"The path of enlightenment is a spiritual journey of discovering our true nature. But the fact is that from the very beginning there is nothing to acquire. From the beginning, we are perfect and complete, lacking nothing. During a spiritual journey, in taking up and engaging spiritual practices, we come to personally experience and verify the reality of that perfection," writes John Daido Loori, abbot of the Zen Mountain Monastery in Mount Tremper, New York, and director of the Mountains and Rivers Order, an organization of associated Zen Buddhist temples, practice centers, and mediation groups from around the United States and abroad. He is a successor of the influential Zen master Taizan Maezumi Roshi. In this cogent and terse paperback, Loori uses the ten Ox-Herding Pictures and accompanying ancient poems as signposts for his commentary on the different stages of the spiritual journey. Although he admits at the outset that there is no one-size-fits-all for this process, there are certain things that all the religions point to as common elements in the development of spiritual maturity.
The first stage of a spiritual journey starts with a question. Accompanying this is the yearning to find clarity and to realize ourselves. We need to let go of preconceived notions about the quest and to open ourselves up to what is available to us in the present moment. The second stage brings together self-study, observing others. and familiarizing ourselves with the tradition. Out of this mixture comes the intention to do spiritual practice. Once we begin, all kinds of doubts and distractions arise to hinder our practice. That is why patience and perseverance are so necessary at this point in the journey.
Loori discusses the ten stages in our spiritual progress paying close attention to the old ruts of conditioning and the habitual patterns that are involved in the taming of the ego. In the Ox-Herding Pictures, the pilgrim moves through life starting as a youngster and returning to the world as an old sage. Loori is to be commended for his wise and succinct assessment of the spiritual journey and the important role of spiritual practice.