The standard version of the Ten Bull Pictures used today is the version by Kaku-an, a 12th century monk. The oldest version of this is a 16th century copy in Kyoto, Japan.
The earliest series is considered the one by Seikyo, consisting of five pictures. The first picture starts at the fourth Kaku-an picture (and being slightly different) and ends on the eighth. In between are three pictures which are not found in Kaku-an’s version. A later version that Seikyo’s that was popular in China also has ten pictures but it also starts and ends at exactly the same pictures as Seikyo’s five pictures.
The conclusion to be drawn then is
- Kaku-an’s pictures are independent in design to both Seikyo and the Chinese versions
- Kaku-an’s pictures have a different significance to Seikyo’s
Particularly the second point starting earlier in the timeline means it says more about practitioners at the beginning of their journey. Also, by ending later, it says something about what the purpose (or Zen’s goal) is for enlightenment. These points are worth exploring.