The “Ten Ox Herding Pictures” exquisitely present ten gradual stages that Buddhist practitioners may use to cultivate and train their minds along the Buddhist path. Virginia Satir’s Iceberg Theory, in contrast, presents deep psychological layers that an individual experiences that lie beneath the radar of their conscious, visibly know story lines and behaviors. The metaphor of the iceberg and its connection with Chan practices could yield remarkable insights when we start to explore the inner connection with our SELF. However, an encounter may not be necessarily entail a perfect correspondence between Chan and the iceberg theory.
Professor Yang Pei expounded that the three transmission layers derived from Satir’s Theory of Self- Congruence Development may correspond to the Ten Ox Herding Pictures in the Chan practices. The aim of the first level in Satir’s model is for releasing feeling, exploring thoughts, and discerning our yearnings, which is also an encounter with our SELF, as well as a way of counteracting our vexations. If the practitioners could complement Satir’s model with the stages of Ox herding pictures, they may reach the second stage of pictures, “seeing the tracks of the ox”.
The second level of Satir’s model is meant to explore our inner assets, where we are encountering inner beliefs through enhancing understandings of our own yearnings. At this stage, our sense of -personal values can be explored and stabilized, thus enabling us to accept who we truly are and then face ours hardships in life accordingly. If we compare this stage with the views from Ox Herding Stages, some practitioners could “see the ox, others could catch it”.
The third level continues to strive toward to the development of self-congruence. At this level, the fluctuating sense of values can be moderated, even in the blink of an eye. The sense of “being” could emerge, followed by moving forward to the status of unifying the mind. Referring this level to Chan practices, the practitioners may be able to “ride the ox back home”, and eventually attain the status of “natural self-cultivation, effortlessness, and nothingness“.
The last four Ox Herding pictures have transcended the self-congruence of Satir’s model and the status of the unifying mind, though the internal and external elements are still present. It is here, in fact, that one finds the most significant difference between the framework of psychology and Chan practices – namely, emptiness, which is also the ultimate goal for practicing Chan, yet not the principal aim and motive of Western models of psychological growth. . Oriental philosophy, in this regard, represents its wisdom as a form of holistic training in human character and aspiration, transcending Western models of the conscious and unconscious self.
According to Professor Yang Pei, the model of the Iceberg Theory can be a prerequisite for inner exploration in the processes of Chan practices. However, the two frameworks of practices and understandings can only complement each other, and are not equivalent.
The above findings represent only one humble perspective among future voices in this area of research. As such, further research into these models is considered both worthwhile and welcome.
Texts / Photos: Dharma Drum Monthly
Translation: Elenda Huang
Editing: DDM Editorial Team; Keith Brown