The Ten Oxherding pictures are an early teaching in the Ch'an/Zen
tradition. Oxherding was a useful metaphor for training the mind. There is the
story of a monk working in the kitchen when his master came in and asked what he
was doing. He replied 'Just herding the ox'.
The master responded 'How are you herding it?'.
The monk replied 'Every time the ox tries to wander off the way to eat grass,
I rein it in and put it back to work'.
The ox, of course, is our mind. It must be trained not to wander off into
distracting, discursive thoughts. It must be trained to align with the Dharma
and so become pure.
Many versions of the oxherding pictures were created. They varied in number
and in the content of the pictures. Eventually ten pictures or stages were
developed. The most famous set is by K'uo-an Shih-yuan. Many artists have drawn
these pictures and many poets have added commentaries. Below is just one example