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Phases in the "Re-cognition" of "Bull" according to Zen?

Experimental attribution of significance to traditional distinctions

- / -

Phases in the "Re-cognition" of "Bull" ?
Phase 1: In search of the "bull" -- as questionable "facts"
Phase 2: Discovery of the footprints of the "bull" -- as traces of disruptive misrepresentation
Phase 3: Perceiving the "bull" -- as the challenge it constitutes
Phase 4: Catching the "bull" -- grasping its implications
Phase 5: Taming the "bull" -- constraining its disruptive consequences
Phase 6: Riding the "bull" home -- benefitting from its convenience

Phase 7: The "bull" transcended -- moving beyond its constraints
Phase 8: Both "bull" and self transcended -- and the illusion they together constitute
Phase 9: Reaching the source of the "bull" -- and its self-referential implications
Phase 0: Return to society -- knowing it for the first time

Annex to a document entitled Zen of Facticity: Bull, Ox or Otherwise? Herding facts and their alternatives in a post-truth-era (2017)


Common titles of the ox-herding pictures in English, and common themes of the associated prose, are indicated in the second and third columns. Given the concern with collective implications, in addition to the traditional individual preoccupation, clusters of synonyms are presented below to clarify interpretation of the function tentatively named in the fourth column.

Significance of the Ox-herding Images of Zen
  Stages traditionally distinguished in Zen Functional clusters? Clusters of functional synonyms?
# Version of
Suzuki (Shubun)
Version of
Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki
1 Undisciplined In search of the "bull"
(aimless searching, only the sound of cicadas)
Questioning interrogating, evaluating, assessing, justice
2 Discipline begun Discovery of the footprints of the "bull"
(a path to follow)
Problematizing blaming, criticizing, condemning
3 In harness Perceiving the "bull"
(but only its rear, not its head)
Modelling explaining, comprehension, science
4 Faced round Catching the "bull"
(a great struggle, the bull repeatedly escapes, discipline required)
Acquiring possessing, grasping: self-possession
5 Tamed Taming the "bull"
(less straying, less discipline, bull becomes gentle and obedient)
Protecting defending, security, surveillance, status quo
6 Unimpeded Riding the "bull" home
(great joy)
Governing politics, management, control
7 Laissez faire The "bull" transcended
(once home, the bull is forgotten, discipline's whip is idle; stillness)
Integrating coordinating, configuring
8 All forgotten Both "bull" and self transcended
(all forgotten and empty)
Conscientizing mirroring, shadow integration
9 Solitary moon Reaching the source of the "bull"
(unconcerned with or without; the sound of cicadas)
Believing religion
10 Both vanished Return to society
(crowded marketplace; spreading enlightenment by mingling with humankind)


persuading, educating indoctrination

Clearly there are many contrasting efforts to distinguish degrees of "enlightenment". Of particular interest is that articulated in terms of degrees of self-reference in the light of insights into the cybernetics of a viable system (Maurice Yolles and Gerhard Fink, A General Theory of Generic Modelling and Paradigm Shifts, Kybernetes, 2015). Four of these cybernetic orders are discussed separately (Consciously Self-reflexive Global Initiatives, 2007). An interpretation of such distinctions is provided in the discussion of Cadell Last (Towards a Big Historical Understanding of the Symbolic-Imaginary, 2017):

In addition to studies of the philosophy of bullshit, there are now studies of its psychology (Gordon Pennycook, et al. On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-profound Bullshit, Judgment and Decision Making, 2015). The latter includes a Bullshit Receptivity Scale whose elaboration merits comparison with the distinctions made above. Of it the authors note:

The construction of a reliable index of bullshit receptivity is an important first step toward gaining a better understanding of the underlying cognitive and social mechanisms that determine if and when bullshit is detected. Our bullshit receptivity scale was associated with a relatively wide range of important psychological factors. This is a valuable first step toward gaining a better understanding of the psychology of bullshit.

With appropriate irony, the authors were awarded the Ig Noble Peace Prize (2016) for their research, as variously noted (Chris Pash, An Ig Nobel Prize has been awarded for bullshit, Business Insider, 23 September 2016; Stuart Winthrope, Bullshit, lies, itches and flies: the 2016 Ig Nobel prizes, University of Melbourne blogs, 2 October 2016).

The Zen images are appreciated in that tradition because they avoid "verbose" articulations of a variety of coherent conditions of experience. Other verbal articulations could of course be matched with that set of images, notably levels of meta-distinction and abstraction in physics and metalogic. All such distinctions could be explored in terms of levels of dialogue (Varieties of Dialogue Arenas and Styles, 1997). The challenge could be framed through a musical metaphor (Tuning a Periodic Table of Religions, Epistemologies and Spirituality, 2007). It could be understood in terms of the phases of any hero's journey as distinguished by Joseph Campbell in terms of 17 stages (The Hero with a Thousand Faces, 1949). Such myths do not necessarily contain all 17 stages explicitly; some myths may focus on only one of the stages, while others may deal with the stages in a somewhat different order

The preliminary attribution of text to the sub-phases of the following 10 phases is necessarily both highly tentative and far from adequate -- as evident from minimal or absent text in many cases. Extensive use of "bull" is employed as an indicative code for a complex of possible associations, variously discussed in the commentary which follows in the main paper in sections on:

Phases in the "Re-cognition" of "Bull"?

Phase 1: In search of the "bull" -- as questionable "facts"

In search of the "bull"
(interrogating, evaluating, assessing, justice)
In search of the 'bull'

1.1: Questioning (interrogating, evaluating, assessing, justice): Illusion-prone quest of systemic lying -- misleading understanding. It is then led astray by the delusions to which it succumbs, such as desire for gain and fear of loss, and is confused by a multiplicity of views of right and wrong, appropriateness and inappropriateness.

1.2: Problematizing (blaming, criticizing, condemning): Undisciplined exploration of the problematique: Humanity, having violated its own inmost nature, loses track of the problematique and its significance. Although distracted by this confusion, and exhausted by its efforts, humanity continues its search for a sustainable solution.

1.3: Modelling (explaining, comprehension, science): In quest of a fact-based universal explanation -- readily to be interpreted as "looking for the ox"

1.4: Acquiring (possessing, grasping): Identification of data to be recognized as factual.

1.5: Protecting (defending, security, surveillance): Defensive preoccupation with detection of potential security issues threatening the status quo

1.6: Governing (politics, management, control): In quest of a viable integrative strategy/ At this time, it would appear that humanity, as represented by the international community, continues to be embroiled in the pre-systemic, single-factor perspectives of this first phase (ozone, acid rain, "health-for-all", substance abuse, illiteracy, terrorism, AIDS).

1.7: Integrating (coordinating, configuring): Effort to frame perceptions in a coherent manner

1.8: Conscientizing (mirroring): In quest of meaningful personal significance

1.9: Believing (religion): In quest of credible universal meaning -- something all-encompasingly coherent to believe in

1.0: Communicating (persuading, educating): Persuading other of the value of a quest.

In the pasture of the world,
I endlessly push aside the tall
grasses in search of the Ox.
Following unnamed rivers,
lost upon the interpenetrating
paths of distant mountains,
My strength failing
and my vitality exhausted,
I cannot find the Ox.

Phase 2: Discovery of the footprints of the "bull" -- as traces of disruptive misrepresentation

Discovery of the footprints of the "bull"
(blaming, criticizing, condemning)
Discovery of the footprints of the 'bull'

2.1: Questioning (interrogating, evaluating, assessing, justice): Detection of misinterpretation and misrepresentation -- whether in the form of illusions, lying or evil.

2.2: Problematizing (blaming, criticizing, condemning): Recognizing traces of the problematique as an integrated system: Repeated (and basically unsuccessful) attempts to locate and contain the problematique through uncoordinated initiatives provide humanity with occasional insights into its nature, especially when more integrated approaches are used.

2.3: Modelling (explaining, comprehension, science): Discovery of traces of hard evidence (concrete proof).

2.4: Acquiring (possessing, grasping): Acquisition of evidence, however circumstantial

2.5: Protecting (defending, security, surveillance, status quo): Discovery of traces of a deadly threat and vulnerability to systemic integrity

2.6: Governing (politics, management, control): Although recognizing that the problematique, by whatever means, is in some sense engendered by humanity as a whole, there remains a basic confusion between truth and falsehood, especially when it seems obvious to some that another particular group can be usefully blamed for specific problems. Environmental and systems insights (tropical forests, global warming) are shifting the focus to this second phase.

2.7: Integrating (coordinating, configuring): Collating evidence of the unsuspected

2.8: Conscientizing (mirroring): Degree of recognition of personal implication

2.9: Believing (religion): Believing the ultimate significance of the reality implied by the traces

2.0: Communicating (persuading, educating): Educating others into the meaning of that reality

Along the riverbank under the trees,
I discover footprints.
Even under the fragrant grass,
I see his prints.
Deep in remote mountains
they are found.
These traces can no more be hidden
than one's nose,
looking heavenward

Phase 3: Perceiving the "bull" -- as the challenge it constitutes

Perceiving the "bull"
(explaining, comprehension, science):
Perceiving the 'bull'

Phase 3.1: Questioning (interrogating, evaluating, assessing, justice):

Phase 3.2: Problematizing (blaming, criticizing, condemning): Focusing on the problematique as a whole: Having cultivated a more intuitive insight, enabling it to integrate its complementary modes of perception, humanity focuses directly on the problematique, recognizing its many manifestations as consequences of different forms of inappropriate human intervention.

Phase 3.3: Modelling (explaining, comprehension, science): Perceiving the factual nature of the model

Phase 3.4: Acquiring (possessing, grasping): Acquiring a sense of the reality of what is perceived.

Phase 3.5: Protecting (defending, security, surveillance, status quo): Defending the coherence of the recognized reality

Phase 3.6: Governing (politics, management, control): There are episodic exercises in focusing on the problematique as a whole (Brandt Report, Brundtland Report), although what they fail to take into account quickly condemns them as sub-systemic and inappropriate and encourages further initiatives of a similar nature.

Phase 3.7: Integrating (coordinating, configuring): |Mapping the traces of perceived reality

Phase 3.8: Conscientizing (mirroring): Recognition of implication in the perceived reality

Phase 3.9: Believing (religion): Discovery of traces ultimate meaning and inspiration

Phase 3.0: Communicating (persuading, educating): Communicating to others what is perceived as reality

Perceiving the Facts -- in contrast to the Bull(shit)

I hear the song of the nightingale.
The sun is warm, the wind is mild,
willows are green along the shore -
Here no Ox can hide!
What artist can draw that massive head,
those majestic horns?

Phase 4: Catching the "bull" -- grasping its implications

Catching the "bull"
(possessing, grasping)
Catching the 'bull'

Phase 4.1: Questioning (interrogating, evaluating, assessing, justice): Interrogation of reality in an effort to grasp its nature within a framework framework upheld as objective

Phase 4.2: Problematizing (blaming, criticizing, condemning): Encompassing the problematique: Humanity grapples with the problematique directly for the first time.

Phase 4.3: Modelling (explaining, comprehension, science): Encompassing the perceived reality in a model.

Phase 4.4: Acquiring (possessing, grasping): Ensuring a measure of possession and control of the perceived reality

Phase 4.5: Protecting (defending, security, surveillance, status quo): Capturing and containing any threatening reality

Phase 4.6: Governing (politics, management, control): The momentum of the problematique, developed over the long periods during which it was uncontained, and the pressures and habitual opportunities of an undisciplined social environment, make it extremely difficult to control. Severe disciplinary measures are necessary. The various development strategies, especially the current attempt at "sustainable development", correspond to this fourth phase, but only to the extent that efforts are made to implement them. On the national level, the structural adjustment required by the IMF is indicative of the political will required -- although typically such adjustment fails to take into account many facets of the problematique.

Phase 4.7: Integrating (coordinating, configuring): Integrating the reality into a coherent framework

Phase 4.8: Conscientizing (mirroring):

Phase 4.9: Believing (religion):

Phase 4.0: Communicating (persuading, educating): indoctrination

I seize him with a terrific struggle.
His great will and power
are inexhaustible.
He charges to the high plateau
far above the cloud-mists,
Or in an impenetrable ravine he stands.

Phase 5: Taming the "bull"-- constraining its disruptive consequences

Taming the "bull"
(defending, security, surveillance, status quo)
Taming the 'bull'

Phase 5.1: Questioning (interrogating, evaluating, assessing, justice):

Phase 5.3: Problematizing (blaming, criticizing, condemning): Orienting the problematique: Every insight concerning the problematique leads humanity to further insights in an endless pattern. With discernment these will all be of value. But when humanity deceives itself, confusion will prevail and the problematique will reassert itself in an inappropriate manner.

Phase 5.3: Modelling (explaining, comprehension, science):

Phase 5.4: Acquiring (possessing, grasping):

Phase 5.5: Protecting (defending, security, surveillance, status quo):

Phase 5.6: Governing (politics, management, control): Constant vigilance is required to discipline the problematique and orient its manifestations within appropriate bounds. The seeds of this fifth phase may be seen in the increasing recognition of the need for a disciplined and radical change of life style, especially on the part of the industrialized countries.

Phase 5.7: Integrating (coordinating, configuring):

Phase 5.8: Conscientizing (mirroring): shadow integration

Phase 5.9: Believing (religion):

Phase 5.0: Communicating (persuading, educating): indoctrination

Taming the Facts -- emasculating the Bull

The whip and rope are necessary,
Else he might stray off down
some dusty road.
Being well-trained, he becomes
naturally gentle.
Then, unfettered, he obeys his master

Phase 6: Riding the "bull" home -- benefitting from its convenience

Riding the "bull" home
(politics, management, control)
Riding the 'bull' home

Phase 6.1: Questioning (interrogating, evaluating, assessing, justice):

Phase 6.2: Problematizing (blaming, criticizing, condemning): Using the problematique as a vehicle for sustainable development: The struggle of humanity with the problematique is over. Humanity is no longer traumatized by gain or loss, which are assimilated as phases in a larger process that is now the focus of attention.

Phase 6.3: Modelling (explaining, comprehension, science):

Phase 6.4: Acquiring (possessing, grasping): self-possession

Phase 6.5: Protecting (defending, security, surveillance, status quo):

Phase 6.6: Governing (politics, management, control): Rhythms of action in harmony with nature are cultivated. The problematique is used as a vehicle moving in sympathy with those rhythms towards the re-enchantment of the Earth. The old modes of action are not considered viable and their advocates are no longer heeded. Some indications of the nature of this phase are to be found in the writings of the "deep ecology" movement and in the preoccupations of some forms of sustainable agriculture -- although their obvious limitations lie in their inability to deal realistically with the conditions of industrialized, urban societies and the impoverishment of an overpopulated planet. The missing insight would seem to be how to achieve the transition to this stage by benefiting from the problematique itself.

Phase 6.7: Integrating (coordinating, configuring):

Phase 6.8: Conscientizing (mirroring): shadow integration

Phase 6.9: Believing (religion):

Phase 6.0: Communicating (persuading, educating): indoctrination

Mounting the Ox, slowly
I return homeward.
The voice of my flute intones
through the evening.
Measuring with hand-beats
the pulsating harmony,
I direct the endless rhythm.
Whoever hears this melody
will join me

Phase 7: The "bull" transcended -- moving beyond its constraints

This phase might be characterized by the insight of the poet John Keats regarding negative capability: that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.

The "bull" transcended
(coordinating, configuring)
The 'bull' transcended

Phase 7.1: Questioning (interrogating, evaluating, assessing, justice):

Phase 7.2: Problematizing (blaming, criticizing, condemning): Transcending the realm of the problematique: Having used the problematique as a vehicle to reach a sustainable condition, it is no longer required. However, the necessary disciplines for humanity to handle it remain available. Humanity can now act with serenity guided by insight that is no longer obscured by the dynamics of the problematique. There are writings on paradigm shifts into a new consciousness (in which the problematique no longer figures) and these do offer clues as to the nature of this phase. However, their neglect of the problematique would seem to be more a question of avoidance rather than transcendence, indicating that such perspectives lack vital insights.

Phase 7.3: Modelling (explaining, comprehension, science):

Phase 7.4: Acquiring (possessing, grasping): self-possession

Phase 7.5: Protecting (defending, security, surveillance, status quo):

Phase 7.6: Governing (politics, management, control):

Phase 7.7: Integrating (coordinating, configuring):

Phase 7.8: Conscientizing (mirroring): shadow integration

Phase 7.9: Believing (religion):

Phase 7.0: Communicating (persuading, educating): indoctrination

Astride the Ox, I reach home.
I am serene. The Ox too can rest.
The dawn has come. In blissful repose,
Within my thatched dwelling
I have abandoned the whip and ropes.

Phase 8: Both "bull" and self transcended -- and the illusion they together constitute

Both "bull" and self transcended
(mirroring): shadow integration
Both 'bull' and self transcended

Phase 8.1: Questioning (interrogating, evaluating, assessing, justice):

Phase 8.2: Problematizing (blaming, criticizing, condemning): Disappearance of both humanity and the problematique: The dualistic mindset through which humanity is perceived, in opposition to the problematique and to other species, is itself transcended, as are the disciplines through which that relationship is articulated.

Phase 8.3: Modelling (explaining, comprehension, science):

Phase 8.4: Acquiring (possessing, grasping): self-possession

Phase 8.5: Protecting (defending, security, surveillance, status quo):

Phase 8.6: Governing (politics, management, control): Confusion disappears. But there is no question of being either entranced by more integrative insights or entrapped by lesser ones. The nature of this condition does not lend itself to definition. Typically, any desire for it renders it unattainable or unsustainable.

Phase 8.7: Integrating (coordinating, configuring):

Phase 8.8: Conscientizing (mirroring): shadow integration

Phase 8.9: Believing (religion):

Phase 8.0: Communicating (persuading, educating): indoctrination

Whip, rope, person, and Ox -
all merge in No Thing.
This heaven is so vast,
no message can stain it.
How may a snowflake exist
in a raging fire.
Here are the footprints of
the Ancestors

Phase 9: Reaching the source of the "bull" -- and its self-referential implications

Reaching the source of the "bull"
Reaching the source of the 'bull'

Phase 9.1: Questioning (interrogating, evaluating, assessing, justice):

Phase 9.2: Problematizing (blaming, criticizing, condemning):

Phase 9.3: Modelling (explaining, comprehension, science): Expression of essential humanity: Grounded in its essential nature, humanity stands untouched by inappropriateness.

Phase 9.4: Acquiring (possessing, grasping): self-possession

Phase 9.5: Protecting (defending, security, surveillance, status quo):

Phase 9.6: Governing (politics, management, control): Processes of integration and disintegration are witnessed from a perspective that enfolds them. Neither formulation nor reformulation are necessary to ensure sustainability. Change, as perceived, is necessarily appropriate however paradoxical it may appear.

Phase 9.7: Integrating (coordinating, configuring):

Phase 9.8: Conscientizing (mirroring): shadow integration

Phase 9.9: Believing (religion):

Phase 9.0: Communicating (persuading, educating): indoctrination

Too many steps have been taken
returning to the root and the source.
Better to have been blind and deaf
from the beginning!
Dwelling in one's true abode,
unconcerned with and without -
The river flows tranquilly on
and the flowers are red

Phase 0: Return to society -- knowing it for the first time

This phase might be characterized by the insight of the poet T. S. Eliot: We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know it for the first time (Little Gidding, 1942)

Return to society
(persuading, educating): indoctrination
Return to society

Phase 0.1: Questioning (interrogating, evaluating, assessing, justice):

Phase 0.2: Problematizing (blaming, criticizing, condemning): Human intervention in the world: Human action is no longer associated with any particular mindset, nor does it follow any recognizable path. It cannot be assessed by any form of conventional wisdom, nor does it depend on any particular tools.

Phase 0.3: Modelling (explaining, comprehension, science):

Phase 0.4: Acquiring (possessing, grasping): self-possession

Phase 0.5: Protecting (defending, security, surveillance, status quo):

Phase 0.6: Governing (politics, management, control): No special effort is made to preserve forms of any kind -- including those of humanity itself. Insight into the emptiness underlying form enfolds any form of action in a more meaningful context, thus enabling greater appropriateness to emerge as required.

Phase 0.7: Integrating (coordinating, configuring):

Phase 0.8: Conscientizing (mirroring): shadow integration

Phase 0.9: Believing (religion):

Phase 0.0: Communicating (persuading, educating): indoctrination

Barefooted and naked of breast,
I mingle with the people of the world.
My clothes are ragged and dust-laden,
and I am ever blissful.
I use no magic to extend my life;
Now, before me, the dead trees
become alive.

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