Does Coyote Have No Buddha Nature?

A good collection of Hopi Coyote tales is provided by Malotki and Lomatuway'ma (1984).

Some of the messages included on this site are signed Coyote. This may require some explanation. Students of the lore of the native peoples of North American will be familiar with the persona of Coyote, who usually appears as a trickster figure in various stories. In some traditions, such as that of the Hopi, Coyote (Iisaw) is portrayed as a wily but incompetent figure who tries to dupe others but more often than not ends up being the principal victim of his own pranks and schemes.

In other traditions, such as that of the Navajo, Coyote (ma'ii, mã'ĩĩ) is a somewhat more sinister character, one who represents an element of chaos that threatens to disrupt the way of order and harmony among peace-loving peoples. Gladys A. Reichard, for example, writes:

His ceremonial name, 'atsé xacké, may be translated ‘First Warrior, First Scolder, the First-to-get-angry, the First-one-to-use-words-for-force.’ All refer to anger as an essential of war power. Coyote is the symbol of force with slyness and knavery.


Coyote is a character well-known to Indian mythology, one with the most diverse qualities of animal and man. He is versatile; many of the adjectives that describe him have a derogatory meaning. If by chance Coyote shows up in a favorable light, there is reason to be on guard, lest he be working up to some betrayal. He is sneaking, skulking, wary, shrewd, tricky, mischievous, provoking, exasperating, contrary, undependable, amusing, disarming, persuasive, flattering, smug, undisciplined, cowardly, foolhardy, obstinate, disloyal, dishonest, licentious, lascivious, amoral, deceptive, sacrilegious, and, in a sense, persistent (Reichard, 1974, pp. 422–3).

It must be confessed that I would have to accept most of those adjectives, with the possible exception of “persistent,” as describing myself, at least some of the time. The overall description of Coyote that best fits my own understanding of the character, however, is the following:

This description appears on an etiquette in a display case on Mescalero Apache culture found in the museum in Living Desert State Park just outside Carlsbad, New Mexico.
Coyote is personified in many Apache tales, sometimes for his wit and cunning, and sometimes as the fool, who brings on trouble by his anti-social habits. Coyote is a mirror for mankind, with few redeeming qualities. By setting a bad example, he is a model to warn and teach each of us how to live “in a good way.”

My own personal interest in the Coyote persona began in the early days of the moderated e-mail discussion forum called buddha-l. One of the subscribers to that discussion forum was the anthropologist William Bright. He wrote to me one day in 1993 or '94 to tell me he had sent me a copy of his recently-published book, A Coyote Reader, which he hoped I would enjoy reading. (See Bright, 1993) I did enjoy the book very much and found myself recounting some of the North American Coyote stories to various of my friends. Gradually the idea began to dawn on me that I myself had developed an Internet persona rather like that of the Apache notion of Coyote described above. While in my interactions with people in daily life I have always been one to strive for harmony and reconciliation among friends and colleagues, I have, ever since early childhood, dealt with frustrations by producing satyric caricatures of the people whose behaviour I find difficult to deal with. Rather than confronting irksome people by telling them that I wished they would be more civilized, my usual pattern was to produce an exaggerated imitation of how I perceived their behaviour, as if to say “This is what you look like to others. See how unattractive it is?” The arrival of A Coyote Reader on my doorstep inspired me to create (or perhaps refine an already created) Coyote character that would exemplify the opposite of all those virtues-compassion, wisdom, humility and so on—that one associates with Buddhism at its best.

As is to be expected when one plays at being Coyote, it is not always entirely clear when one is pretending to be boorish for rhetorical effect and when one is actually being a boor in earnest. In the latter case, the trickster becomes the first-but, alas, not the only-victim of his own pranks. Readers may well find traces of the Coyote persona in some of these writings. It may not be any more clear to them than it is clear to the author when the presence of Coyote in a message was the result of deliberately crafted art and when it was more unconscious, like smoke sneaking under the door and slowly pervading a shadow-filled room.

Does Coyote Have No Buddha Nature? It may help to know that in the 1980s I had an encounter with Korean Zen, during which I somehow acquired the name Mubul, which I was told has the meaning No Buddha. Playing at being No Buddha preceded pretending to be Coyote by several years. So much changes in the course of the passage of time that one might very well wonder whether the person playing Coyote still had the nature of the person who had earlier played No Buddha. Moreover, one might ask whether someone who is playing a role has the nature of the role being played. If he did not have the nature, could he even pretend to have it? And if he did have the nature, then could he indeed be only pretending to have it? Fortunately, I know only how to ask such questions. Answering them is not in my nature. So I can only leave it to the reader to try to figure out whether Coyote has No Buddha nature. May the task of figuring that out be worth the effort, and may it also give the reader just a little insight into his or her own nature.

Yours (in order of appearance),
Richard P. Hayes (1945)
Mubul (1983)
Coyote (1993)
Dayāmati Dharmacārin (2000)


[Bright 1993]
Bright, William. A Coyote Reader. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.
[Malotki and Lomatuway'ma 1984]
Malotki, Ekkehart and Michael Lomatuway'ma. Hopi Coyote Tales: Istutuwutsi. Lincoln and London: University of Newbrask Press, 1984.
[Reichard 1974]
Reichard, Gladys  A. Navaho Religion: A Study of Symbolism. First paperback printing of 1950 edition. Bollingen Series. Princeton University Press, 1974.

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