Non Collaboration

Does a Dog Have Buddha Nature?

Joshu replied, "MU!"

Inspired by this well-known Zen riddle, the MU KORABO (MU Collaboration) project joins calligraphy and art produced by an international range of artists in non-conventional renditions of the traditional Asian hanging scroll.

MU,"nothingness," lies at the heart of Buddhism.As a deeply universal existential concept, however, MU is not unfamiliar to Western philosophers.

The character for MU is a favorite of calligraphers. It can be written in any number of styles, ranging from straight and clear to cursive to abstract.MU is represented in this collection by other languages of the Buddhasphere besides Chinese/Japanese. There are versions of MU in Thai, Mongolian, Tibetan, Korean, and Tangut scripts as well as the Persianheech.

The dog here has been repurposed to stand for the seeking self. The full moon is the Buddhist symbol of enlightenment.


Joshu’s Dog

Does a Dog Have Buddha Nature?

This phrase comes from the first kōan in the Zen collection Mumonkan, “The Gateless Gate,” in which the monk Jōshū is asked whether a dog has buddha nature or not. His famous answer was MU—“nothing!” This is the well-known Japanese version and the first kōan usually given Zen students to cut their teeth on. The character for MU is a favorite of calligraphers. It can be written in any number of calligraphic styles, and is often seen on hanging scrolls in temples and homes.

 Jōshū (Chinese Zhaozhou) was an eighth-century Chinese Zen master. Although Japanese Zen doesn’t mention it much, there is another encounter where, when asked the same question, he answered YU—“has!”

 So…does a dog have buddha nature or not? MU or YU--or is it a ridiculous question?


The point of meditating on these kōans with their non-sensensical, non-logical, sometimes surrealistic phrasings is to jog our word-obsessed minds into a different way of experiencing the world (sometimes called “enlightenment.”) In other words, going through words to get beyond words.