My Life as a Dog
A monk once asked a teacher, ‘Does a dog have Buddha Nature?’ The teacher replied, ‘No’
~ Gateless Barrier, Case 1
Barking like a dog has great versatility: it can be used in almost any situation and has a wonderful healing quality to it. For some reason, I have seen a lot of dog barking in recent weeks.
Last week I was watching Lasse Halstrom’s My Life as a Dog, a story about a 10-year old boy, Ingemar, who is shipped off to his uncle while his mother’s illness becomes increasingly grave. In one scene, two young girls are fighting over Ingemar’s attentions. Feeling overwhelmed at their fighting, his mother’s illness, and the loss of his pet dog, he grabs their legs and starts yapping loudly like a dog. It seemed to help.
And then this week I saw Ordinary People, directed by Robert Redford. Conrad (Timothy Hutton) is a deeply depressed young man who feels guilt over losing his brother in a boating accident and as a result attempts suicide. Unable to communicate with his mother (Mary Tyler Moore), he gets into an argument with his father (Donald Sutherland) and begins to bark like a dog at him. It was the beginning of his climb out of a deep hole.
The best part of barking like a dog is not the play acting, it is actually becoming the dog. Of losing yourself in ‘dogness’. That is the point of this koan, one of the foundation koans of the Linji school of Zen. ‘In solving the problem of No, you must become one with it! You must forget yourself in working on it,’ wrote one contemporary Zen teacher. While working on this koan I once went into the interview room and barked like a dog at the teacher, a response that did not elicit praise, particularly. But what is No, if not a dog? And who am I, if not a dog? ARF! ARF! I am going outside now to bark at some flowers.