Zen Koan 6: A Dog And Buddha Nature

“Does a dog have Buddha nature?” 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, as mu is pronounced “moo,” the sound a cow makes, it may also be a fitting response.

A dog is a dog and Buddha nature is Buddha nature. Each is an independent concept, yet interdependent as they are temporary and ever-changing manifestations of one thing: nothing. Nothing is what everything is before it is what it is whatever it is and before time begins.

As temporary and ever-changing manifestations, mu (nothing) can be said about a dog and Buddha nature. However they are described, they are different (though perhaps not apparently so) by the end of the description than they were at the beginning.

In contrast to a dog or Buddha nature, which are concepts that undergo gradual transformations, the sound of a cow (“moo”) represents rapidly changing vibrational energy. This perceptible change serves as a reminder that time is responsible for bringing about changes and highlights the inherent futility and absurdity (as the sound of a cow seems unrelated to a dog and Buddha nature) of attempting to provide a definitive answer to this koan.