​Zen Teachings: The 10 Bulls of Zen

Zen is one of the methods of learning that has inflexibly stood the test of the times. This can be attributed to the simplicity of the teachings and the sincerity and the zest of both the Masters and the disciples. I can recall several years when I first encountered the wisdom of Dogen Zenji and the others. I was so moved by the fact that they applied a purely masculine approach in teaching their disciples who gained the ultimate realization with no fail.
Japan and China has had a long history of Masters who illumined innumerable number of people with their wisdom. While I compare such distant periods of spiritual advancement of a people I wonder what my people here in Africa were upto at that time. That was back in the days when most uncivilized communities worshipped the spirits in the mountains. For example the people from my ethnic community (Kikuyu – which is the largest in the country) worshipped spirits believed to stay at the Mt Kenya. Funny enough some still worship this way, and they are justified for this, because they believe that they cannot trust a white man’s religion (Christianity). It all boils down to mediocrity.

Zen has its roots in Buddhism. Its actually an offshoot of the finest teachings of Buddhism and is devoid of a lot of biases that clouds the writers of the canons over the expanse of many years past. The main emphasis of Zen is that mind should be dropped without the slightest hesitation if Self Realization is to be attained at any given moment. The emphasis here is that mind in its current state is the only obstacle to the real enlightenment.

The Ten Bulls of Zen

Its been quite a while since I studied this magnificent concept. What interests me the most is the last stage or the last image of the ten bulls of Zen. This image depicts the happiness of the herdsman when he finally finds the lost bull in the forest, then keeps it under tight lock and key in its shed. After this achievement the herdsman goes to get some huge bottle of wine and he’s later seen walking majestically across the street. The man has attained to the ultimate state of fulfillment and nothing else in the world has the potential to bother him as the bull had. He has discovered supreme enlightenment.


The bull in this metaphor represents the sleeping state. In this state the mind wanders endlessly and subject to the sways of mara, karma and death and rebirth. In this state it’s impracticable that one can achieve anything substantial since everything one sets his eyes and hands upon is usually being done in a sleepy state where its impossible to perceive the real as real and the false as false.

The path of Zen is one of the most eloquent doctrines as it emphasizes on the uselessness of wasting time on mundane affairs and activities that in the end don’t substantiate to a quality way of life.

By Philip Kamau

Email: philipkamau25@gmail.com