A student asked Zhaozhou, “Does a dog have Buddha nature or not?”
“Yes,” replied Zhaozhou.

“Then why did it jump into that bag of fur?”
“It knew what it was doing and that’s why it dogged.”

Another time a student asked Zhaozhou, “Does a dog have Buddha nature or not?”
“No,” said Zhaozhou.
“All beings have Buddha nature. Why doesn’t a dog have it?”
“Because it’s beginning to awaken in the world of ignorance.”

—Book of Equanimity Case 18

This isn’t exactly the same as the koan we sat with this past week—it is and it isn’t. That seems appropriate, like Zhaozhou saying a dog does and does not have Buddha nature. 

Spending time with this koan has been the occasion for me to ask myself what I think about Buddha nature. As I spent time with the koan, some help came along from Yunmen: “Whatever is as it truly is contains everything. It neither arises nor disappears and is neither defiled nor pure.” That feels like a satisfactory way to think about Buddha nature.

It has also been the occasion for me to remember an encounter between Zhaozhou and his teacher Nanquan regarding the Dao:

Zhaozhou asked Nanquan, “What is the Dao?”
Nanquan said, “Ordinary mind is the Dao.”
Zhaozhou asked, “Should I try to direct myself toward it?”
Nanquan said, “If you try to direct yourself you betray your own practice.”
Zhaozhou asked, “How can I know the Dao if I don’t direct myself?””

Nanquan said, “The Dao is not subject to knowing or not knowing. Knowing is delusion, not knowing is blankness. If you truly reach the genuine Dao, you will find it as vast and boundless as outer space. How can this be discussed at the level of affirmation and negation?”

With these words, Zhaozhou had sudden realization.

With this conversation between Zhaozhou and Nanquan in mind, it’s hard for me not to appreciate the dog koan as an occasion for Zhaozhou to present a kind of homage to his old teacher.

What kind of occasion has it been for you? If you are there on Tuesday, it will be an occasion for you to share it with others in a breakout room.

—David Weinstein, June 4th, 2024

David Weinstein Roshi



David Weinstein Roshi, Director of Rockridge Meditation Community


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