PZI Teacher Archives
Someone asked Zhaozhou, “Does a dog have Buddha nature or not?”
Zhaozhou said, “No.”
—Gateless Gate, Case 1, & Book of Serenity, Case 18
So, if you stop being afraid, if you stop being wonderful, if you stop being charming, if we stop charming each other, we’re just here in the vastness with no agenda, and that’s the Daoism that’s at the core of Chan. Emptiness is here. That’s what I think is a good thing.
Here you will find links to audio and video dharma talks from PZI’s Great Summer Sesshin: Creatures of the Summer Dawn with John Tarrant & PZI Teachers. Includes music from Amaryllis Fletcher, Michael Wilding and Jordan McConnell. Held in person at Santa Sabina Center from June 12–18, 2023.
On some level, we are not human beings! Zhaozhou’s dog koan often leads off sesshins. When you throw yourself in with the dog, you make your whole body a mass of doubt. Your eyebrows are entangled with the Zen ancestors.
Animals give us the gifts of their living presence, and we feel the profound effect they have on our lives. Animals surprise and enlarge us. We become the animal we are seeing, and that is a primary Zen move. The way we become the world that we are part of, is a profound part of Zen.
John tells a story about dogs and Buddha nature upon the death of a beloved dog: Animals have their own large awareness in which we can share. Meditation is one way to do this. It resets the mind to zero and we stop waving our arms about so much, and we enter a communion with the universe.
John Tarrant gives a talk on Zhaozhou’s NO: This koan is often offered as a first “gate,” but I think you need to already be in trouble and falling before it’s useful. Life is always offering us that cliff—that door of falling. When you’re falling, you can’t screw it up because actually there’s not a lot you can do. But what you do will be very free and won’t be constrained by the usual. From a recording made in Fall Sesshin 2022.
A complete audio record of talks from PZI’s Live-Online Fall Sesshin 2022, October 4-9, 2022.
When you are falling, there is not a lot you can do about it, but you are no longer constrained by your usual preoccupations. Awakening, too, is in the category of things you can’t do anything about. Sesshin’s Gate 3 is NO—or Mu—the famous dharmakaya koan that opens the body of reality. NO casts away all the consciousness you have had until now. Music with Jordan McConnell, closing words with Allison Atwill from the story of The Little Prince. Complete session recorded October 6, 2022.
When you are falling, there is not a lot you can do about it, but you are no longer constrained by your usual preoccupations. Awakening too, is in the category of things you can’t do anything about. The apparatus of certainty is circumvented and the universe is manifesting and unfolding through us. Excerpt from a sesshin dharma talk recorded October 6, 2022.
Just enter here—there’s no guilty or innocent. Turn to the koan, there is your refuge and simplicity, the deepest teaching. Recorded at Summer Sesshin on June 14th, 2022. 4 minutes.
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.