Does a dog have Buddha nature?

The Yin-yang and Non-duality

Since no one has offered an explanation of the passage of “Zhuang Zi”, I'll offer one here.

In the allegorical story, the Kun fish and the Peng bird represent the yin-yang aspects of Taoist cultivation. Those familiar with Taoism know that the “kun” trigram relates to the north, and manifests as water. The corresponding trigram is “qian”, which relates to the south, and manifests as the sky. “Kun” symbolizes yin, and “qian” symbolizes yang.

This allegorical story from “Zhuang Zi” emphasizes the importance of yin and yang in Taoist philosophy and practice, setting the conceptual framework for all subsequent teachings.

Buddha Nature

Interestingly, this contrasts with Zen teachings. In the first gong-an of “Gateless Gate”, for example, the passage is about a monk asking the great Zen master, Zhao Zhou, whether a dog has Buddha nature:

A monk asked Zhao Zhou: “Has a Dog Buddha-nature or not?”
Zhao Zhou replied: “Wu!”

Those unfamiliar with Zen may find nothing special in Zhao Zhou's famous answer. The crucial point is that every Zen practitioner, indeed every Buddhist practitioner, already knows that all beings, including dogs, have Buddha nature. Then why did the monk ask the question in the first place? And why did Zhao Zhou answer “No”?

I won't discuss Zhao Zhou's answer here. Those interested might start another thread. My purpose here is to show that in Zen, the principal teaching is nothingness, whereas in Taoism, the principal teaching is yin-yang. Both of these points are emphasized right at the start of each tradition's classics. (Note: I didn't choose the passages because of this point.)

Dualism and Non-dualism

Yin-yang is dualistic, whereas “nothingness” is non-dualistic. These principles represent the core of Taoist and Zen teachings respectively. For example: day follows night in a harmonious rhythm; enjoy wine in public and cultivate earnestly in private; rest when tired and work when arisen. These are Taoist teachings.

Where is the Buddha? Everywhere. Please teach me how to cultivate. I teach nothing here. What is the first principle of holiness? There is no holiness, only nothingness. These are Zen teachings.

If Zen were a blend of Buddhism and Taoism, then Zen teachings would reflect the importance of the yin-yang principle, and a Zen master, if asked where the Buddha is, might answer that he was half in the moon and the other half in the sun. But a Zen master wouldn't answer like this. He might answer “everywhere,” or “nowhere,” or he might shout, or he might say nothing. But he would not say that the Buddha was half in the moon, and half in the sun.


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