Like Cats and Dogs: Contesting the Mu Kōan in Zen Buddhism
Dr. Steven Heine
Oxford University Press, December 2013 (forthcoming)
“Despite the popularity of kōan stories in the Western Buddhist scholarship, the complexity of their formation and the different ramifications in subsequent developments of the tradition in China, Korea, and Japan have been frequently overlooked. In Like Cats and Dogs, Steven Heine fills this gap by engaging philosophical, soteriological, historical, geographical, and many more layers of the kōan tradition with a sustained focus on the famous Mu Kōan. His writing is clear and reading this is most enjoyable. Readers will be pleasantly surprised by the transformation that this book brings to their understanding of Zen Buddhism and kōan practice.” --Jin Y. Park, author of Buddhism and Postmodernity: Zen, Huayan, and the Possibility of Buddhist Postmodern Ethics
Kōans are dialogues that stand at the center of Zen Buddhist literature and are often used to provoke the “great doubt” in testing a trainee's progress. The Mu Kōan consists of a brief conversation in which a monk asks Master Zhaozhou whether or not a dog has Buddha-nature. According to the main version, the reply is “Mu”: literally, “No,” but implying the philosophical notion of nothingness. This case is widely considered to be the single best- known and most widely circulated kōan record of the Zen school that offers existential release from anxiety to attain spiritual illumination.
In a careful analysis of the historical and rhetorical basis of the literature, Steven Heine demonstrates that the Mu version of the case, preferred by advocates of the key-phrase approach, does not by any means constitute the final word concerning the meaning and significance of the Mu Kōan. He shows that another canonical version, which gives both “Yes” and “No” responses, must be taken into account. Like Cats and Dogs offers critical insight and a new theoretical perspective on “the kōan of kōans.”
Steven Heine is an authority on East Asian religion and society, especially the history of Zen Buddhism and its relation to culture in China and Japan. He has published two dozen books, with six treating kōan literature, and lectures extensively on this topic.
Kazuaki Tanahashi kindly contributed the calligraphy for the cover.