For the love of dogs and buddha nature 無!

“A dog can never tell you what she knows from the smells of the world, but you know, watching her,
that you know almost nothing.” ― Mary Oliver, Dog Songs


Morgan, Los Gatos, 2018.

Dogs, Buddha nature, and Studying Zen Texts in the 21st century

I was lucky enough to share my life with Morgan, my sweet labradoodle, for twelve years. Her death shortly before Thanksgiving 2018 has occasioned a deep mourning. Dog love is a special and ordinary teaching on buddha nature.

“Does a dog have Buddha nature?” is the opening line to the famous koan in The Gateless Gate (also known as the Mumonkan). Much ado has been made of how to understand and ‘work” with the koan, the capping verse, and teisho. When asked the question, a test in itself of a practitioner’s understanding, the monk,, maybe or maybe not Joshu, says “mu.” Mu, is literally, no.

The use of the koan and scholarly work on the koan run in different directions. Like dogs off leash. The best known version of the koan according to Heine, is the singular ‘Mu’ as No. But he points out there are other versions, which offer “yes” and “no.” Ha, now what? Case in point- there are dozens of versions of the koan, and maybe or maybe not mu is the headword, and ”mu” is interpreted as no, and yes, and non-literal (hint, any singular reading is not quite accurate).

Thinking on dogs, buddha nature and zen practice—and studying scholarly work on zen texts is an eye-opening experience. The upshot is I hold a healthy skepticism about many of the texts and teachings that are used in the West. For example, and here, let’s stick with the subject of dogs and buddha nature: maybe Joshu is not the first case of this infamous koan, and maybe Mu means no and maybe not, and, maybe the teaching about this about this koan is without question and maybe not.

All I know is that when you are in the presence of Buddha nature, you can feel it—in your body mind heart.

Please click and read, and see what you think? From:


Steven Heine is an authority on Japanese religion and society, especially the history of Zen Buddhism and the life and works of Dogen. He is the editor of Dogen: Textual and Historical Studies. He has published two dozen books, including Did Dogen Go to China? (2006); Zen Skin, Zen Marrow (2010); and Zen Masters (2010), and Like Cats and Dogs: Contesting the Mu Koan In Zen Buddhism (2014).

The Mu Koan (or Wu Gongan in Chinese pronunciation), in which master Joshu says “Mu” (literally “No,” but implying Nothingness) to an anonymous monk’s question of whether a dog has the Buddha-nature, is surely the single most famous expression in Zen Buddhist literature and practice. By virtue of its simplicity and indirection, this expression becomes emblematic of East Asian spirituality and culture more generally. Entire books have been published on the topic on both sides of the Pacific.

However, in conducting research for a new monograph titled Like Cats and Dogs: Contesting the Mu Kōan in Zen Buddhism, I have been surprised to find how little seems to be known about the origins and implications of the koan case record. My studies suggest that this is one more example of commonly-held myths based on long-held beliefs and customs often overtaking and suppressing investigative scholarship.

Myth One. An Expression by Joshu

Although almost all commentators attribute the word Mu to Joshu, who was said to have lived for 120 years and died near the end of the ninth century, the case is not mentioned in the earliest records of his teachings composed in the tenth and eleventh centuries. Joshu was better known at the time for many other famous koans, including a case in which his master Nansen cuts a cat in two and Joshu, in response to this violent act, puts his sandals on his head. Early Zen records do include a dialogue about the dog’s Buddha-nature involving another monk who lived a generation prior to Joshu, which concludes in a much more open-ended and ironic fashion, as well as a dialogue about the Buddha-nature in relation to an earthworm being cut in two featuring yet another disciple of Nansen.