Tail of the ox

An ox passes through a window. Its head, horns, and four legs all pass through. Why can’t it’s tail pass through?

This is a koan that has come up for me now since it reflects immediate experience.

The ox passes through the window. The world and this human self is recognized, in immediacy, as awakeness itself. As no thing appearing as something.

Yet the tail does not pass through. There is still identification with the doer and observer. Even as the doer and observer is recognized as awakeness itself, even as it is recognized as a gestalt made up of sensations and images, there is still some remaining identification there.

There is no problem here of course, it just part of the process. It is perfect as is.

And the practical answer to that koan is to continue investigate, including any movement to want it to change, and leave the rest to grace. Let Your will be done, not mine.

Of course, I don’t know if this is what the koan refers to. And I have even less idea of how this koan would be passed when working with a teacher. But I don’t really need to either.

For me right now, this is a life koan. One that life itself brings up.


Initial outline…

  • koan: ox passes but not the tail
    • the tail=sense of doer/observer (identification with)
    • the body=everything else (the world + me recognized as awakeness itself)
    • apparently small, and has seen through the majority of phenomena (the body of the ox), but what prevents the ox from passing through

2 thoughts to “Tail of the ox”

  1. This has made sense to me a couple times for fleeting moments before losing the thought ( i was unable to catch the white horse of my mind)
    I know it has something to do with reaching enlightenment and maybe how something has to remain so that enlightenment can be maintained.
    If the ox keeps going it will fall and if it turns back it will be destroyed (he went on to explain)
    So perhaps the ox has to keep its tail inside, one small part of it is still connected to the world of suffering. Enlightenment does not mean completely leaving the cycle. Just not experiencing it anymore.
    The ox is fully outside of the cycles of suffering and desire and reached a higher transcendent state. Its tail is its anchor to the world. Without that anchor, the ox is not connected to the world which is part of the universe. Lets just say at this point, his tail remains but his body keeps going, the tail stretches and stretches…
    OR that to find enlightenment, it wouldnt happen without being in that room. The part of us that finds it in the room can go on while the tail, our memories, is physical and stays behind.

    But really I think it means awakening is not a 100% separation from the realm of desire and suffering. To appriciate desire we must suffer, just as to appriciate and live in enlightenment we must appriciate the opposite (the thing that caused us to attain awakening).
    Enlightenment means being aware of everyhing, all at once.
    The tail is a tether.

  2. To understand this Koan, consult the first Page of the Dao te ching. Tail is the mystery — The body is the manifestations. Although these differ in name they are one and the same. Just say, “not two”.

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