Ask any dog owner and they will tell you that their furry family member has taught them countless things, in the past few weeks I have found myself watching my own dog and contemplating just what he can teach me about the dharma. For one thing, as a rescue, merely having saved him from shelter hopping, disease and possibly euthanasia carries with it immense benefit for the both of us. I am as grateful to have him, as he is to be had and loved. Stewardship over the life of another being is a cause for great celebration, one that I’m still not over (Gramercy is my first dog you see, so this is all new and vastly exciting!)
When it comes to Gramercy, he has an exceedingly expressive demeanor and face (more so than a lot of dogs, though a lot of that has to do with his markings) and one of the greatest joys is watching his face go through the incalculable emotional reactions he has to events and situations. It constantly causes me to wonder about his past and future lives. I’m convinced he was a well-mannered British gentleman in a past life to be honest. As to his future rebirths, I like to think my practice helps him out on that front.
He provides an excellent focus for when I’m looking for a place to dedicate the karma of my meditations or japa mala practice. This simple fact alone helped me increase the depth focus and amount of meditation that I do. Now in fact, when I sit to meditate outside, Gramercy lays down beside me, absorbing all the horizontal karma coming his way! I like to believe I’m helping him achieve a higher rebirth, and that I owe some of my own growth to what he has taught me about unconditional love and compassion. It is said that we are all each others’ teacher, the profound lessons of dog ownership drive this point home. After all, is it he who has put into effect the causes for my own increased devotion and practice; yes I feed, shelter and train him however that is not nearly payment in kind for the type of bond he has shown me, and its effect on my spiritual practice.
I am not always the most patient of people, since having had this dog (he was rescued last October) I have observed him nobly weather all types of people and situations with the dignity and non-plussed attitude of a Buddha. It is as though he is living the canine version of what Lama Marut calls mukkha banda asana (Mouth Shut Asana). That is, when he would want to act out, be “bratty” or cause commotion he simply sits or stands with his mouth shut instead. I have taken a leaf out of his book lately and when I see his attitude I can’t help but chastise myself for failing to keep my mouth shut when perhaps I should have. Gramercy is a constant reminder of patience and virtue, charging my practice and inspiring the spirit of compassion.
Recently Gramercy suffered from a heart-worm infestation, the subsequent treatment and harrowing recovery gave rise to meditations on impermanence, death and the necessity of attachment. More than any other time in our short companionship, this boosted my understanding of certain dharmic principles and for that (yet again) I owe him the world a million times over. When we look at our pets, be they dogs, cats, birds or reptiles, we should pause to reflect on both our karmic effects on them as well as the other way around. Dog, and pet ownership can be a great way to deepen your understanding of the dharma and yourself. Those of you wondering, yes, that is Gramercy pictured above looking rather dashing. Namaste everyone!