Saturday, April 15, 2006

Coping with a death - The Fable of the Ten Bulls

Posted April 15, 2006
As one ages, the death of friends becomes a more common experience and one may become more accepting, as one does with things familiar. When one reaches the age of my father, 95, virtually all of those who share the experiences of a full life – wife, college roommates, golf and tennis companions, professional colleagues – have died. “The 10 bulls” is a Chinese fable that I often include in letters of condolence. I wrote one last week, attempting to capture in few words something meaningful about the life of a good man. A commentary on the fable concludes, “The bull is the eternal principle of life, truth in action. The ten bulls represent sequent steps in the realization on one’s true nature.”

The fable, which I might have included in some previous blog, follows:

In the pasture of this world, I endlessly push aside the tall grasses in search of the bull.
Following unnamed rivers, lost upon the interpenetrating paths of distant mountains,
My strength failing and my vitality exhausted, I cannot find the bull.
I only hear the locusts chirring through the forest at night.

Along the riverbank under the trees, I discover footprints!
Even under the fragrant grass I see his prints.
Deep in remote mountains they are found.
These traces no more than be hidden than one’s nose, looking heavenward.

I hear the song of the nightingale.
The sun is warm, the wind is mild, willows are green along the shore.
Here no bull can hide!
What artist can draw that massive head, those majestic horns?

I seize him with a terrific struggle.
His great will and power are inexhaustible.
He charges to the high plateau far above the cloud mists,
Or in an impenetrable ravine he stands.

The whip and rope are necessary,
Else he might stray off down some dusty road.
Being well trained, he becomes naturally gentle.
Then, unfettered, he obeys his master.

Mounting the bull, slowly I return homeward.
The voice of my flute intones through the evening.
Measuring with hand-beats the pulsating harmony, I direct the endless rhythm.
Whoever hears this melody will join me.

Astride the bull, I reach home.
I am serene. The bull too can rest.
The dawn has come.
In blissful repose, within my thatched dwelling
I have abandoned the whip and rope.

Whip, rope, person, and bull – all merge in No-Thing.
This heaven is so vast no message can stain it.
How may a snowflake exist in a raging fire?
Here are the footprints of the patriarchs.

Too many steps have been taken returning to the root and the source.
Better to have been blind and deaf from the beginning!
Dwelling in one’s true abode, unconcerned with that without –
The river flows tranquilly on and the flowers are red.

Barefooted and naked of breast, I mingle with the people of the world.
My clothes are ragged and dust-laden, and I am ever blissful.
I use no magic to extend my life;
Now, before me, dead trees become alive.


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