Someone asked Zhaozhou, “Does a dog have Buddha nature or not?”
Zhaozhou said, “No.”
—Gateless Gate, Case 1, & Book of Serenity, Case 18
Zenosaurus Curriculum 13: The link between the koan and the transformation of your life is real, but since the process isn’t linear you might not notice it at first. The link might seem to be in a black box—invisible.
John Tarrant talks about the great koan “NO,” and other koans that Hakuin and Hakuin’s friends have handed down to us. “They are a treasure for you, and they’ll keep you company. Don’t worry about how you’re doing it. It doesn’t actually matter how you’re doing it. It is doing you, and the koan world is doing you, and the light is doing you. It’s going to be okay, and the light will appear and dawn in your own heart.” Transcript of an excerpt from Fall Retreat 2018.
That dog knew what she was doing when she ‘dogged’. Zhaozhou also says ‘Yes’, a dog has Buddha nature. Becoming a dog who knew what she was doing is encouraging. Maybe something isn’t wrong with the dog you are right now.
The dog part of the koan emerges from the resounding NO as a companion for the inner life. Humans and dogs have been companions for eons and are clearly in the fossil record from ancient times. Through this long relationship down through time, dogs have learned to relate and map us and our inner lives. What is our relationship to the natural world? Dogs help us remember there is no separation, as does meditation practice.
Often we chase out and look for things, but when things come toward us – that’s enlightenment. In retreat, time expands and the universe appears. The art and craft of koan practice – freeing the heart and mind.
Those who have used koans have described them as a poetic technology for bringing about awakening, a painful but effective gate into the consciousness of the Buddha, an easy method of integrating awakening into everyday life, the most frustrating thing they have ever done, an appalling waste of time, a tyranny perpetrated by Zen masters… Well, you get the idea — about koans, opinions differ. Article by John Tarrant published in Shambhala Sun magazine, May 1 2003.