A monk once asked Chao-Chou, ‘Does a dog have Buddha Nature or not?’ The Teacher replied, ‘I would say there is a 90% chance that it does’

~ Gateless Barrier, Case 1 (adapted)

Being wise and sensitive mammals, we naturally seek certainty before acting, before taking a chance or a risk in our lives. I think one part of practicing Zen is for us to get a just a bit more comfortable with uncertainty and with risk.

Two events recently brought me memories in this regard. The theme of next week’s PZI retreat will be the great koan ‘No’, which is one of the foundation ‘public cases’ in our school and others. Also, two nights ago I went with my family to see ‘The Big Short’, a movie that portrayed a professional life not terribly different from my own work as a financial analyst. While it might seem strange to some that the Zen koan ‘No’ and Wall Street would be intimate bedfellows, that was my life for several decades. (In the movie, when Brad Pitt’s character was introduced as an analyst who had quit the Street to grow organic vegetables, my daughters, sitting next to me, snorted loudly).

I found in being an investment advisor, and also in my Zen practice, that waiting for certainty was a bad idea. Granted, in investing, the purpose of financial analysis and investigation is to measure risk against potential return. But whenever I thought myself most certain in my recommendations to institutional investors ~ pension funds, mutual funds, hedge funds ~ for buying and selling technology stocks, I was almost always late and often wrong.

For me, Zen practice has also been like that. I probably read the kensho accounts in The Three Pillars of Zen two dozen times to better know what my own hoped-for enlightenment would be like. I was seeking certainty. But when I loosened my grip a bit on needing to know how my practice would develop, Chao-Chou’s dog happily came closer.

So is the Tao likely to go up or down tomorrow? I would say there is a 90% chance that it does.