It is taught in Buddhism that all people have Buddha-nature. This crudely boils down to saying that all people have the ability to become a Buddha. We already are a Buddha, because we all possess buddha-nature. Buddhism is about understanding, and more so, realizing, this inherent aspect of being human. In Buddhism, being born a human being is very very special. Only through a human form can a being realize their inherent buddha-nature and become Enlightened. Humans, however, in traditional Buddhist cosmology, are not the ‘supreme’ beings… we stack up in the middle, above animals and hungry ghosts but below various gods and goddesses. So, why is being human so special?
This sort of thinking relates to a story of a Zen master and a disciple. The question was asked: “Does a dog have buddha-nature?” In Zen, words are used carefully and are understood that often they can be very dangerous mental traps we set for ourselves. The Zen master replied to the question with “Mu!” This translates roughly as ‘no!’.
This was a strange repsonse! Even though it is thought that only humans can realize their own buddha-nature, it was also thought that all beings, dogs, cats and otters, all too, have buddha-nature. They just do not have the ability to realize it. So how could an Enlightened Zen master claim that a dog does not have buddha-nautre?
This is part of Zen training. Zen likes to slap you in the brain. It likes to be brutally honest, to be cunningly accurate in attacking your barriers to realizing your inherent enlightened nature. This monk who asked about a dog, his mind was slapped HARD by “Mu!”. Why why why… why Mu he kept asking himself, he carried Mu with him everywhere… to the point that was all he had.. Mu ,mu, mu, Mu! !! (And no, he didnt turn into a cow with all his moo-ing!).
The Mu helped the monk overcome the conceptions in his mind that existed that was a barrier to understanding what buddha-nature means. When all the monk had was ‘Mu’ in his mind, ‘buddha-nautre’ had no space left to reside, so it faded away….. there was no more buddha-nature! Cascades of realizations soon followed… ‘ah, this is why he said Mu’! there is no buddha-nautre!… but then ‘AH, now THIS is why he said ‘Mu!’.. by dropping the concept of buddha-nature, I can realize it now…. but then again ‘ Mu is Mu and Mu is buddha-nature, buddha-nature is Mu’! and then even more so.. ‘ oh my! ..words fail this merging’ .. then ‘no merging’… Then the sting of the mind slap comes into focus, ringing like a giant bell inside his mind, and it shatters his shackles.