Canine help along the bodhisattva path
Hamsa Palm Doxie coloring book page by Ed DeLaCruz
I’m a dharma teacher. I work with students all the time, and I think the core teaching of Buddhism is to help people become less self-centered and learn how to give love to others. In my 40s, a beautiful, white Hungarian sheepdog named Chandi came into my life. She broke my heart open to loving unconditionally rather than just loving to be loved.
She needed me and wasn’t afraid to show it, and maybe I needed her and didn’t have to show it, and this helped me grow. We were both vulnerable and permeable, and she melted my heart. When Chandi and I were together there was nothing missing; I didn’t think about the future or the past—or even the present. She didn’t care if I succeeded or failed, who I voted for, how much money I made, or whether I was enlightened or not.
In the mornings when I walked Chandi, that dog time became the best part of my day, what I came to call my dogitation. It was as fresh and innocent as nowness awareness, every morning for half an hour, an hour, or more. We met dog people along the way and often didn’t know their names or what they did. Being with Chandi allowed me to just be like a true “person of no rank,” as they say in Zen Buddhism: a dog-walking person with the other dog-walking people in the dog park, picking up dog shit and carrying it home in little plastic bags.
I prayed and aspired to become the man Chandi thought I was. After our morning walk, I liked to sit down with her in my meditation room. “Sit,” my mind said in Dog-Zen fashion—and my prayers were already answered. I was moved from seeing otherness to togetherness-oneness. While I gazed worshipfully at my Buddhist altar shrine—an old Buddha statue from Tibet and pictures of my gurus—my dog stared worshipfully at me. I was she, and she was me, and Buddha was we. We were all together, and all was well with the world, making me a jolly lama.
One time, my lama, Nyoshul Khenpo Rinpoche, and his wife came to visit me in Massachusetts. We spent a lot of time together in the car as I drove them to various teaching and ceremonial events. When I saw their faces in my rearview mirror I’d think, This is wonderful! I’m serving the dharma. I’m with my master. I’m bringing him to my friends and students and fellows. My life has meaning! A few weeks after he left, I was driving and Chandi was in the back seat. She popped up over the seat, and I saw her face in the rearview mirror, her tongue hanging out, and I thought, Holy crap! The absurdity of things. I’m driving Chandi around; my life has meaning! It was a great “all beings equal before Buddha and God” moment.
I’m not going to start a new religion of Dogism, but I am getting a little tired of religions and their limitations, prejudices, and biases, so it’s important to think about what really opens our hearts or helps us be more authentic and free and less self-conscious and into strategic giving. There’s a saying, “Dog is God spelled backward,” to which I always add, “Scratch a dog and you’ll find a God.” Chandi and I belonged together, that’s all I know. It wasn’t a big decision; nobody needed to approve or agree. It’s about the authentic relationship; it’s not about the object or the subject. Who or whatever you co-meditate or meditate with, whatever you love, whatever opens your heart can be a real precipitant into the mystery and vastness of interbeing and oneness.
Meister Eckhart saw every creature as the Word of God. Who teaches and exemplifies that for us better than our own loyal pets, living in simplicity and delight, reveling enthusiastically in the senses as in eternity, while loving the one who feeds them? The sacred Buddhist Dhammapada teaches us that a master gives himself to whatever the moment brings. He doesn’t think about his actions—they simply and naturally flow from the core of his being. Who better exemplifies this than a dog bounding after a ball or Frisbee? I love meeting different dogs on the street and inquiring into their being, their selves, and how they are so I can better care for them, just like people. You never know who you might meet, reincarnated in the form of that dog. Most of us overlook the immediacy and richness of experience right beneath our noses, but not a dog! The nose knows.
Dogs lead us back to a kinder and gentler, more nonverbal, joyous, trusting, and totally innocent, in-the-moment, childlike world—a sacred space of this moment, only moment, as the Mahamudra teaching puts it. Our dogs bow and say “bow-wow” to any and all comers, with equanimity. When I no longer seem to know if I’m a man looking at a dog or a dog looking at a man, what worries could I have?
Chandi died a decade ago, but I still have a picture of her on my family altar. Love is the way, the truth, and the light—and everything else—so we all need to learn to love and be loved and let it in and out. Chandi helped me do that. My dog.
Try out a meditative coloring exercise with this Dachshund illustration by Ed DeLaCruz.
A PDF can be downloaded at SpiritualityHealth.com/DogitationHamsa.
Share your finished colored Doxie with the S&H social community. Tag your images on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter with #DogitationHamsa, @SpiritHealthMag and @artbyeddydelacruz — we’ll repost our favorites!
To practice with a Pet (Or the Memory of a Pet)
- Sit down with your animal friend. Assume the position.
- Your dog might be on the floor in front of you, at your side, or on your lap, wherever is most comfortable and familiar.
- Be at ease together, attuned to each other in your familiar spiritual embrace.
- Start breathing together.
- Place one hand on your belly and the other on your dog’s to help you stay grounded and sound.
- Let it happen, without obsessing about it, wondering whether you’re properly synchronized or not. Dogs have no plans.
- In pet-time there’s no time, no appointments and no disappointments.
- All good, the Primordial Time Zone.
- Let it all settle. Let go; let come and go; let be. If your dog is facing you, gaze into its eyes.
- Relax, let the natural rhythms of dogitation overtake you and unite you both in the space that only all animal lovers know.
- Enter into the great timeless circle of cosmic breathing with your silent accomplice and pet-partner in co-meditation.
Adapted from: The Dharma of Dogs: Our Best Friends as Spiritual Teachers. Edited by Tami Simon and published this month by Sounds True.