Dharma Dogs

dogs feature image summer 1999These stories present varying views—traditional and new—which, collectively, reflect the ancient dharma debate on whether or not a dog has Buddha-nature. Tina Fields, Pico Iyer, Elsie Mitchell, Darryl Ponicsan, and Tom Robbins give us contemporary views. Griffin Foulk sets the record straight. And in one traditional story, the Buddha cautions that imitating a dog will not lead to enlightenment.

Kukkuripa, The Dog Lover

A Traditional Tibetan Tale

In Kapilavastu there lived a Brahmin named Kukkuripa. Puzzling over the problems of existence, he came to place his trust in the Tantra, and in time chose the path of renunciation. He began his itinerant career by begin his way slowly toward the caves of Lumbini.

One day, on the road to the next town, he heard a soft whining in the underbrush. When he investigated, he found a young dog so starved he could no longer stand. Moved to pity, he picked her up and carried her with him on his long journey, sharing the contents of his begging bowl, and watching with delight as she began to grow strong and healthy.

By the time they arrived in Lumbini, Kukkuripa had become so accustomed to her affectionate, good-natured company that he could not imagine living without her. And so he searched for an empty cave large enough for them both. Every day, when he went out begging, she would stand guard, waiting patiently for his return.

So deeply involved was Kukkuripa in the continuous recitation of his mantra, that twelve years pass as quickly as one. Almost without realizing it, the yogin attained the magical powers of prescience and divine insight. But the gods of the Thirty-three Sensual Heavens had taken notice. In fact, they were so impressed that they invited him to celebrate his achievements by visiting their paradise. Flattered, and amazed by their attentions, he accepted the invitation and embarked upon a ceaseless round of self-indulgent feasting and pleasure. On earth, his faithful dog waited patiently for her master to return. Although she had to root around for whatever she could find to eat, she never strayed far from the cave. And, in truth, she was not forgotten. Despite his luxurious existence, Kukkuripa sorely missed his loving companion. Again and again he told the gods that he needed to return to the cave to care for her.

But his heavenly hosts urged him to stay, saying: “How can you even think about returning to a dog in a dark cave when you are enjoying our good favor and every luxury and comfort we can offer? Don’t be so foolish—remain with us here.” Time and time again, Kukkuripa allowed himself to be persuaded.

But one day when he looked down from the Thirty-three Heavens, he realized that his loyal dog was pining for him—her eyes were sad, her tail drooped, and she was so thin he could see her ribs. Kukkuripa’s heart ached for her. Then and there he descended from paradise to rejoin her in the cave.

The dog leaped and pranced with joy when she caught sight of her beloved master. But no sooner did he sit down and begin to scratch her favorite spot, just behind the ears, than she vanished from sight! There before him, wreathed in a cloud of glory, stood a radiantly beautiful dakini.

“Well done!” she cried. “Well done! You have proved your worth by overcoming temptation. Now that you have returned, supreme power is yours. You have learned that the mundane power of the gods is delusory, for they still retain the notion of self. Theirs is the realm of fallible pleasure. But now your dakini can grant you supreme realization—immaculate pleasure without end.”

The she taught him how to achieve the symbolic union of skillful means and perfect insight. As an irreversible, infallible vision of immutability arose in his mindstream, he did indeed attain the state of supreme realization.

Renowned as Guru Kukkuripa, the Dog Lover, he returned to Kapilavastu, where he lived a long life of selfless service. And in due time, he ascended to the Paradise of the Dakinis with a vast entourage of disciples.

Does a Dog Have Buddha Nature or Not?

T. Griffith Foulk Introduces the Question—and Suggests Why Most Dog Lovers Don’t Want to Know the Answer

When a scholar of Zen Buddhism has a dog called Mu, as I do, people think they know why. But things are not always what they seem, and my black lab’s name does not come from the famous koan “Mu.” It derives, rather, from Mustafa—the name given him at the humane society when he was picked up as a stray puppy. Mustafa soon became Musty and then just Mu. . . his Buddha-nature was never in question.

The koan “Mu,” a.k.a. “Chao-chou’s Dog,” also has a pedigree that is rather different from what one might imagine. Today this koan is regarded as an ideal device for cutting off discursive, conceptual thought and for leading Zen trainees to an initial experience of enlightenment; yet it actually derived from a highly intellectual, scholastic debate over the presence of Buddha-nature in sentient and insentient beings that continued for centuries during medieval Chinese Buddhism. Readers who want a taste of the arcane details of that debate, and a lucid interpretation of the koan in its original philosophical context, are advised to check out an article by Robert Sharf entitled “On the Buddha-nature of Insentient Things” (available at http://indra.indranet.net/kobul/english/conference/articles/Robert_Sharf... on the Internet).

As Sharf points out (the following translations are all his), the discourse records of the Ch’an master Chao-chou Ts’ung-shen (778-897) contain three dialogues in which the master responds to questions about Buddha-nature. The first such exchange reads as follows:

[A student] asked: “Does a dog also have buddha-nature or not?” The master said: “It does not” [in Chinese, “wu”; pronounced “mu” in Japanese]. [The student] said: “Everything has buddha-nature, from the buddhas above to the ants below. Why does a dog not have it?” The master said: “Because it has the nature of karmically conditioned consciousness.”

Here the student expressed what all Chinese Buddhists from about the seventh century on took for granted: that all sentient beings are innately possessed of Buddha-nature (or Buddha-mind). Chao-chou’s “wu” was thus unexpected and perhaps intended to shock, but it was not necessarily enigmatic. He may simply have wished to stress the point that although living beings have Buddha-nature, unless they realize that fact by “seeing the nature” they remain caught up in delusion and continue to suffer in the karmically conditioned round of rebirth.

The second relevant exchange in Chao-chou’s record reads:

[A student] asked: “Does an oak tree also have buddha-nature or not?” The master said: “It has.” [The student] said: “Then when will it become a buddha?” The master said: “When the sky falls to the earth.” [The student] said: “When will the sky fall to the earth?” The master said: “When the oak tree becomes a buddha.”

Here the question concerns the presence of Buddha-nature in an insentient thing, a tree. Chao-chou is willing to concede that, in a certain sense, all of existence is coextensive with Buddha-nature or Buddha-mind (for nothing could exist “outside” of it). He wants to argue, however, that only sentient beings can “become” buddhas by waking up to or seeing the Buddha-nature within them; such an epistemological transformation is impossible for insentient beings, at least until the end of the world.

The third exchange reads:

[A student] asked: “Does a dog also have buddha-nature or not?” The master said: “The [road] in front of every house leads to Ch’ang-an [the capital].”

Here Chao-chou affirms that all sentient beings do in fact have Buddha-nature, dogs included, but again he implies that they need to wake up to that fact if it is to do them any good. The “road that leads to Ch’ang-an” may run in front of every house, but unless one actually travels it, the sights and smells of the capital can only be imagined.

Some of the dog lovers who have contributed to this issue suggest that their own pooches have not only gone for walks around their neighborhood streets, but actually have made the trip to Ch’ang-an. It is unlikely, however, that Chao-chou had such a fond view of the species: Dogs in medieval China were more likely viewed as filthy curs, or as sources of protein, than as “man’s best friend.” They were, on occasion, identified in Buddhist morality tales as bodhisattvas in disguise, as were beggars and pregnant women, but such stories gained their edifying force precisely from the ordinarily low, polluted state of the beings in question.

My Mu is a beloved pet, but he surely has not glimpsed his own Buddha-nature. Nor does he recognize that of squirrels: The mere sight of one, and all of his bad karma, born of beginningless greed, hatred, and delusion, comes rushing out in an eye-popping, hackle-raising snarl. And when it comes to oak trees, lamp posts, and other insentient things, not even their Buddha-nature can save them from the indignity of being his territorial markers.

Chao-chou’s dog eventually strayed from the master’s discourse record and was adopted by Wu-men Hui-k’ai (1183-1260) as the first case of his koan collection entitled Gateless Barrier (Wu-men-kuan). According to that text:

A monk asked master Chao-chou: “Does a dog also have buddha-nature or not?” The master said: “It does not.”

The exchange was shortened in this context, eliminating the follow-up question about buddhas and ants, and Wu-men added a comment that instructs us not to think about the meaning of Chao-chou’s “wu,” but simply to break the bonds of intellect and directly penetrate its deep meaning. The way of philosophy being thus cut off, people ever since have been without a clue as to what the master meant. I, for one, can do little more than leave my mark on the oak tree and hope that some of you may sniff it out.

T. Griffith Foulk teaches Asian Religions at Sarah Lawrence College.

The Dog’s Tooth

Rafe Martin

Once, as a Tibetan trader was preparing to leave on his travels, his mother asked him if he would bring her back a relic from India, the land of the Buddha.

“I’m too old to make such a pilgrimage now,” she said.

The son assured his mother that he would find her a holy relic.

But months later, when he returned, he was dismayed to discover that he had completely forgotten his mother’s request. So he promised her that next time he would not be so careless.

But, when he returned from his next trip, he was once again ashamed to find that, what with all his traveling, buying, and selling, the thought of his mother’s request and his promise had slipped his mind.

He vowed he would not be so forgetful again. The following year, when he set out, he was determined to find his mother an especially holy relic.

Time passed. The trader spent busy months buying and selling. At last, pleased with his efforts, off he headed with a train of laden ponies for the mountains of Tibet and home. He left the hot plains behind and rose higher into the mountains. At last, as he was coming through the final pass that led to his village, he remembered—it struck him like a thunderbolt! He had forgotten his mother’s relic for a third time!

Just at that moment he happened to notice a dog’s skull lying by the roadside. The jawbone, with several brownish teeth still attached, was nearby. The trader had an inspiration. He jumped down from his horse and pried loose one small, brownish tooth from the dog’s jawbone. After polishing the tooth on his sleeve, he wrapped it in a piece of fine brocade.

When he got home, he gave the tooth to his mother. He told her that it was an especially sacred relic—a tooth of Sariputra, one of the Buddha’s greatest disciples.

Beside herself with joy, his mother placed the dog’s tooth on the altar and prostrated herself before it again and again.

The next morning the son left to begin selling his goods—spices, silks, and herbs from India—promising to be back within a month. Of course, he planned to find a genuine tooth-relic to replace the dog’s tooth, but in the meantime he had made his mother very happy.

Weeks passed. Then, one day just before nightfall, the son returned. His trading had again been quite successful. But what was this? There were crowds in the courtyard of his house! He slid off his horse, hurriedly tied the ponies, and hurried inside.

Many strange people were inside, neighbors and lamas and strangers—pilgrims, by the look of them. His mother was beaming. “My son!” she cried upon seeing him enter. Then, taking his hands in hers, she said one other word: “Look!”

He looked. There on the altar was a small brownish tooth. It was lying on the piece of brocade in which he had wrapped the dog’s tooth. Beams of light emanated from the tooth and rippled through the crowded room. The trader had never, in all his travels, seen anything like it. It was a holy relic, undoubtedly genuine.

“Mother,” he asked, “where did you find such a relic?”

“Foolish son,” she answered, “modest child! This is the holy relic of the Buddha’s own disciple, Sariputra. You yourself brought it to me!”

The trader went closer and looked again. It was indeed the dog’s tooth after all; of this he could have no doubt. Even as he looked, golden beams of light leapt from the tooth and, shining through the open window, seemed for an instant to touch the most distant stars.

Spontaneously, the trader prostrated himself before the tooth.

So great was the power of the old woman’s faith that, deluded as she was, she had, indeed, turned a dog’s tooth into a holy relic.

“The Dog’s Tooth” is excerpted from The Hungry Tigress: Buddhist Legends & Jataka Tales, by Rafe Martin, with permission from the author.

All Sentient Beings

Tina Fields

dogs feature image summer 1999I am the chosen life-companion of a part wolf. As her years were growing long, I became concerned about the quality of her life. Then I heard that a Tibetan lama, the venerable Kusum Lingpa Rinpoche, would be coming to offer Longevity Empowerments in the town where Grendel and I lived.

Now, the various Buddhisms are reputed to be for all sentient beings. Part of the Bodhisattva Vow is not to accept nirvana until “all sentient beings” have become enlightened. So I expected that Grendel would also be welcome at this event. My whole point of going was to take her, the old lady. I was simply going along as her companion.

When the day came, I packed Grendel into our truck. Then, putting her on the leash, we walked to the entrance of the hall.

Here we encountered our first humans, and here I made a tactical mistake. In my twelve years with Grendel and a lifetime with other animals before her, one thing I learned is: When traveling with an animal, the name of the game is to make it easier for the rule-makers to accede to your wishes. It’s far better to state your wish as though it’s a done deal. Instead of “Is it all right for my dog to come in?” you say, “It is all right if she comes in, isn’t it?” To which it is easier to answer “Yes.” One little change in words, and the meaning shifts unutterably.

Of course, when you want to get around rules, it is also better not to draw attention to yourself at all. Here I opened my big fat mouth and jokingly asked whether I would need to buy a $15 ticket for the dog as well. The ticket-seller looked at me, and time stopped. She withdrew her hand: “Oh, I don’t know whether dogs are allowed.”

Holding down my rising panic, I asked why not. To my surprise, she replied that she didn’t know. “Probably safety reasons.” So I asked if there were a security officer around with whom I might discuss this. Relieved to be out of it herself, she went off to fetch one.

A discussion with the security officer ensued about whether it was all right if my dog came in. The gist of it had to do with the potential terrors/distractions such a dog might create in a hall full of spiritual people - peeing on the carpets, biting someone (I assumed in a Pentecostal frenzy), barking during the liturgy, shedding large clumps of hair, and spontaneous levitation. (Okay, I admit it: I made that last one up. But the guard made up all the others.) I told the guard that Grendel was an old lady, not likely to raise hell in their church, that she was completely house-trained, had not heretofore expressed any need to howl along with music, nor acquired a taste for human flesh. More seriously, I promised that if Grendel started making noise, I’d take her out immediately.

I said all this with a calculatedly reasonable tone to my voice, all the while trying to look very straight and respectable. Not easy when you are accompanied by a large, wolf-like, overly fluffy dog and your clothes are vintage Goodwill and your hair looks like tumbleweed on acid. Meanwhile, you are trying to persuade this guard that the reason you are not willing to leave the dog tied outside is because, in fact, it’s the dog, not you, who most needs to go in, that you, the human, are only functioning as her aide. The security guard hesitated. I waited. (Waiting is another important thing I’ve learned: Quite often, the other person will decide in your favor just to end the discomfort of the situation.) The guard pondered: “Will you sit in the back?” “Yes!” I replied earnestly, surprised by the easiness of this bargain.

Like the starting of a horse race, the baton was waved in the general direction of the doors, and Grendel and I approached. But the new gatekeeper refused my ticket, saying that it wasn’t the security guard’s place to allow Grendel entrance.

I waited.

After awhile, she went to get some other official to be consulted about having a nonhuman among them. When she left, I noticed that no one had been paying attention to this and that nobody was guarding the door anymore. Declining the tantalizing offer of more conflict, Grendel and I just walked on in.

We hid in the crowd near the merchant stands, and blessedly, nobody else got officious with us. The inner courtyard, where we were being detained, became quite packed. Inside, the lama was performing purification rituals. I noticed a slender man in raggedy, homeless-looking clothes who was holding a cat. So Grendel was not to be the only four-legger in there! I wondered how much trouble he had had getting that cat in there—or himself, as he looked so different from the largely rich crowd. I stayed in a far corner, shielding Grendel from all the legs pressing in.

At last the room was ready, and the doors swung open. Grendel and I waited until most of the people had entered, and then, as promised, I took a seat near the back. Grendel lay down quietly at my feet. The man with the cat was in the center section, a bit closer to Rinpoche.

As Rinpoche spoke in his native Tibetan, an interpreter stationed by his side would simultaneously translate. Both were seated on a large, colorful dais erected on the stage at the front of the hall. There was a long table in front of them, holding ritual offerings, and half a dozen robed monks flanked each side. More monks lined the first two rows in the audience. The sensual qualities were astounding. There was a riot of saturated color: the monks’ vermilion robes, multicolored tassels hanging off Rinpoche’s baton, jewel-colored table coverings, dazzling fruits, handmade books. Then there was the huge cavern of the hall itself: the incense, intermittent sounds of chanting, and perhaps best of all, the intangible quality of the air which, had just been cleansed. Simply being in those presences seemed enough. And then the ceremonies began.

The interpreter explained that Rinpoche would do some blessings, and that while he chanted, we were to meditate on what he said and allow the energies to enter our beings. The transmission was extraordinarily vivid, and I felt my subtle bodies expand and deepen like the opening lotus he invoked. I hoped that Grendel was having a similar experience, because most of the meaning came directly into me through the chanting. It must have been similarly accessible to Grendel, since the original language was foreign to us both.

Next, Rinpoche blessed a pot of water, and the monks took bowlfuls to the audience. Coming to each person, they offered a bit of the charged water in a spoon no bigger than my thumbnail. When a monk poured a spoonful into my palm, I licked up half of it and offered the rest to Grendel. She licked it off slowly, then took a couple of eager licks until my palm was clean. Strangely, after I licked that water, I felt we’d been charged, changed, like some sort of transformation or cleansing was taking place. Grendel stretched and looked up at me, smiling. I invited her to my side, where she could lie next to my chair in the broad aisle. More comfortable, she lay her head back down on her paws and slept or rested and meditated: Who knows?

It was announced that anybody could come forward to receive a personal longevity initiation from Rinpoche. This was what we had come for! People started to talk and get up, and Grendel, thinking the event was over, got up, too. I motioned her back down, and we waited. It appeared that Rinpoche was saying some sort of blessing and then tapping each person with what looked like a car’s fish-eye mirror on a stick with loads of colored rags and ribbons for tassels. After about half an hour, when most of the crowd were back in their seats, I aroused Grendel and we went up the aisle to stand in line.

Most people were respectful and silent, so the standing-in-line felt like a standing and walking meditation. Slowly we wound our way up toward the dais and waiting monks. I was smiling with joyful, calm expectancy as Grendel and I began to mount the four or five wooden stairs leading up to the stage. Suddenly, a woman began to shout from the front seats. I looked over and saw a well-dressed, middle-aged woman sporting meditation beads and a dharma scarf like the one I had just bought outside. I saw that she was looking right at us. “Beg pardon?” I asked her. “Are you speaking to us?” “It’s not usually done, you know,” she spat.

“What isn’t?” I asked from my place on the first stair. “Bringing dogs to a ceremony,” she said, as though pronouncing something obscene. “This is a Tantric initiation! Don’t you know what this means? This is very select, and it is only for people! Not for animals!” Her eyes blazed fire at Grendel and me as she howled indignantly, “What’s wrong with you?!”

Her verbal attack hit like a tempered steel blade. I replied weakly, “Let’s just see what the lama thinks, okay?”

“Sit down! Get that dog out of here!” she was ranting, but under her breath, like a hiss or a hackle-raised growl.

Confused, I turned away, then back to her accusing eyes. I began to wonder, “Just who do I think I am, coming into their ceremony with my ideas? Maybe this is insulting.”

Then I looked ahead at the back of the man in front of me and ahead of him at the robe of a young monk and the promised initiation. In a flash, I remembered the reason I’d come here. Grendel was getting old, and this longevity initiation might benefit her. We were now close to contact with a respected lama who came from a tradition that purported to be for her as well. I felt my reason and resolve bolster. Turning away from that woman, we advanced to the second step.

I was shaking from the encounter and the continuing glare of the woman’s cold eyes. Grendel undoubtedly felt this, too. As we took two more steps to the top platform, she began, uncharacteristically, to act up. She turned round and round, tangling up the leash and banging into the legs of the man in front of us. He moved on to meet Rinpoche as Grendel and I approached the first monk. He watched while I untangled the leash and asked her to sit. When she complied, the monk commented with a surprised, approving smile, “She’s well behaved.” “Yes,” I snapped, still upset from the earlier attack and Grendel’s incomprehensible actions. “Just like most of the humans here.”

The monk gazed at me with a complex smile. Then he laughed! And he said something in Tibetan to Rinpoche, who was now also watching the scenario. The monk looked toward Grendel, then to Rinpoche, and added in English, smiling, “You know, this is a rare opportunity.” And Rinpoche agreed, nodding and saying also in English, “Yes.”

Hope came alive again. Rinpoche beckoned us forward, and I pushed Grendel to the center first. Rinpoche reached under the table to a blessed rice mixture, and with a gleeful laugh flung it upon her. The people before us had simply received the baton. My heart bloomed with gratitude for the spacious wisdom of this monk and this teacher. I knew that I was in the presence of a master who could see the spiritual potential—even divinity—in a body other than his own.

My eyes misted, and with clasped hands, I bowed spontaneously. Behind me, there was a great roar of laughter and applause—I hadn’t realized it, but of course everyone had been watching. They, too, had undoubtedly wondered what Rinpoche would make of this.

Rinpoche now beckoned to me: It was my turn. I went up to his platform and offered him my new dharma scarf. He took it, blessed it, gave it back to me, and touched me on the shoulders with the tasseled baton. Moving on, Grendel and I came to three monks who were proffering blessed goodies of several varieties. And every monk handed me two, one for me and one for Grendel.

I was in a state of stunned silence all the way down the stairs and through the auditorium to the seat we had vacated, it seemed, a lifetime ago. And then the astonished grin came. I just sat there, reeling from the import of what had occurred. How the exact same thing had been spoken twice, and yet worlds apart. A snarled “It’s not usually done” means the same thing cognitively as an awed “This is a rare opportunity”—the same thing, yet a universe of difference. One little change in words, and the meaning shifts unutterably.

Rinpoche left, and people began crowding out of the hall. Still bathed in the radiance, Grendel and I sat still and waited until the place was nearly cleared, then we slowly walked toward the doors.

As we inched our way around the crowded foyer, someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned to see a man dressed in the robes and shaved head of a Buddhist monk but with the features of a Euro-American. Smiling, he said that it was really good to have brought my dog here. This was music to my ears. Smiling back, I asked why. He said that Grendel’s having gone through this initiation would make it much more likely that she would be able to procure a human body for her next life. To which I laughed and joked that she’s already been there, done that, and gone on now to this much higher form.

He looked quite shocked and disapproving. Oh no, he informed me. The human is the highest and best, that which all beings aspire to, the prized end of this merry-go-round. So I pointed out to him that only humans are writing that script. And therefore, it might wind up being a tad ego-based, with us predictably on top. He didn’t get it: This hierarchy, to him, was a Truth.

Our conversation reminded me of a number of simple but troublesome questions with which we grapple around the category of “all sentient beings.” Who is included? Why or why not? The Chinese Madhyamika master Chi-tsang long ago used the phrase "Buddhahood attained by plants and trees." Dogen composed a "Mountains and Rivers Sutra.” And contemporary Zen priest Judith Kinst quotes an old koan at Tassajara Monastery, "The stones preach the Dharma." In light of these teachings, is the positing of a linear hierarchy of beings even appropriate? To me, it seems clear that in an interconnected and dependently co-arising web, the idea of one species holding a “higher” position is illusion; the rain is not “better” or “more highly evolved” than the snow.

Grendel and I walked out through the glass doors and down the hill to our truck. I had taken her off the leash when we left the building; there was no need for either of us to be restrained now. We walked together side-by-side, simply and joyfully, two beings consciously choosing to be together.

Many wise people throughout the ages, including the Buddha himself, have warned that "with our thoughts we create the world." What do we, as a culture and as individuals, create with our thoughts and actions concerning beings in other-than-human bodies? “One little change in words, and the meaning shifts unutterably.”

Tina Fields is a Ph.D. candidate in East-West Psychology, specializing in ecopsychology, at California Institute for Integral Studies (CIIS) in San Francisco. Her friend and teacher Grendel P. Slippersbane lived nearly thirteen years. Darryl Poniscan

Dog

Darryl Ponicsan

dogs feature image summer 1999The dyslexic believes in dog, and so do I. Blessed be we.

My dog, Toby, does a handstand, face deep into his bowl, and eats while balanced on his forepaws. I am astonished. I want to call out to someone, verify what I am seeing. Later, I talk about it, but no one believes me. They don’t say so, of course, merely smile and look away. Some day, I am almost sure, he will speak, and his first word will be “No,” correcting some gauche behavior on my part. At this very moment, as I type, dog sits upon my lap. When he kisses my chin, I will have to stop and take him to confer with Max, the neighbor’s Labrador.

For those brief periods during which I did not share my life with a dog—college, the navy, grieving the loss of the last one—I felt like a man who had lost the path.

There is nothing of importance man can teach dog. Dog knows. What we painstakingly practice to attain, dog already has, in spades: he is detached from his ego, he accepts what is, every response he makes is the right one—fear, fight, flight, and forget —and he enjoys a good night’s sleep after all.

Though he may have a website, dog is not on-line. He doesn’t overspend or work too hard or tell outrageous lies. Rain doesn’t stop dog, nor does sun encourage him. Dog has no standard of beauty. Man drips with gold and hides behind a stranger’s name, say, Tommy Hilfiger. Dog wears a simple collar. Dog doesn’t know when man is naked, doesn’t care. The rarest and most exotic of dogs is just another mutt to the dogs he encounters in walking meditation.

Perhaps the most enlightened aspect: for dog the journey is the destination. When dog jumps into the car, he doesn’t know or care if he is going to Charlie’s house or Chicago, to the park or Panama. He need not know how long he will be gone or what he should pack. How I aspire to be like dog! How sure I am that I will fail!

Dog is a carnivore, without explaining. He farts in public, without apologizing. Dog pukes on your bed and wonders why that upsets you. Man walks behind dog on First Avenue, picking up his droppings in little plastic bags. For that matter, down by the lake, dog rubs his neck in goose shit and looks at you curiously while you wail. I’m covering my scent, idiot. The hunt is on!

Man sits on his porch reading the evening newspaper, bourbon and branch on the armrest. Dog’s nose twitches almost imperceptibly and he gets all the news that’s fit to print. Hold the bourbon, pour the branch.

All hail dog. Truly, dog is great. On the overstuffed sofa of life, who could possibly sit above dog? Cat.

Darryl Poniscan has written numerous novels and screenplays, among them The Last Detail, Cinderella Liberty, Taps, Nuts, and School Ties. He is the founder of a national motorcycle club, Bikers for Buddha. The dog he studies, Toby, is a Jack Russell terrier.

Dogs Abroad

Pico Iyer

Dogs I usually think of as four-legged muscle relaxants, wagging counterparts to Penelope, or helicopter look-alikes with floppy ears for radars. They are creatures of hearth and home—household gods with legs—and they tie us to the places we know, and mark our territory with their own. Reflecting our secret hopes back to us, they obligingly allow us to project all our affections and fears upon them.

But dogs abroad—like everything abroad—are something else: strange and exotic and charged. They stand for all the forces we cannot touch, and, as much as welcoming us in, they keep us out. They are on home ground, their presence reminds us, and we are not. And in places we can never quite penetrate, where sorcerers fill the air, dogs stand for all the divisions we cannot see: between animals and angels, between angels and their dark inversions.

When I think of Bali, for example, in a certain mood—a troubled mood or a doubting mood—I hear only the dogs howling in the dark. So much feels enchanted on that island, where sweet-smiling sylphs bring fruit to one’s room, and artists walk all day to temples, that nothing unpleasant seems allowed. Babies are carried on their parents’ shoulders and never touch the ground.

But at night, when darkness depends, Bali is given over to its dogs, and a counter-world, a shadow-realm, emerges. They are scrawny things, most often, these pariah beasts, demon-eyed and screeching, and it can seem as if all the care lavished on everything else here has left not a scrap for them. And they growl like vengeful furies, angry at being shut out from the dazzle all around. They growl, they yelp, they snarl at you as you walk the unlit lanes of Ubud. And as the night fills up with leyak witches and spooky dreams, their presence becomes as disturbing, as dissonant, as the jangled, syncopating gamelan music one hears coming from the trees. No walk through night-time fields feels safe.

And when I think of Tibet, I think of dogs, too, but in the high silence of blue-sky days. So much of that uplifting culture is behind barbed wire now, laid waste or mocked by invading Chinese soldiers and unwanted tanks. Yet, when I went to Drepung monastery, near Lhasa, and Sera, the spirit of those evacuated centers seemed to be preserved mostly by their dogs. There were thirty or forty of them in each, sitting quietly in sun-washed lanes, or serenely posted at the entrance to old prayer-halls, never barking or stirring or creating a fuss. It was as if the dogs were the custodians of a culture whose human elements had been sent away, and protectors of a calm as strong as that of their exiled leader, the Dalai Lama. When you visit “Little Lhasa” in Dharamsala, India, you see frisky Lhasa Apsos circumambulating the central temple with their wizened keepers; but when you visit Tibet, you find the mastiffs at the temple gates, changeless and unflinching.

Temple guardians come in two kinds, perhaps, fiercely yapping and serene. But travel teaches us that even our symbols of loyalty and constancy and companionship can also exist outside of us, the watchdogs of traditions we can inspect but never claim. They sit on other sides of gates we cannot see, and remind that, abroad, we find gods we cannot make our own.

Pico Iyer is an essayist for Time Magazine, a contributing editor at Tricycle and Conde Nast Traveler, and the author of Video Night in Kathmandu and The Lady and the Monk. Dogs Abroad originally appeared in Travelers’ Tales: A Dog’s World (Collected and edited by Christine Hunsicker). Copyright @ 1998 Travelers’ Tales, Inc.

Dog(ma)

Tom Robbins

Although I have on occasion glimpsed what I took to be the light of wisdom in some mutt’s orbs, and while I’m convinced that when asked if a dog had Buddha-nature, Master Joshu answered not wu but wuf, I’ve been disinclined to take a dog as my guru—for the simple reason that dogs are the most deeply domesticated of animals and I prefer my teachers free and wild.

Some might attribute this aversion to pethood, literal and figurative, to a longtime penchant for sniffing out the left-handed path. Others would argue, with some justification, that it stems from the misfortunes I suffered twenty years ago when I tried to teach a monkey to do light housekeeping. In point of fact, however, my affinity for the untamed spirit is a direct result of my having, as a baby, been carried off by dingoes.

Oh, yes. My anthropologist parents were doing fieldwork in the outback, when one evening at dusk, a female dingo with eyes like electrified lemon drops stole into our tent, sunk her fangs in my rompers, and dragged me away to her pack’s funky den, where she suckled me to surfeit and rolled me around playfully in the bloody feathers on the floor of the lair.

I had lived among the dingoes for only two months before I was discovered by a friendly Aborigine and returned to my bipedal mom, but I was with them long enough to absorb a measure of their language and I retain some dingo vocabulary to this day (since it’s virtually impossible to transcribe, even phonetically, I shan’t attempt to inflict any on the poor reader), and that translinguistic ability has given me an unusual perspective on canine consciousness.

Whenever I see some stick-chasing, slippers-fetching, sofa-sleeping obedience school graduate wagging its tail, begging for a meatball or slavishly searching for new ways to ingratiate itself with its owner, I close my eyes and picture a barren hilltop far off in the wastes, where a collarless, leashless dingo (or wolf or coyote) engages in a dialogue with the moon. And I imagine that I have a pretty good idea of the dingo’s side of the conversation.

Now, a principle tenet of every pet dog’s security-oriented philosophy is, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” On the other hand, I know the dingo’s view to vacillate from, “It’s always broke and you can never fix it” to “There’s nothing to break so what is it that you’re fixing?” It’s my suspicion that all of Zen resides in the arc between those two poles. Of course, I could be barking up the wrong lotus blossom.

In any case, I will always favor the teacher who lifts his leg on dogma, who even bites the hand that feeds him, over one who’s panting to be scratched behind his ears.

Tom Robbins, the author of six offbeat but influential novels, is finishing a seventh at the end of a dead-end road on an Indian reservation north of Seattle.

The Dog-Duty Ascetic

Adapted from the Kukkuravatika Sutta by Jeff Wilson

Thus have I heard:

One day the Buddha was visited by Punna, an ox-duty ascetic, and by Seniya, a dog-duty ascetic. Each of them hoped to be reborn as a great god in reward for their arduous ascetic practices. Punna, the ox-duty ascetic, paid homage to the Blessed One, and sat down to one side, while Seniya, the dog-duty ascetic, spoke cheerfully with the Blessed One. Then he sat down on the other side, curling up comfortably like a dog before the hearth.

The ox-duty ascetic gestured to his companion and asked the Buddha, “This Seniya is a naked dog-duty ascetic with a difficult religious practice: he eats food that is thrown upon the ground, he crawls all day on all-fours, he wears no clothing, he urinates on trees, and he follows people about most loyally. He has been practicing this dog-duty for a long time. What will be his future rebirth?”

The Buddha replied, “Enough, Punna, don’t ask that question.”

A second time the ox-duty ascetic asked his question, and the Buddha declined to answer. Still Punna would not be satisfied. “Please sir, what will be the fruit of this dog-duty ascetic’s karma?”

The Buddha sighed. “Well, Punna, since I certainly can’t seem to persuade you to drop the matter, I shall therefore have to answer you. When someone develops the dog-duty fully and without interruption, develops the dog-mind, develops dog behavior, then when he dies, naturally he is reborn in the body of a dog. If he holds in his mind the idea 'By this difficult asceticism I shall be reborn as a great god,’ that is a wrong view. Now there are two possible destinations for someone with such a wrong view: a hell realm or the animal realm. So, Punna, if his dog-duty is successful, Seniya will become a dog, and if it is unsuccessful, he will go to hell.”

When the Blessed One was finished, the dog-duty ascetic burst into tears. The Buddha looked concerned, but Seniya said, “I am not crying because the Buddha has said this about me, but because I have worked so long at a project that will only lead me to ruin. How terrible! What of my friend Punna, the ox-duty ascetic—what will be his fate?”

The Buddha said, “Enough, Seniya, don’t ask that question.”

But Seniya asked again and again. Finally the Buddha replied, “His fate will be the same: if he successfully carries out his ox-duty asceticism, he will be reborn as an ox, toiling in the fields. If he is unsuccessful, he will end up in one of the hells.”

At this the ox-duty ascetic cried out and began to weep. “For a long time I have behaved like an ox, and Seniya has behaved like a dog. Please teach us how we may abandon these practices and come to a good end.”

The Buddha nodded. “Very well, then please listen closely to what I say: There are four kinds of actions—evil actions which lead to evil results, good actions which lead to good results, mixed actions which lead to mixed results, and actions which transcend both good and evil, which belong to the path of enlightenment.

“Evil actions include evil thoughts, evil speech, and evil deeds. They cause one to be reborn in a lower realm, where they will suffer. Good actions include good thoughts, good speech, and good deeds. They lead one to happiness and a pleasurable rebirth. Mixed actions include thoughts, speech, and deeds which are somewhat good, somewhat unwholesome. They lead to a rebirth marked by both happiness and suffering. This is the lot of most people.

“The highest path is to abandon all such thoughts, good, bad, and mixed alike, and to focus on achieving enlightenment. This way leads to escape from all rebirth and establishment in nirvana.”

When the Buddha finished, Punna said, “Wonderful, most excellent, thank you! The Blessed One has made the path clear to me. Today I request to be accepted as a lay follower of the Buddha.”

Seniya, the dog-duty ascetic, said, “The Blessed One has explained the true way, revealed the hidden wisdom, and pointed out the proper path! I go to the Buddha, the dharma, and the Sangha for refuge. Today I request to be ordained as a monk in the community of the Buddha.”

The Buddha smiled, but said, “Seniya, one who formerly belonged to another sect must wait four months before full admission to the Sangha. At the end of four months, if the monks are satisfied with him, then he may join the community.”

Seniya replied, “I will wait for four years if need be, to demonstrate my sincerity.”

When the Buddha accepted him as an official monk, he proved to be an excellent student. Not long after his admission to the Sangha, Seniya, the former naked dog-duty ascetic, directly realized his goal and became enlightened.

Where conscious effort and striving are present

The Buddha is absent,

Thus, ritual and offerings are futile.

Within the peak experience of the guru’s grace

The Buddha is present,

But will the fortunate recipient see it?

In Kapilavastu there lived a Brahmin named Kukkuripa. Puzzling over the problems of existence, he came to place his trust in the Tantra, and in time chose the path of renunciation. He began his itinerant career by begging his way slowly toward the caves of Lumbini.

One day, on the road to the next town, he heard a soft whining in the underbrush. When he investigated, he found a young dog so starved she could no longer stand. Moved to pity, he picked her up and carried her with him on his long journey, sharing the contents of his begging bowl, and watching with delight as she began to grow strong and healthy.

By the time they arrived in Lumbini, Kukkuripa had become so accustomed to her affectionate, good-natured company that he could not imagine living without her. And so he searched for an empty cave large enough for them both. Every day, when he went out begging, she would stand guard, waiting patiently for his return.

So deeply involved was Kukkuripa in the continuous recitation of his mantra, that twelve years passed as quickly as one. Almost without realizing it, the yogin attained the magical powers of prescience and divine insight. But the gods of the Thirty-three Sensual Heavens had taken notice. In fact, they were so impressed that they invited him to celebrate his achievements by visiting their paradise. Flattered, and amazed at their attentions, he accepted the invitation and embarked upon a ceaseless round of self-indulgent feasting and pleasure.

On earth, his faithful dog waited patiently for her master to return. Although she had to root around for whatever she could find to eat, she never strayed far from the cave. And, in truth, she was not forgotten. Despite his luxurious existence, Kukkuripa sorely missed his loving companion. Again and again he told the gods that he needed to return to the cave to care for her.

But his heavenly hosts urged him to stay, saying: “How can you even think about returning to a dog in a dark cave when you are enjoying our good favor and every luxury and comfort we can offer? Don’t be so foolish—remain with us here.” Time and time again, Kukkuripa allowed himself to be persuaded.

But one day when he looked down from the Thirty-three Heavens, he realized that his loyal dog was pining for him - her eyes were sad, her tail drooped, and she was so thin he could see her ribs. Kukkuripa’s heart ached for her. Then and there he descended from paradise to rejoin her in the cave.

The dog leaped and pranced with joy when she caught sight of her beloved master. But no sooner did he sit down and begin to scratch her favorite spot, just behind the ears, than she vanished from sight! There before him, wreathed in a cloud of glory, stood a radiantly beautiful dakini.

“Well done!” she cried. “Well done! You have proved your worth by overcoming temptation. Now that you have returned, supreme power is yours. You have learned that the mundane power of the gods is delusory, for they still retain the notion of self. Theirs is the realm of fallible pleasure. But now your dakini can grant you supreme realization - immaculate pleasure without end.”

Then she taught him how to achieve the symbolic union of skillful means and perfect insight. As an irreversible, infallible vision of immutability arose in his mindstream, he did indeed attain the state of supreme realization.

Renowned as Guru Kukkuripa, the Dog Lover, he returned to Kapilavastu, where he lived a long life of selfless service. And in due time, he ascended to the Paradise of the Dakinis with a vast entourage of disciples.

Kukkuripa, The Dog Lover, excerpted from Buddhist Masters of Enchantment The Lives and Legends of the Mahasiddhas, is reprinted with permission from Inner Traditions.

Dogs of Buddha

Elsie P. Mitchell

I

On a shelf above a wide bed

sit two Chinese-green jade Fu dogs;

Shishi, lion dogs, Japanese people call them.

As centuries drifted by, pairs replaced

a solitary guardian, protector

of Buddhist altars, temples,

graveyards, Imperial thrones, prosperous homes.

This is a special pair:

His mouth is open and

he cries, “A. . . U. . .,”

Her mouth is closed

over, “. . . mmm. . . .”

Alpha and Omega.

Buddha Mind.

Aummm.

II

Below the Butsudan, the Buddha shelf,

Where the green Fu dogs are guardians of

a time and incense-darkened image,

Shakamuni

Dai Osho,

a man and wife forgather at day’s end

on their book-strewn bed. Blankets partly

cover them and two owl-eyed shih tzu,

descendants of Peking’s flat-faced dogs,

artists inspired by stone colossi,

original protectors of lonely tombs.

According to tradition, the woolly lion-dog is

part dog

part human

part spirit

of

Aummm.

III

Years unfold. No longer do

the shih tzu quietly shred

cheque books, important letters, comfortable shoes.

No longer are maps of anticipated

journeys spread among blankets

and resting bodies upon the bed.

One autumn evening, reminiscences

wander to distant family; to

the Austrian Wortersee, the man’s birthplace.

A gathering of cousins

in the shadow of the church at

Heiligenblut. Holy Blood.

An open knockenhaus.* Skulls, arms, leg-bones,

in careful piles, face all visitors.

“Ich komme. Ich komme

schnell,” ** murmurs a young man

with a smile.

The couple sleep.

The shih tzu are alert, mindful.

Police sirens rip through

the open window.

On their shelf the

Fu dogs whisper

Aummm.

* Bone house

** “I’m coming. I’m coming fast.”

IV

Time eats more months, more years.

No longer do green Fu dogs guard

their master on the Buddha shelf.

Composed of precious, but brittle,

jadeite, a fall has scarred

female Fu dog’s face.

The pair have been replaced; now

a single wood-carved shishi

bursts through cracks in his ball-shaped

egg. He greets this incarnation

with open-mouth, and paws that

strain towards liberation.

In the wooden egg, the ball,

that was his world, the Buddha’s dog

already has heard,

The soundless

sound of

Aummm.

V

One night, gravely ill,

the man is propped on pillows, eyes closed.

His sight has gone.

His hearing too.

Suddenly his eyes open and he tries

to leave his bed.

“I must get out—

get out of

this damn hospital.

I must

go home.”

From the foot of the bed, one

old shih tzu rushes

to his side.

She briskly paws his

shoulder, licks his ear.

Impervious to human

reassurance, the man smiles.

In hospitals, he knows, no one licks

a world-deaf ear.

He pats his friend

Farewell.

That night the shih tzu do not

eat and remain at the foot of

the bed of their departing friend.

But in their wide-open eyes,

there is,

was always

Aummm.

Elsie P. Mitchell is the author of Sun Buddhas, Moon Buddhas: A Zen Quest and The Lion-Dog of Buddhist Asia. She is co-founder of the Cambridge Buddhist Association of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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