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‘Hold The Rope, Carry Your Cross: Christianity and the Ten Bull Pictures of Zen’

Ten Bulls front cover by Andrew McAlister cropped

We’ve interviewed author Andrew McAlister from Austraia and illustrator Carlos Siqueira from Brazil on the recent book they worked on together and recently published titled: ‘Hold The Rope, Carry Your Cross: Christianity and the Ten Bull Pictures of Zen’.

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can find it on WCCM Media Store

Interviewing the Author: Andrew McAlister

Can you tell us how this book came about?

Andrew McAlister

It actually grew out of another writing project. I was researching meditation and community as a spiritual practice. I soon realised that any book about these would need to be very practical. So I went in search of practices that might compliment meditation while also being compatible with the experience of community.

During this search I reconnected with the Ten Ox-Herding Pictures. I knew of them and had been interested in them for a number of years. Now there was a chance to get to know them a bit better. As I did this, out came the verse for each picture. When I showed them to Fr. Laurence and to Stefan Reynolds, they both suggested that they could be published. As we discussed this possibility, a structure for the book took shape. There was agreement that because there was new verse for each picture, we might also have a go at new pictures. Stefan suggested Carlos and Carlos said yes. While Carlos drew, I continued to write and edit.

As time went on, I became conscious that this process was happening in a kind of ‘Christian silo’: it was only Christians pondering the bull pictures. Eventually I met Subhana Barzaghi (a Zen Roshi from the Sydney Zen Centre, here in Australia). After some discussion she agreed to take a look at the project. She even passed it on to another Roshi for him to consider. After their input, I felt the project could proceed in a more balanced way.

When it came time to approach a publisher, we soon found out that while publishers were interested, they were not willing to invest. So I found a publisher here in Australia that both supported self-publishing and also did publishing themselves. With their support I published the print version, while they published the ebook.

‘The deep simplicity of the Bull Pictures engaged the mind and imagination of two Christian meditators and produced this rich and intriguing book.’

Laurence Freeman

What was the inspiration for the pictures?

I used the traditional images of the Ten Bulls of Zen as a base, and tried to make a more modern, contemporary version, but trying to keep the Japanese style of a simple design and using only black and white contrast. Another difference is that instead of a monk in search of the true Self, I alternated drawing a young man and a young woman, representing that this is a universal human search. The last drawing was the most challenging, as Dom Laurence asked me to make the man and woman become one. After several attempts, I think I got this union in the last drawing. For me, the last drawing also symbolizes that Happiness is only full when it is shared. Be sharing the love, wisdom and compassion that result from this union in the heart, and also materially, giving food to those who are hungry.

In your book you talk about Zen Buddhism and Christianity, what are the commonalities between the two?

Zen is the present moment, not describing it or theorizing it, but it. In Zen Buddhism, only in this moment, the Buddha is, is there enlightenment. The way to this is beyond understanding; beyond thought, word, and image. These must be lost. The heart of Christianity is very much like this. The way into communion, here and now, with divine life is also beyond understanding and in the moment. We also must go beyond thought, word and image. As this happens Christ is revealed now, and we can together become (in grace) Christ in the world and for the world. Beyond all thought, word, and image is the fullness of emptiness (Zen), of silence (Christianity). In this ‘no-where’ of silence, of emptiness, we are our simple selves. This self is Buddha nature (Buddhism); in Christianity it is the true, or Christ self. A meditation practice in both traditions can be a practice into this now, into Zen, into the heart.

What is the role of the illustrations in this book?

The pictures done by Carlos are true to the bull pictures of Zen themselves. In this, they are a way of guidance away from ego consciousness and into simple consciousness (or being). We can only be now, and so we can only be ourselves now. In expressing ourselves, we are compassionate. Practically, the pictures can help us become aware of what gets in the way of being ourselves. In simply gazing at each picture, we may experience (in the heart and without analysis) our resistances, our hurts, and what in our living might be inconsistent with being ourselves. As we move through these, we can become enlightened, or for the Christian, we put on the mind of Christ.

Interviewing the Illustrator: Carlos Siqueira

What was the inspiration for the pictures?

Carlos Siqueira

I used the traditional images of the Ten Bulls of Zen as a base, and tried to make a more modern, contemporary version, but trying to keep the Japanese style of a simple design and using only black and white contrast.

Another difference is that instead of a monk in search of the true Self, I alternated drawing a young man and a young woman, representing that this is a universal human search. The last drawing was the most challenging, as Dom Laurence asked me to make the man and woman become one. After several attempts, I think I got this union in the last drawing. For me, the last drawing also symbolizes that Happiness is only full when it is shared. Be sharing the love, wisdom and compassion that result from this union in the heart, and also materially, giving food to those who are hungry.

What was your process?

I read the text Andrew wrote and meditated on the traditional drawings of the Ten Bulls of Zen. Also researched on Japanese drawing style. Andrew and Dom Laurence also contributed ideas. I did several tests, several drawings, until I arrived at a simpler, more beautiful and contemplative drawing, but which was also modern, so that people could identify themselves on this journey.
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