind, for no one knows how long a period of time, has entered into a state of  ‘being  in love’ with the breath. Therefore, there is no longer any need to deliberately listen to, or continue to count the breath.
6. Free of hindrance

Completely at ease, dozing or falling asleep, at will, on the open ground ,

No longer driven onwards by the whip, free as the air. 

Happy under the green pines, the ox-herd boy sits steadily 

And peacefully plays a gentle tune that tells of more than any happiness.

The stage attained at this point should be termed the stage where both Shen and Chi are unified to form a oneness, which lies well beyond the phase of “the heart-mind and breathing depending upon each other,” since the consciousness has gradually blurred, leaving only a very small percentage of lucid awareness, and even this is almost unconscious of any breathing. It is, however, not the emptiness of nothingness as described by Buddhism, but  an intimation of spontaneous circulation in operation, in which the senses and breath are both  transformed into two different types of energy. One is Shen and the other is Chi. The former enters the latter while the latter embraces the former. So, you can see the changes that have taken place throughout the process: firstly listen to the breath, then ‘enjoy and  engage with its company’, and ‘get along with’ the breath, then become closer and merge with it to “feel” the manifestation initiated by the transforming force of great nature — the spontaneous circulation. One famous Taoism scripture called the 100-Word Monument reads “sit to listen to non-chord song, run unimpeded into the core mechanism of Creation by ridding yourself of the obscurity of illusion.” Peacefully playing  a gentle tune that tells of more than any happiness.”  Up to now, can you perceive something from these words or something beyond these words? 


For illustration, let us consider the poem  “Admonition on Regulating Breathing” by Zhu Shih (a great philosopher in the Ming Dynasty).
Nose white, I have sight of it;
Relaxed, and at ease, come join with it and enjoy the accord.

Becoming quieter and quieter, it seems it spreads widely, expanding out like the spring marsh where fish roam; 

 For a long time immersed in constant motion, whereupon all then seems to converg , like insects gathering together to sleep through winter.

In diffusion, opening to accommodate all, and in turn, closing to hibernate,
The wonder of it is beyond words!
Who, then, is the master of it all?
Only the dominance of non-mastery is worthy of such greatness.

At this time the dominance of non-mastery begins to play its part and, of its own accord, the situation arises of being “No longer driven onwards by the whip, free as the air.”
7. Following the natural course

Willow bank and green ripples dissolve into the sunset,
Leisurely fingers of gray fog stretch out, grass spreads in velvet green .
Hunger is served with food, thirst quenched with drink, at all times true to the manner and affinity of their occurance.

Stretched out on the stone, the ox-herd boy lies soundly asleep.

Here, “sleeping” lies at the core of the meaning behind the words, which in turn, correlate with the main characteristics of immortality study. From the perceptions of the initial stage, to the later state of oblivion, from the combination of Shen and Chi to the involvement in the spontaneous motion of ‘unified oneness’, success lies upon the precept which directs us “to follow the natural course,” without any intervention. Eventually, this brings about  “natural evaporation, natural convergence and natural cessation.” (if there is nothing at all, what is left for us to follow around?)

At this point, the practitioner has reached the stage where the heart-mind stops at the natural concordance, and the listening stops at the ears. Accordingly, we can say that all perception and consciousness gradually come to an enduring standstill, or reach a state which is  dominated by ‘constant standstill’. You may construe this to mean a state of sleep. However, the fact is that when ordinary people sleep, they are in the company of dreams; when practitioners sleep, they are completely free of dreams, since all consciousness comes to a standstill. It rests, or “is deprived of all functionality”. Or, to express it in other words, the difference between the awakened state and the sleeping state disappears. So, the ox-herd boy falls soundly asleep. 

Here we borrow a passage from Chuang Tzu for better understanding (translated by Victor H. Mair)

“How do I know that love of life is not a delusion? How do I know that fear of death is not like being a homeless waif who does not know the way back home? When the state of Chin first got Pretty Li, the daughter of the border warden of Ai, she wept till her robe was soaked with tears. But after she arrived at the king’s residence, shared his fine bed, and could eat the tender meats of his table, she regretted that she had ever wept. How do I know that the dead may not regret their former lust for life?
“Someone who dreams of drinking wine at a cheerful banquet may wake up crying the next morning. Someone who dreams of crying may go off the next morning to enjoy the sport of the hunt. When we are in the midst of a dream, we do not know it’s a dream. Sometimes we may even try to interpret our dreams while we are dreaming, but then we awake and realize it was a dream. Only after one is greatly awakened does one realize that it was all a great dream, while the fool thinks that he is awake and presumptuously aware. ‘My excellent lord!’ ‘Oh, thou humble shepherd!’ How perverse they are!
“Both Confucius and you are dreaming, and I too am dreaming when I say that you are dreaming. This sort of language may be called enigmatic, but after myriad generations there may appear a great sage who will know how to explain it and he will appear as though overnight!”
8. Reciprocal forgetfulness

White ox in white clouds,
Free of intention, the man remains liberated from his mind, as does the ox.

White clouds make a shadow of the moon above , and a shadow of white clouds is cast by the moon below.

White clouds, full moon in brightness, all things are as they are, each following their own path to east or west, just as they are.

In the Chan sect, white clouds is a metaphor often used to illustrate the state free of hindrance ,which is gained by ridding the self of attachment (to ego, to dharmas). This is reflected in the white ox. People are advised to pay more attention to how the ox changes its color from black to white, and how the words ‘white clouds’, ‘full moon’ or ‘free as the air’ are used in the poems which accompany the pictures.

At this stage, we should describe the state as ‘a reciprocal forgetfulness of both Shen and Chi’. All phenomena that fall within the realm of our conscious mind begin to crumble and the reciprocal binding, or the bonds and attachments that connect all phenomena, begin to unravel. Everything seems to come to rest at the same root, on the same footing, and all things become transparent to each other. Or, to put it another way, the barrier between all phenomena begins to collapse. Yes, man forgets about the ox, and the ox forgets about man. Man forgets about his cognizing objects (objects of cognition) and the cognizing objects forget about man—the binding between the faculty of cognition and the cognizing objects (cognition of objects) begins to fade away. Thus reciprocal forgetfulness manifests. In the words of Buddhism, reciprocal forgetfulness is the disappearance of the attachment to ego and to dharma – and the cognition that everything has inherent nature. 

Chuang-Tzu said, “Both fish and waters of river and lake reciprocally forget about each other; both people and all the means (measures, processes and methodologies, etc) they reciprocally hold on to, forget about each other.” Therefore, you can see the importance of forgetfulness during the process of enlightenment! It should be noted that, unilateral forgetfulness merits no reward whatsoever at this point. A state of reciprocal forgetfulness must manifest simultaneously. 

Once this stage has been attained, we might ask where the heart-mind now resides? Where are the measures, processes and methodologies you should adhere to? Where is the ego? Where are all phenomena? “White clouds, full moon in brightness, all things are as they are, each following their own path to east or west, just as they are”.

Chuang-tzu said: “Undo the Jing and the Shen to transcend life’s state of existence.” This attainment is a great liberation, when compared to the former state of bondage within which people cocoon themselves through their attachments.

In this context, most people prefer to use the term “forget” to replace “undo.” But, in fact, by this stage, ‘forgetfulness’ has already lost both its meaning and its function.

9. Shining in independence

The ox is nowhere to be found, 

Thus the ox-herd boy has nothing in which to engage himself.
Nothing is there, save a lonely wisp of cloud suspended between green peaked cliffs. 

Clapping his hands and singing in a high pitched voice, he beckons down the moon, 

Only to find on his return that yet another mountain ridge awaits him!

Here we borrow a passage from Chaung Tzu for clarification.

Nan-po Tse-kuei said to Nu-Yu, “You are advanced in years, and yet your complexion is that of a virgin. How can this be?” Nu-Yu replied, “I have obtained Tao.” 

“Could I obtain Tao by studying it?” asked Nan-po Tse-kuei. “No! How can you?” said Nu-Yu. “You are not that type of person. I rememberPuliang-I. He had all the talent to become a sage, but not the way to become a sage, whereas I had the way to become a sage but without the talents of a sage. But do you think I was indeed able to teach him to become a sage? Had things not been thus, in seeking the way to accomplish the sage’s Tao, it would have been an easy matter to identify someone with a sage’s talents. I patiently kept watch over him, and talked to him. In three days, he could put the world outside himself. Again I kept watch over things for seven more days, and, at that point, then he could leave all concerns outside himself. I waited for another nine days, after which he could put all beings outside himself. After putting all beings outside himself, he was able to achieve the thorough awakening of the dawn. After he could achieve the thorough awakening of the dawn, he then had a clear vision of absolute independence, and after that, he could do away with past and present. After he could do away with past and present he was able to enter the domain where life and death are no more. That which causes life to die does not itself die; that which gives life to life does not itself live. This is the kind of thing it is: there is nothing it does not let go, and nothing it does not greet with welcome. There is nothing it does not destroy, and nothing it does not completely fulfill. This is the meaning of ‘attaining peace amidst confusion and strife.’ After the confusion and strife, completion is attained.

Here let us pay attention to the following sentence:” After he could achieve the thorough awakening of the dawn, he then had a clear vision of absolute independence’. The meaning in this context is ‘shining in independence’ or ‘independent shining’. In Chinese Pin Yin it is called “Shen Du.” This is a thing of subtlety, which is subject to neither increase nor decrease,  shining over all of heaven and earth and composed of one complete ball of brightness. When a single full moon rises high in a clear sky, an unlimited number of moons shine in the rivers and lakes.. If we talk about its exterior- it is infinite, if we talk about its interior – nothing can be held within it. Thus we see that the barrier between interior and exterior disappears, indicating the absoluteness, or total independence, which is attained once the realm of relativity, where all things remain relative to each other, has been transcended. Yet, it is still not the end since ‘a state of being’ continues to exist, albeit in a completely different realm. Accordingly, that state of being continues to operate as a barrier, or an illusion, based upon the remains, or the corpses, of the deceased. 

Those who have some knowledge of Buddhism theory  will understand that this stage denotes several stages within the process called ‘Cultivating-Way’, the fourth of five enlightenment phases (accumulation stage, beneficial practice stage, seeing-path stage, cultivating-Way stage and gaining-fruit-of-Buddhahood stage

10. Double annihilation

Both man and ox are nowhere, free of any footprints that can be traced!

The light of a bright full moon shines over all, penetrating everything without exception. 

I , in the end,  you enquire about the workings and methods of it all,

Wild flowers and fragrant grass all  nod  as the freeze comes on. 


Here we see all that all traces and deceased corpses have been disposed of. You may ask about the meaning of the ‘traces and deceased corpses’. In fact, it signifies the traces or corpses of deceased, sullied habituation and both afflictive hindrance and noetic hindrance. These are so insubstantial and of such a degree of subtlety, that any attempt to divest ourselves of them is such a truly challenging undertaking, that many people fail in their endeavour, or only partially complete the task.

Let us borrow a few words from Chuang Tzu: “This is the kind of thing it is: there is nothing it does not release and let go, and nothing it does not greet with welcome. There is nothing it does not destroy, and  nothing it does not conclude. This is the meaning of  ‘attaining peace amidst confusion and strife.’ After the confusion and strife, the completion is attained.  

Thus  you can well understand the words. If, in the end, you enquire about the workings and methods of it all, Wild flowers and fragrant grass all nod as the freeze comes on. 

Why? Because the mountain still is the mountain, the river still is the river. So you may therefore ask whether anything has changed. No! The wild flowers and fragrant grass are all shaking their heads!

From the times of Zhang Ziyang, there have been instances where fellow students from both immortality study and the Chan sect have met together. Some students of immortality study had failed to gain practical progress because of their attachment to the so-called “being”, “elixir pill”, “small water wheel”, “large water wheel”, “medicinal substance”, “firing process” and so on.Therefore, they turned to the Chan sect to seek a breakthrough, and thus introduced many ideas and concepts typical of immortality study into Chan. There is little to be found concerning wind, fire, water, and earth in Chan poems, but they are often filled with descriptions of natural scenery. Similarly, many people who have studied Buddhism and Confucianism have also failed to make progress, and they, in turn, have sought a solution from immortality study. Hence, terminology used in Buddhism and Confucianism frequently appears in immortality poetry. Thus we arrive at the present situation which is dominated by the convergence of Taoist immortality study, Buddhism and Confucianism. 

“Both fish and waters of river and lake reciprocally forget about each other; both people and all the means (measures, processes and methodologies, etc) they reciprocally hold on to, forget about each other.” Let us make an effort so that Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism might all reciprocally forget about each other, and walk upon the grand path leading to the eternal Tao!