The tradition's great teachings (the Four Noble Truths, the Three Poisons, the Ox Herding Pictures, etc.) play an important role as guides and motivators. But - for many of us - these stories only develop deep significance through practice realization.
Our challenge as practitioners remains the same as it was in Buddha's time: to embody these stories in the reality of daily life.
Over the past few years, a number of bloggers have re-told these foundational stories and, in so doing, have conveyed a deeply felt sense of their meaning. As unique individuals, their expression of these stories naturally differs from that of the Buddha and/or other great teachers.
And I find great beauty and wonder in that difference.
1. Life is full of problems.
2. It always seems like my problem starts with you but it really starts with me.
3. It always seems like you should fix my problem but in the end it's up to me.
4. I'm going to the store, want anything?
Miller's version of Buddhism's most central teaching clearly reflects (at least, it seems that way to me) her intention to take responsibility for the problems in her life. This is work required of everyone, whether we call it Buddhism or not.
Some bloggers have re-told the poems that accompany the Ten Oxherding Pictures (see column on right for more on these). For example, Genju (108zenbooks) began a series of posts on these pictures with her own version of the poem used to illustrate the first image in the series (she also created new drawings for each of the ten stages):
There are traces everywhere,
dark stains of twisted karma ~
dusty, heavy, dragging back.
The momentum of desire
pitches me forward,
by intellect but
steadied by the breath.
Compare Genju's version with the original version by Kuòān Shīyuǎn that traditionally accompanies the first image:
One aimlessly pushes the grasses aside in search.
The rivers are wide, the mountains far away,
And the path become longer.
Exhausted and dispirited.
One hears only the late autumn cicadas
Shrilling in the maple woods.
In a similar vein, Jim Crump of Maria Kannon Zen Center has drawn a "cowgirl" Ox Herding series that charms and inspires. Check it out.
If you have an interest in Buddhist teaching, you might try re-telling a story that has meaning for you. My experience suggests that you'll learn more about the teachings. And also about yourself.
Here are a few of my own re-tellings Buddhism's stories:
First Ox Herding Picture (the rest of the series follows on sequential days)
As I look back at these, I can see how I might now write some of them differently. But perhaps that's what we'd expect from living words.