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Ox Herding: A Secular Pilgrimage by Jackie Griffiths

Ox Herding

Reviewed by Timea Barabas

If you are looking for a different kind of a travel journal, you might want to take a look at Ox Herding: A Secular Pilgrimage by Jackie Griffiths. Unlike the classical books of this genre, this novel takes you on an expedition to the previously untouched continents of a person’s psyche.

Just as the title suggests, this book is based on the Ten Ox Herding Pictures which are as Jackie Griffiths explains herself: “a Zen Buddhist philosophical classic that depicts the journey to enlightenment through ten distinct and progressive stages of spiritual development”. In fact the author gives us a brief description of these stages in the Introduction section. Although she admits to having doubts about her interference in the reader’s comprehension of her text (“I write this introduction with great trepidation, acknowledging that I’m running the risk of attracting attention to the finger pointing at the moon, rather than to the moon itself”), I find that some of the associations and explanations she puts forward here are necessary. The most useful intervention she had was introducing the reader to the Ten Ox Herding Pictures. Without this, much of the meaning of the novel would have been lost to me. However, going into the actual plot of the novel in this context seemed unnecessary to me.