Four Compartments of an Ox’s Stomach

Many people are using an Ox to give us encouragement for the Year of Ox.

On our first day of the lunar year, Zen Master Seong Hyang told us on Zoom about the Ox having a stomach with four compartments, and each compartment having a different function. Oxen will eat almost every kind of grass they can find; that’s why they need four compartments to breakdown and digest the grass. First, they swallow without much chewing; then when the oxen are free, they will chew on the cud, a portion of food that returns from the first compartment, the rumen, to the mouth, and so forth.

As the food breaks down from different compartments of the stomach, billions of enzymes and digestive juices mix with the food. After the whole process is completed, essential nutrients are extracted and sent to the bloodstream, and the rest go to the intestines. Zen Master Soeng Hyang encouraged us to live like the Ox with a four-compartment stomach to digest our karma.

This inspires me dearly.

In our school, Zen Master Seung Sahn gave us some tools to transform our karma, similar to the four compartments of the Ox’s stomach. This whole process of digestion is very interesting. The same is true for our practice. Every day we interact with many people, including family, friends and colleagues. At the same time, many emotions, thinking, business, finance, relationships, the recent pandemic crisis, etc. are jamming our mind. Our mind has to digest all sorts of information, and often we have no time to filter it out. That’s why we need to have time to practice every day in order to digest the things that appear in our life and turn them into something very useful to ourselves and those around us.

Our digestive enzyme is “Don’t Know”. Whenever our discriminating, blaming, labelling, depression, or anxiety mind appears, it is like the cud coming back to the mouth. We use our breathing in and out from our lower belly to digest all the opposite thinking and conditioning in our everyday life. Our habits of clinging are still there as they go to the second compartment of the stomach, where we have the enzyme of “Don’t Hold.” Intellectually we understand, but still inside our mind, we have these lingering emotions and thinking. We need to do more practice of sitting, bowing and chanting to help the process. The third stomach is using the enzyme of “What Is this? What am I? What am I doing right now?” to speed up the process of “Putting It All Down“. The fourth compartment contains the most productive enzyme of “Just Do It”. Now the digested karma are ready to be used correctly in each situation, relationship and function.

Ox year is a golden year for transforming our karma. May all our karma become Great Love, Great Compassion and Great Wisdom. This will be our wonderful year!

Zen Master Dae Kwan