There’s a well-known Zen koan that begins with this question. Reams of words and scholastic papers have been written about Joshu’s Dog. The koan sounds like the start of a bad Buddhist joke:
A monk asked Joshu, a Chinese Zen master:
‘Has a dog Buddha nature or not?’
Joshu answered: ‘Mu!’
‘Mu’ means No-thing, but this doesn’t mean what you think it means. As with all koans, the idea is to point towards a reality beyond thinking and dualistic ideas. Joshu was trying to get the monk to stop thinking in either/ors.
Dogs do have Buddha nature, along with all sentient beings, but a dog is unlikely to know he’s a potential Buddha. He’s too busy looking for the next juicy bone or a nice lady dog to make puppies with. You could argue that a rock has Buddha nature too, but a lump of granite is even less likely to realise its true nature, no matter how many sutras you read to it.
It makes me wonder if a dog can be happy? In Addled, Zoe Popper ponders on this as she follows a man walking with his dog:
“The middle-aged man sloped along the pavement, head bowed, shoulders up to his ears. In his left hand was a dog lead and beside him trotted a perky white and tan Jack Russell.
I walked along behind them marvelling at the differences between this odd couple. The man appeared defeated. He was trapped in his own world, eyes fixed on the ground in front of his feet as he ploughed unconsciously into his future. He had no idea where he was or what was going on around him. I could run naked and screaming right past him and he wouldn’t see me.
The dog would. The little terrier bounced along the pavement on tiny spring-loaded paws. His tail stood straight, his ears twitched, scanning and alert. The dog was undoubtedly alive: fully present and here in the world. Where was his owner? He was thinking, conjuring another world inside his head. Did he prefer his make-believe world? Did he think it was more real than this world, the dog’s world? He didn’t look like he preferred it; he looked positively miserable.
The dog was as happy as a dog ever was.”
Dogs certainly seem to enjoy themselves, but are you happy if you don’t know you’re happy? It’s the same problem with Joshu’s Dog: do you have Buddha nature if you’re not aware of it? You could apply this to a human being, as well as to a dog. Buddha nature is the essence of everything, but knowing that won’t do you any good unless you wake up and realise it for yourself.
Of course, saying “Buddha nature is the essence of everything” is problematic too. Mu makes much more sense.
My dog has no nose…
>Discover more about Addled: Adventures of a Reluctant Mystic
Image: Dog Meets Buddha