The ten paintings are immensely beautiful. In the first, the ox is lost. The man to whom the ox belongs is just standing, looking all around in the thick forest, and he cannot see where the ox has gone. He is simply bewildered, confused. It is getting late, the sun it setting; soon it will be night, and then to go into the thick forest to find the ox will become more and more difficult.
In the second picture he finds footprints of the ox. He feels a little happier; perhaps there is a possibility to find the ox – he has found the footprints. He follows the footprints.
In the third picture he sees the back of the ox standing in the thick forest. It is difficult to see, but he can figure out that it is the back of his ox. In the fourth he has reached the ox; he can see the ox now, its whole body. He rejoices.
In the fifth painting he takes hold of the ox’s horns. It is a great struggle to bring it back home, but he wins. In the sixth picture he is riding on the ox, coming back towards his home. These are beautiful paintings!
In the seventh picture the ox is tied down in his place. In the eighth picture the man is so full of joy that he starts playing on his flute. The ninth picture is an empty frame – there is nothing painted in it.
In the tenth picture, which is the cause of a great controversy, the man is going with a bottle of wine towards the marketplace, almost drunk. You can see, he cannot even walk. This tenth picture has caused a great controversy which has been raging for two thousand years.
One sect, which is the major sect of mahayana, believes that the ninth is the last picture. It represents the no-mind; you have achieved the goal. The ox is your innermost self which you have lost, and the whole series of pictures is in search of your inner self. You have found the self in the ninth. There is immense silence and peace. It is nirvana, it is no-mind.
Beyond the ninth…the people who say this is the end of the journey think that somebody has added the tenth picture, which seems to be absolutely irrelevant. But the people who belong to a small sect of Zen believe in the tenth picture too. They say that when one has become enlightened this is not the end. This is the highest peak of consciousness, it is the greatest achievement, but one has to come back to the human world, to the ordinary world. One has to become again part of the greater humanity. Only then can he share, only then can he provoke others for the search. And certainly when he comes from such height, he is absolutely drunk with ecstasy. That bottle of wine is not an ordinary wine. It is just symbolic of an ecstatic state.
When these pictures were brought to Japan, just twelve or thirteen hundred years ago, only nine pictures were brought. The tenth was troublesome; it was left in China.