scroll 38.5 x 17 in.

Calligraphy of character “mu” on silk by JC Brown.

dog and moon in sumi ink on silk mounting by Paula Pietranera, San Francisco Zen Center

This phrase comes from the first kōan in the Zen collection Mumonkan, “The Gateless Gate,” in which the monk Joshu is asked whether a dog has buddha nature or not. His famous answer was “mu”—nothing.

The character for Mu is a favorite in Zen calligraphy. Here JC Brown has done a watery, almost furry version on antique silk. At my request, Paula Pietranera painted a small dog sitting on the rod of the scroll at bottom left, and a hazy full moon at the upper right. These two visual elements suggest the context of the kōan, as the dog looks wistfully up toward the full moon signifying enlightenment.

   This was the piece that inspired the MU COLLABORATION.

Does a dog have buddha nature?


Joshu’s Dog