The story of the ox
Throughout history, the Ox has had a close relationship with humans. Oxen were heavily relied upon for farming, to provide the tremendous energy required to move the plough. Many areas of Asia still use this traditional method of working the land and it is why the Ox has become a symbol of strength, stability, vitality, benevolence, patience and slow, steady toil. 

In Chinese legend the Ox was the second animal to appear when the Buddha called all the animals of creation to come to him. As a result, the Ox became the second of the twelve Earthly Branches, and took up it’s place in the Chinese zodiac, occupying an important position in the Heavens. The constellations of the night sky are divided into ‘Twenty-Eight Mansions’- the mansion occupied by the Ox mansion (Niu Xiu 牛宿) is one of the northern mansions associated with the Black Tortoise (one of the four beings associated with the four cardinal directions).

Oxen are highly respected throughout Asia. Their untamed nature means that they are considered particularly dangerous. However, once a relationship is formed and they are tamed, they offer the potential of tapping into huge power.  This process has come to represent the attributes of the Sage and is why Laozi 老子 is often seen wandering through the land, riding an Ox.        However, this relationship is not based on domination or exerting control over the Ox, but through the virtue of wuwei 無為 (non-action), Laozi is able to allow the Ox to manifest its true, unconditioned nature.

This is an expression of the process of transforming the conditioned, controlling mind to realise the return to the unconditioned whole of one’s true nature.   There are also a series of ten ‘Ox Herding’ illustrations in the Zen tradition that describe this process of transformation.  In some versions the Ox is depicted as black and gradually changes from to white to express the process of transformation of the turbid Yin energy, into the refined, pure Yang spirit.
"Five Oxen" - by Han Huang 韓滉. Tang Dynasty (618–907).