Posts Tagged ‘animals’

Zen Dog Care

Koans are an important genre of Zen literature that relate (usually legendary) encounters between Zen masters and their students. They often feature statements or actions that defy logical explanations, and are used as meditation tools to drive students’ minds beyond reliance on language and reason to a realization of their innate buddhahood. One of the most famous Zen koans is the exchange, “Does a dog have buddha nature?” “No!” This “No!” is attributed to the Chinese Zen (Chan) master Zhaozhou, and became the core of koan meditation for Dahui Zonggao, who advocated focusing on a single word or phrase in the koan. This particular exchange about a dog’s buddha nature works as a koan because the “No!” is unexpected: according to Zen doctrine, all sentient beings — dogs included — possessed buddha nature, meaning that all beings are already buddhas, most of us just don’t know it. This subversion of Zen doctrine is what makes the exchange an effective koan, as the meditator cannot rely on textual study or reason to explain the answer.

Dogs may not have buddha nature, but they do have plenty of Zen products to keep them calm and clean.

Both Cranimals’s Zendog calming biscuits and Zenpuppy dog treats promise to calm “wild, crazy, unruly dogs.” Not only do these products rely on the association of Zen and calmness, they also tie into the image of Zen as in touch with nature: the Zendog biscuits are certified organic, while the Zenpuppy treats boast 14 herbs and botanicals. Each package shows a dog in seated meditation, or zazen, with the Zendog even sitting on a culinary approximation of a lotus throne.

After Fido enjoys a calming biscuit, he can luxuriate in a Zen bath:

Carma Critta’s Zen Shampoo for Dogs and ZenSoaps’s Cedarwood Anise Dog Shampoo are also all-natural products, but aside from the image of the dog in a robe doing zazen on the ZenSoaps bottle, there are no references to the shampoos having a calming effect on dogs. Zen here is shorthand for “natural” or “organic.”

Nature was a prominent theme in premodern Chinese and Japanese art, including works by Zen monks, but the concepts of “natural” and “organic” that these dog products use are modern ones. The packaging nods to Zen practice, but the use of the term “Zen” is based on the decontextualized Zen that we often see in consumer products.


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