- The Ox-Herder and the Good Shepherd: Finding Christ on the Buddha’s Path by Addison Hodges Hart
The Ten Ox-Herding Pictures is a set of iconic images handed down in Chan/Zen tradition as depicting the stages of the path of enlightenment. This small volume offers a Christian commentary on this series of ten pictures that is truly insightful and a delight to read. Juxtaposing East Asian Buddhist religious imagery with Christian themes, it highlights the mutual resonance and complementarity of the Zen Buddhist and Christian paths of awakening and transformation. The author, Addison Hodges Hart, is a retired pastor and university chaplain who has recently published other inspiring and thought-provoking works, including Strangers and Pilgrims Once More: Being Disciples of Jesus in a Post-Christendom World (2014) and Taking Jesus at His Word: What Jesus Really Said at the Sermon on the Mount (2012).
Christian rereadings of sacred texts from other religious traditions have now come to be welcomed and valued as a practice that can further expand and deepen Christian theological understanding and spiritual insight on many different levels. In this vein, it is relevant here to mention the series of volumes of Christian Commentaries on Non-Christian Sacred Texts, under the general editorship of Catherine Cornille, also published by Wm. Eerdmans (European edition published by Peeters). It includes such titles such as C. Cornille’s Song Divine: Christian Commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita (2006), D. P. Sheridan’s Loving God: Krsna and Christ: Christian Commentaries on the Narada Sutras (2007), F. X. Clooney’s The Truth, The Way, and The Life: Christian Commentaries on the Three Holy Mantras of the Srivaisnava Hindus (2008), L. D. Lefebure and P. Feldmeier’s The Path of Wisdom: A Christian Commentary on the Dhammapada (2011), J. P. Keenan and L. K. Keenan’s I Am/No Self: A Christian Commentary on the Heart Sutra, and R. B. Locklin’s Liturgy of Liberation: A Christian Commentary on Shankara’s Upadesasahasri, with more forthcoming. The Ox-Herder and the Good Shepherd, issued by the same publisher, though not part of the above-named series, will find good company among these previously published volumes that explore and delve through the wisdom of other religious traditions as conveyed in their sacred texts, enriching and broadening Christian theological and spiritual horizons.
The Ten Zen Ox-Herding Pictures, the sacred text being reread here as a guide to the spiritual path that Christians are also called to undertake, is neither a doctrinal exposition nor a set of moral guidelines but a set of images with a continuous narrative that lays out stages on the path of enlightenment in the Zen Buddhist tradition. The key message the author wishes to convey in this book, which is restated in different places throughout the volume, can be found in the fourth chapter, titled “The Ox-Herder and the Good Shepherd”: “Authentic spiritual life must begin with an [End Page 242] inner transformation of one’s self, and must lead to an outward life that is natural and loving” (p. 29, author’s own italics).
This is a description of the kernel of spiritual life applicable to both the Christian path as well as the path of Zen. The choice of this particular version by twelfth-century (Song dynasty) Chan Master Kuoan Shiyuan (Jp.: Kakuan Shien) of the Linji (Jp.: Rinzai) school is significant. There are said to be at least five different versions handed down in Chan/Zen tradition, including a five-picture and an eight-picture version that both describe the Zen path as culminating in the disappearance of the practitioner into Emptiness (depicted by an empty circle). There is also six-picture version with the empty circle as the fifth, followed by a sixth, a stage beyond Emptiness into a life of playful freedom in the world of ordinary human beings. The ten-picture version of the Zen life by Kakuan (henceforth I will use the Japanese rendition of the names and...