Buddha Dog

Buddha Dog

Dog resting in a temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Almost a decade ago, in a sweltering island far away, I volunteered in an animal sanctuary, specifically, for dogs and cats. The place was owned by a Buddhist lady who gathered all the stray dogs and cats in the island and gave them food and shelter.

I was assigned in one of the two dog sections. There were about 40 dogs where I was assigned at. Two regular volunteer staff manned the place, and in addition, at that time, there were three of us who were temporary volunteers.

Our tasks were simple. We feed the dogs twice a day and clean their pens. There was also a play time where we play with one or two dogs at a time. The dogs were bathed at regular intervals by the longterm staff who know better each dog’s temperament.

In my two weeks stay at the sanctuary, I observed that the dogs acted like all sorts of humans. Just like human beings, they have their own signature personalities. It could be due to their intrinsic nature as dogs, or they have acquired their behavior based on their backgrounds. The reason could be both.

Some dogs were very restless like as if they had ADHD. Other dogs were timid and resigned. More than a couple of dogs were aggressive and we were told not to go near them. One short, pudgy dog, I named the ‘Buddha Dog’, particularly caught my attention. Every evening, she sat in one spot, in perfect repose, looking out to the moon, whether the moon appeared or not. I did not know whether to pity her or to admire her. When I tried to get her attention, she simply looked at me with a gentle smile, and then turned her head to resume her private meditation. She stood out among the rest for having a calm and self-contained disposition. Watching her every evening was quite moving; it made me reflect on myself. Due to her quiet and solitary behavior, they paired her with a fidgety roommate who was extremely hungry for love and attention. But the Buddha Dog remained undisturbed in her corner, totally ignoring her pitiful whining roommate, and so the latter’s needs could not be met. I thought they were not a good match as roommates. But it was the sanctuary’s system to put together dogs with contrasting behaviors. They thought the arrangement would help keep the balance. I don’t know if it was a good system, but unless the match resulted in aggressive behavior, they were kept that way.

At particular times of the day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon, we played chillout music for the dogs. I asked the other volunteer what is it for. She told me two reasons: one is to calm the dogs, especially at that time of the day when they tend to be restless and howl. Another reason, according to her, was that the lady owner believed that the music would elevate the dogs’ consciousness so that the next time they reincarnate, they would reincarnate in better circumstances; hopefully, they would reincarnate as humans!

I thought the second reason, if it is indeed true, was quite interesting. It was even more interesting that the music that would elevate their consciousness to a higher plane was the chillout electronic lounge music, Buddha Bar.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Buddha Bar music – I really do – but for it to be used to elevate animal consciousness to some higher level? 🙂 Well, who am I to say?  After all, like Jon Snow, I know nothing.

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The Man And The Beast

Albert-Einstein-judgement

I decided that God is testing men, to show them that they are no better than animals. After all, the same fate awaits men and animals alike. One dies just like the other. They are the same kind of creature. A man is no better off than an animal, because life has no meaning for either. They are both going to the same place – the dust. They both came from it; they will both go back to it. How can anyone be sure that a man’s spirit goes upward, while an animal’s spirit goes down into the ground? – Ecclesiastes 3:18-21*

In the evolutionary ladder, humans are said to be the “peak” of creation. This idea has taken a very deep root in the minds of – guess who – humans, of course. Humans take so much pride in being called God’s magnum opus. On the other hand, the animal and plant species couldn’t care less if we think of them as lower life forms.

Who occupies the top of the evolutionary ladder is decided on the basis of an organism’s ‘intelligence’. But who is clever enough to measure and rank each species intelligence? And using whose standard of measurement?

It is the Homo sapiens with his advanced tool – the yardstick.

Both the godly (religious) and the reasonable (scientific) have often been inclined to support the notion that humans are the fairest of them all. We are the top creatures – God’s masterpiece. After all, it was stated in the holy book that God created Man in His own image.

To so-called thinking humans, it does appear very rational that we must logically be the pinnacle of evolution. We have intricate scripts and languages which set us apart from other species. We could create and use complicated tools to build cities and civilizations. The advancement of our technology was not due to the genius of the apes. Humans have stepped on the moon; plans to colonize other planets are on the way. The argument, or evidence, supporting the theory that humans are the apex of evolution, could go on and on.

There is no doubt about humans’ brilliance and unending ingenuity. But what if the measure of evolution is happiness rather than intelligence?

Who could say for sure that a man is happier than a cat, dog, or fish?

The cat, in all its self-contained feline glory, lounges luxuriously all day – an enviable state of existence, I must say. A dog has no bills to pay and yet every day is a vacation. The fish does not stress worrying about the future, even if in the next moment it is caught and thrown into a sizzling frying pan. For letting itself get caught and preyed upon, who could say that the fish is dumb or less evolved?

In this ephemeral existence we all share, the beasts seem to only care about enjoying their moments. Measured against the human yardstick, their simplicity, their being-in-the-moment-attitude, and their lack of prudence attest to their lower-ranking status. But what if these simple beastly attributes are what they are here for to show the intelligent (sapiens) human (homo)? To take life easy, to enjoy the moment, to act only when urged (or inspired), and to let God/Universe take care of us?

In the end, after all is said and done – humans, animals, plants – we all die. In our short lives, perhaps caring about feeling good (like the animals do) is the most intelligent choice to make after all.

*Ecclesiastes is a very thin chapter in the Bible, which I tried to imbibe after being confronted by Death – the compelling event which had set in motion my very intense search for the meaning of life.