The ten Zen Buddhist oxherding pictures, with their accompanying prose, come to us from the brush of Kakuan, a Rinzai monk, based on earlier drawings by various Zen teachers. They depict the stages of spiritual progress by gradual purification.
Demi has ingeniously taken these teachings and turned them into a joyous exploration for four-to-eight year olds of the quest for Enlightenment. She introduces a little boy named Zen who is out searching for his lost ox, following its tracks and glimpses of its horns and nose. As the boy recaptures and tames the ox — an image of the deeper Buddha nature gentling the ego — the pages grow increasingly joyful.
Demi's illustrations, in round frames on the square pages, have the spacious serenity of Asian paintings. One of the round frames near the end, true to the story and to Zen, has no picture, only white space:
The search is over.
The effort is over.
Anger, ego, greed,
ignorance, and jealousy —
all have disappeared.
Only joy is everywhere.
Demi includes at the end a two-page discussion of the history and meaning of the Zen Oxherding Pictures, followed by two pages about Zen Buddhism. We especially appreciate — in both Kakuan's and Demi's renditions — that the enlightened joy spills back over into the world, with the tenth and final frame being devoted to "entering the city with bliss-bestowing hands."
You may already be familiar with Demi's more than 300 bestselling children's books, covering a wide range of spiritual traditions. (See, for instance, this review of her Hildegard of Bingen.) She has received more than 20 awards and honors, which you can view on her author biography page at Wisdom Tales Press.