Bujinkan Nanadan 七段: The Bull Transcended

The Ox Transcended, digital c-print photograph by Andrew Binkley
Hatsumi Sensei describes the journey of a Bujinkan student through the Dan ranks as being akin to the Ten Oxherding pictures in Zen Buddhism. These pictures describe the seekers journey to enlightenment.

If you haven't read my other posts in this series, please check them out. You may find them useful no matter what your rank is:

Bujinkan Shodan 初段: Searching for the Bull
Bujinkan Nidan 弐段: Discovering the Footprints
Bujinkan Sandan 参段: Perceiving the Bull
Bujinkan Yondan 四段: Catching the Bull
Bujinkan Godan 五段: Taming the Bull
Bujinkan Rokudan 六段: Riding the Bull Home

On reaching seventh dan we may find that we have forgotten the ox. What does it mean to forget the Ox?


Woodblock print by 德力富吉郎 Tokuriki Tomikichirō

忘牛存人 The Bull Transcended
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 ropes

We made it home. Comfortable in our own taijutsu and in our dojo, whatever ambitions we had attached to training or rank are abandoned. We no longer attempt to manipulate training to serve the purpose of our ego.

Through all the stages of finding, following, catching, taming, and riding the ox, we have been seeking the true essential nature of training and of ourselves. If this process was pursued with pure intent, the self that was doing the seeking falls away. It disappears little by little until it is gone. What you are left with is only the essential, true training.

Even better than this, you may enter into another dimension of training where the true self doesn't even make an appearance at all. This is often symbolized in Japanese art and poetry as the pure white moonlight moving apart the clouds until there are no longer clouds and the whole world is bathed in this purity. This aspect of training becomes pure experience and is beyond words. Only direct experience remains.

And, your consciousness remains, observing. The bull is gone but through your direct experience all that is left is you observing and feeling. There clouds may gather again.

At this point in training we may start to wonder at how pointless all of the work we did up till now has been. All of the exercises, all of the kata, all of the drills… they feel like useless effort in the face of the pure moonlight. With this direct experience of the essence of training, everything else is a distraction.

People sometimes find themselves in the dojo going through the motions. Observing their movement and the movement of others and feeling like it is wasted effort. It is amusing to find your body repeating whatever the class is working on, while your heart is not in it. Or it feels pointless.

It feels like once you have grasped the essential nature of training, there is nothing left to do. You realize that what you were seeking in training is within you already, but also without. You stop looking and it is everywhere. All the secrets are made known.

So with nothing left to do, what is the point of training?

The fabric of training itself is the students and the art. Just like the stream is also water, or stars are also night sky- so students are their study. You observe this relationship: uke and tori; teacher and student; training and dojo; body and gi; hands and bokken. As you notice these things, you realize you are not them and they are not you. But you are part of this fabric.

This dreamlike quality of training can carry you for a long time. Even though you no longer need the whip and the halter, or the tools and exercises of the dojo, you are left observing these. In your reverie, you are still tied to those experiences.

Next we go even further to Bujinkan Hachidan 八段: Both Bull and Self Transcended

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