Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters


Does a Tiger Have Buddhanature?

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

It’s Wisdom Wednesday. The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival by John Vaillant recounts the story of a wounded Siberian tiger that tracks and kills the poacher, Vladimir Markov who had previously wounded him. After being shot in the paw the tiger went to Markov’s cabin, killed his dogs and destroyed everything with Markov’s scent. He encircled the cabin, leaving a ring of his tracks. He sat and waited and eventually killed Markov on his return. This story is corroborated by Yuri Trush, the game warden who investigated Markov’s death and leader of an anti-poaching squad. 

We think of vengeance and murder as uniquely human capabilities, but in this story, the tiger apparently demonstrates the sentience required to commit what Yuri Trush described as “no random killing”. “It was a case of premeditated — and justified — murder.”

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It would be one thing if the tiger killed Markov on the spot. That would just be instinct.  But the murder took place long after the injury and in a remote place relative to the site of the injury. 

Is it fair to say that we underestimate the cognitive capacities of animals? Does this action suggest sentience on behalf of the tiger? This possibility is both chilling and fascinating.  

As my miniature version of the Tiger (a seven pound “grey tiger”) lies sleeping next to me, I think about these questions in regards to him. So, too, to my 100 pound Rhodesian Ridgeback. 

What do you think? Was this tiger sentient? That is, did he have self-awareness? Was he able to imagine a future and make choices about it. Did he make a conscious decision to stalk and kill Markov?

I’m not an ethologist, so I don’t know the answer to these questions and I’m not even sure they could answer this question with certainty. I’m interested to know what you think. If this tiger is sentient what then? What are the implications for us?

There is a famous exchange in the history of Zen where Joshu was asked if a dog has buddha-nature. His response: “mu” (no-thing/emptiness). Can a tiger discover his or her own buddha-nature? Perhaps the answer is “mu”!



  • http://louellabryant.com Ellie

    A fascinating but not all surprising story. As 2010 is the Year of the Tiger, we are in a time of conflict and major changes. WWI began in a Tiger year, and it was in a Tiger year that China invaded Tibet. We are advised to be as flexible as possible in order to endure the changes facing us this year.
    The Tiger symbolizes female Yin energy as opposed to the Yang male energy of the dragon, which might account for the behavior of Vaillant’s tiger. We females carry grudges and are slow to forgive..speaking for myself, of course. People born in Tiger years, I’ve read, have a strong sense of their own dignity, are intelligent, and often have a hidden agenda. Tigers are straightforward and uninhibited, according to my sources, and they will never give up, no matter how frustrated they become. I suppose you could say the tiger doesn’t have buddah-nature; the tiger has tiger nature.
    It’s a good idea, therefore, to show your kitty some respect. In the meantime, be patient..the year of the Rabbit is on deck.

  • clasqm

    Buddha-nature, I don’t know about. Mara-nature or Yama-nature, perhaps …
    I’ll answer that with “Um…”

  • PurePersistence

    Of all the animals, the cat alone attains to the contemplative life. He regards the wheel of existence from without, like the Buddha. -Andrew Lang
    Of coarse, I am known to be an extremely biased anthropomorphist!

  • Suzanne

    Although it’s preferred to be an ethnologist, a person doesn’t need to be a student in the scientific study of the characteristic behavioral patterns of animals to form a judgment in this particular tiger’s conscious, premeditated revenge on the poacher who set out to end its life. The tiger is justified in his actions. In my formative years, I lived on an Ohio farm with my beloved Gramma and Grampa Clyde Holmes. We had various farm animals, some with very well-defined mindsets, so this is a no brainer question for me. Yes, animals are sentiment! I treasure the times growing up on their farm, as it revealed and educated me to many things in nature and the animal kingdom. In my novel “Mommy’s Writings: Mommy, would you like a sandwich? there are given accounts of various animals’ sentient. Whether or not anyone agrees with me as to the nature of animals possessing cognitive ability, it holds no worth. Because I’ve seen it with my own eyes, I lived with it, as well as having experienced some things in direct relationship to an animal’s thinking ability. Implications? Of course they’re many. But wouldn’t it be put to a far better wisdom, if we were to respect God’s creation, by accepting their thinking capacity whose world operates parallel to humanity. The things we still have to learn from nature’s animal kingdom remains untapped with knowledge to change both human and animal worlds. Yes, a tiger can discover his own Buddha nature, as I’m not so naïve as to believe otherwise. I loved your questions!
    Suzanne McMillen-Fallon, Published Author (year-end 2010)
    http://www.strategicbookpublishing.com/Mommy’s Writings: Mommy, would you like a sandwich?

  • nikki

    Absolutely, there is a story of elephants in rural India, who were being attacked and killed by local villagers…the people of that regions population was exploding and with what normally happens with urban sprawl, the animals and their natural habitat gets sacrificed. But in this particular case..the elephants went on a rampage, destroying the village and attacking and killing only villagers who had attacked and killed them. The elephants despite being angry, and destructive, could still display reason and compassion…a witness saw one the elephants destoying a house, then saw a small child crying, the elphant gently picked up the child moved it to safety, then it came back and killed a man, who had been one who had been one involved in kulling this herd. So for any human to think that animals cannot reason or feel like us is arrogant. Animals choose to live within their natural enviorments, man does not…to think we are more sentient is as foolish as those who thought any native person living in a mud hut are ignorant savages.

  • Glen

    I previously lived on 20 acres outside Seattle with a couple of other humans and a variety of animals, both domesticated and wild, including a small flock of chickens. One day I was working outside when the dog got my attention, dashing back and forth between myself and a platform rocker set underneath a tree, vocalizing in an distressed fashion. Upon investigation, I discovered that a hen had somehow had one foot slip between the wooden slats that formed the armrest of the rocker and was hanging upside down by one leg, apparently lifeless. I tried to pick her up, but as soon as she was upright she flapped her wings loose from my grip and fell over again. I picked her up again (pinning her wings strongly this time), negotiated her leg from between the slats and set her on the ground. Fortunately, though her leg was injured, it was not broken; she looked at me for a long time, then hobbled off to rejoin the flock. From that day until her death whenever I was outside she would follow me everywhere; if I sat down, she would hop up and sit in my lap. You can make of this what you will, but I think that there is a reason that bodhisattvas vow to save all sentient beings, not just humans…

  • jan voght

    I love ALL these personal stories about animals living beyond what the common human being might be aware of. I too have many many personal stories of animals exchanging real appreciation and understanding of sensitivities. I can understand why people like Jane Goodall, could go out and live with wild animals and forge lasting bonds and real communication and connection. I’m sure many have heard or seen the story of the young man now a grown man who had grown up with a Gorilla, who had been set free, and upon his return to the place of taking this particular gorilla, the man took a boat down the adjacent river and began calling for the gorilla. The gorilla recognized, remembered and reached out to this now grown man, without skipping a beat. Embracing him, and basking in the absolute joy of his return, reluctantly letting the man return to his place of visitation, only to return the following day and spend more glorious time that the two were in total love with eachother, is both the miracle and complete joy of life.

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