Until the Cows Come Home

(being a personal summary of the Zen story of the Ten Bulls*)

  1. As the youngest, it was my job to find the cattle each evening and bring them back to the barn. The herd might be anywhere across the rolling hills.
  2. I’d walk and walk until I found fresh dung or perhaps caught a glimpse of them far away.
  3. As I got closer, I’d hear the lowing of one cow or another and top a hill to see them, not hiding from me, but merely being where they happened to be.
  4. How to get the attention of a herd of cattle? How to move more than a hundred cows each weighing over a thousand pounds? I’d walk slowly to a place opposite the barn that I needed to drive them to. I was an intrusion on the evening the cattle had planned.
  5. Abruptly, I’d yell and wave my arms and stamp my feet and cause a ruckus. The nearest cow or two would move away, pushing the next few, until the whole herd had moved a few feet toward the barn.
  6. After each had been moved a bit, it was as if they all realized that evening was upon them and they wanted to go toward the barn. All I had to do was follow and encourage them, waving my walking stick at any strays.
  7. No need to drive them then—they wanted to see the barn, where they would enjoy fresh water and fresh hay.
  8. I learned to be effortless in my roundup, a part of the landscape and the day that the herd encountered.
  9. I never got a thank you or a “well done” from my family. It was my job—I was the youngest. How I got the job done was up to me.
  10. Seeing the lay of the land. Where the herd is. The way to go. The moment for quiet, the moment for noise, and the moment merely to walk.

*for Ten Bull illustrations, see https://terebess.hu/english/bulls.html


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About David Breeden

The Rev. Dr. David Breeden is Senior Minister at First Unitarian Society in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He became a minister after a career as a university professor, teaching creative writing and literature. He has written several books on theological topics and translates the writings of philosophers of classical antiquity. More information is available at www.wayofoneness.com.