(Bonnou no inu wa oedomo sarazu;
“Even if you drive out the hounds of earthly urges, they don’t go away”)
Earthly desires will remain with you even if, and no matter how many times, you suppress them. The fight against one’s own dark side can only be won temporarily, on a case-by-case basis, rather than won once and for all in some sort of climactic battle. A dog that’s fixated on you may be chased away, but still come back as soon as your back is turned or your guard is down. All the more so for the negative emotions that stand between humanity and the Buddhist goal of detached enlightenment.
We begin with the noun 煩悩 (bonnou), “worldly desires,” “negative emotions,” or in Buddhist terms, klesha. The associative particle の (no) attaches this to and modifies the noun 犬 (inu), “dog,” which in turn is marked by the particle は (wa) as the topic of discussion. The comment about this dog comprises two verbs. The first is 追う (ou), “to chase after” or “to drive out,” in perfective form and taking the concessive particle ど (do), “even though,” intensified by the emphatic particle も (mo). The second is 去る (saru), “to go away,” in imperfective form and taking the negative suffix ず (zu) in conclusive form.
The saying may be shortened to just the noun phrase 煩悩の犬, or the 追う may be replaced with 打つ (utsu), “to strike,” to give 打てども (utedomo), “even if you beat ~.”
This saying apparently comes from an early-Edo-period collection of linked verse called 世話尽 (Sewa tsukushi), compiled by a priest called 皆虚 (Kaikyo).
(“Hito wo nikumanai to kokoro no naka de chikatteita keredo, daigaku jidai no raibaru wo miru to, bonnou no inu wa oedomo sarazu, kazukazu iya na koto wo omoidashi, jibun de mo bikkuri suru hodo hara ga tatsu.”)
[“I’d sworn to myself that I wouldn’t hate anybody, but when I see my rival from my college days… the hounds of klesha return even when driven away. I remember a huge number of unpleasant things and get mad.”]