“Does a dog have Buddha nature or not?”
– Zen kōan
“I Wanna Be Your Dog”
Originally published on Instagram
January 11, 2023
The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy god.
For any non-native speakers who don’t know the reference, English-speaking school children learn the phrase ‘the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog’ because it uses every letter of the alphabet. My variation on this came to me some years ago after I found an old typewriter in the street (see previous post). As I inspected the machine, I noticed how the arched segment of keys resembled sunbeams; then there was suddenly a fox leaping over the Buddha in my head. I took the typewriter home, dismantled it and made a small display much like the one you see in the photograph. I wound up giving that away, but at one point I acquired another key segment, and yesterday I recreated the original rebus.
The title of the piece is a nod to what has been called the most important riddle in Zen, the Mu Kōan:
A monk asked Zhàozhōu, a Chinese Zen master: “Has a dog Buddha-nature or not?”
Zhàozhōu’s answer: “Mu.”
Mu (typically translated as “no”) means something like “nothingness.” Whole books have been written on how to interpret this, often from the starting point that what the master really means is: “Not yes. Not no. Unask the question.”
I used to live in a house with an old dyslexic punk named Mad Dog. This was in a rough part of town, so Mad Dog put a notice in the front window to scare off burglars. It was one of those black and yellow warning signs you buy at hardware stores. It said “BEWARE OF GOD.”
That made sense to me. I’ve known more than a few mutts who have caused me to wonder if the word ‘dog’ isn’t actually a palindrome.
For anyone interested, I first posted the kōan (sans rebus) as an Instagram reel on April 29, 2022. It’s the fifth post from the bottom of my Instagram page. You have to look carefully to find it, though; it’s hiding a little — just as foxes and gods are wont to do.
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