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In Praise of Paul Reps2012.09.10

    Born in Cedar City, Iowa in 1895, Paul Reps was an American artist, poet, and author, whose writings and travels were inspired by Zen, and helped celebrate Buddhist insight in a highly accessible way. His sumi ink paintings and haiku inspired poetry went into publication from 1939 through 1980. He traveled to India and China to meet spiritual teachers, and spent 14 years living in Japan. He lived in Seattle, Vancouver, and for a time in Norway, sharing his improvisational poetry around the world. He eventually settled in Maui, Hawaii, spending the last two years of his life at the Haven Center on an island off the west coast of British Columbia, Canada. Going south to Los Angeles to escape the cold winter, he passed away peacefully just before his 95th birthday in 1990.


    The titles of his ten books were an expression of his character, playful and poetic. Zen Telegrams. Gold Fish Signatures. Square Sun, Square Moon, each illustrated with ink brushed sketches and short poems, stems from the tree of life. Profound but unassuming, timeless reminders to live in the moment. His poetic lanterns lit the way for many people in the West seeking to know more about Zen, and make it a part of their daily lives.


    Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings was published by Charles E. Tuttle Company in 1957, and is still considered a classic of Zen literature. It is a collection of short books by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki, 101 Zen Stories (1939), The Gateless Gate (1934), 10 Bulls (1935), and Centering (1955). His books were popular among the counter-cultural generation of the 1960s, which is when I discovered Paul Reps, and this book inspired me early on to live in Japan.


    10 Bulls in Zen Buddhism refers to the Ox as a symbol of Truth, depicting our progress toward enlightenment and the refinement of wisdom. First rendered in the 12th Century by a Chinese Zen Master, Zen Ox Paintings were widely made known in the West with the publication of Zen Flesh, Zen Bones.


    The Ten Ox Pictures story unfolds in ten phases, with the search of a young student to discover the footprints, the path, and eventually the Ox itself, a metaphor for Enlightenment. Marveling over its features, “empty and marvelous,” the student finds the Ox, tames and learns to ride it, progressing to the point of forgetting self and becoming one with the Ox. Although in the ninth stage the student returns to the Source, the tenth and final stage is returning to the marketplace and mingling with fellow humankind. You can view the Ten Ox Pictures at


    In order to approach Enlightenment, the student must become familiar with the seasons of the Ox. The story progresses in stages from search to serenity. Although it is a story of struggle, it is also a saga of hope and fulfillment, that struggle does not have to mean suffering, but can be part of a joyful journey in search of renewal.


    In an article entitled Discipline Your Thinking, I introduced several aspects of this process, the Monkey Mind, the Roots of Zen, the Practice of Zazen, and the Circle of Ens, with YouTube links to my video review of Zen Flesh, Zen Bones and commentary on the Ten Ox Pictures, which you can view at


    Paul Reps believed that we have too many words, that the deepest lessons are contained in simple picture poems. Rep’s world is round. He considered the planet to be his home, and never signed his name in capital letters. With thanks to his legacy, and in praise of paul reps.



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    Article Writer

    William Reed

    William Reed is a renowned author-speaker who coaches physical finesse and flexible focus for a creative career path. A certified Master Trainer in Guerrilla Marketing and 7th-dan in Aikido, he combines practical wisdom of East and West to help you learn personal branding at the Entrepreneurs Creative Edge.

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