Koan 10

“Does a dog have Buddha nature?”


This is the first and perhaps most famous of 48 Zen koans compiled in the early 13th century in “The Gateless Gate.”

To the question, the Zen Master Zhaozhou responded: “Mu.” Mu means “nothing.” However, the sound a cow makes (“mu,” pronounced “moo”) is perhaps what Zhaozhou meant.

Few would disagree that a dog is a physical manifestation of a certain kind of thing. Unlike a dog, Buddha nature is ambiguous; variously defined in uncertain terms. Yet, those who know Buddha nature, do not know what’s a dog; for a dog is not an independent static thing. It is an interdependent and temporary facet of one thing, the now.

The now is a manifestation of the soul, which is the everything before and after it is what it is whatever it is in the now. However, from the perspective of the now, the soul is nothing, mu. As every thing is the soul, it can only be said all things (such as, a dog and Buddha nature) are mu, nothing.

Alternatively, moo, the sound a cow makes, is what every thing is in the now: energy in a form we can sense, but beyond certain description as every thing is everchanging. Thus, it’s a fool’s errand to considered whether a dog has Buddha nature.