PZI Teacher Archives

Starter Kit for the Koan “No”


A monk once asked Master Joshu, “Has a dog the Buddha Nature or not?” Joshu said, “No!”

A Talk by John Tarrant
Edited by Rachel Boughton

A monk once asked Master Joshu, “Has a dog the Buddha Nature or not?” Joshu said, “No!”

Just begin keeping company with No. Breathe it in and out if that works for you. Let it into your body and into your head. Go deeper than yes and no, but if you get caught there just notice it. Let the koan walk you around, cook dinner, and talk on the phone. Have the koan do the work — tell it not to be lazy, the koan can do the koan even while you sleep. The koan has no judgments of you, so notice if it brings judgments up. Feel free to challenge them.

It seems to work best when you meditate with an open heart, toward yourself in particular as well as toward others. The koan will be with you, it can console and warm you. It can also cut through stuff that you thought was true: the stuff we thought we could get away with even though we didn’t quite believe it. The most important thing is to find out what actually happens rather than follow some idea of what might or should happen.

Though koan work will take you on a journey through many states of mind, it is not about how you can get the koan to manipulate your consciousness. It’s not about changing yourself or getting the right answer either. Those things are conceivable and the koan draws us beyond that. Just be patient with it the way you would be with a friend or a guide and find out what the koan has to teach you. You will find your way.