Fur and Feathers and Other Sentient Beings
The personality of the household cat may vary from aloof, demanding, comfort loving, happy to be cuddled one minute, and then prone to raking your skin with sharp claws the next. Dogs may destroy gardens and furniture, lick away their owner’s salty tears when they sense sadness, and fiercely guard their humans and their property. The one constant is that they are Dharma lessons in the making. Here are seven stories of precious pets and animal friends from Mandala readers .
Story 1: Tale of a tongue
In 1997, my wife Tanya and I had just come back to London from a Buddhist pilgrimage in India, after attending the first big inauguration puja for the Maitreya Project in Bodhgaya. With two boys [from a former marriage] arriving from Spain, we became a standard family with a house, garden, car, and what was missing? Yep, you got it – a dog.
My wife’s niece was fostering several rescued dogs, and when cheeky, farty little three-month-old Bruno just sat himself down on Tanya’s lap, the kids promised they would take care of him. (Warning to parents: if you believe that kind of promise, you’d better believe pigs can fly!) Anyway, we took Bruno home and from the beginning, he was a naughty, mischievous, alert character, playing around with everybody in the house and park.
When he was six months old, Tanya was taking him for his usual morning walk on the lead. A neighbour’s Boxer dog ran across the street and attacked Bruno, biting his tongue out. My wife was screaming, terrified, but it all happened in an instant.
Bruno was bleeding badly when Tanya took him to the vet. When I arrived they were already operating on him; however, they did not have much hope, as they didn’t know how he was going to eat and, more importantly, drink. Bruno had always had a good appetite so eating, although messy, was not a problem, but he was not drinking. The compassionate vet gave us just a few days to come up with a solution, otherwise he would have to put Bruno to sleep.
Over the next few weeks we experimented with food and water; Tanya bought cooking gelatine to jellify the water so that he could get water that way. Then one day at a puppy training session a trainer walked past with a bowl of water. Bruno went straight up to her – and started drinking water for the first time in months. Everyone watched, speechless, in amazement: It was an extraordinary moment.
Years passed, the children left for the States, we decided to sell the house in England, buy something in Spain to rent, and carry on with our life in India, or basically anywhere. Yes, but what about Bruno? He was not only part of the family, but a mother sentient being.
When he first came to live with us, he was insisting he was one of my many friends who had died prematurely due to drugs or accidents; later he changed that version, to say that Guru Vajradhara can take any form needed to subdue beings. Lately, he is asserting that he is a manifestation of Maitreya Buddha so that we can develop loving-kindness: So you see, we have here quite a dilemma. Who is having a dog’s life?
For the last eight years, our life has revolved around this handsome, cinnamon-colored, forty kilogram crossbreed. The furniture in the house has to be placed strategically so that he does not jump through windows or French doors whenever he sees a cat or a fox in the garden, not to mention squirrels. We cannot stay after work for a drink with friends because the dog has been alone all day by himself; we must budget for a dog carer or residential kennels when we go on holiday; and eventually, we got a caravan so that the dog always has a place with us, regardless of where we go.
Is this bodhichitta? I do not think so. Is this attachment? Perhaps. Is this loving-kindness? Well . I remember when in 1977 Lama Yeshe sent me from Kopan Monastery to give an introductory Buddhist course in Spain, before he and Lama Zopa Rinpoche arrived in Ibiza for the first time. I phoned him at Manjushri Institute in England to say that only one person had enrolled in my course and should I drop it? The answer came first as an OMMMMMM … then he said, “That’s fantastic! If you can help just one sentient being out of suffering, that’s a life well used, goodbye.”
Next stop for us is India. We do not think it would be fair to take Bruno there for his well being, so if any kind bodhisattva would like to take on a dog’s life, please let us know. We can deliver to any part of the world (he has his own European passport).
—Antonio Pascual email@example.com
Story 2: The taming of Mala
In 2004, I “liberated” a cat from the Pound. This large tabby (weight 7kgs) had been captured after four or so years as a feral animal. She was so violent that the vets at the Pound could not medicate her or treat her illnesses. It also meant that she could not be “adopted” out to a new owner.
So, for about six months, this cat was confined to her cage, spitting and attacking anyone who approached her. As time passed, and more cages were needed, she was the next on the list to be put down by lethal injection.
When I arrived at the Pound, I asked to see an older cat that nobody wanted. I was shown several cats, but I wanted to know more about this large tabby languishing in the corner of its cage. The staff told me about her violent nature.
I walked over, put my hand to the cage and began quietly reciting mantras. I’m sure the staff thought I was crazy – this bloke in a red dress (I did explain that I was a Buddhist monk) singing to a violent, feral cat. To everyone’s amazement, including mine, she walked over, and began mewing and rubbing her side against my hand.
Despite the warnings, I “adopted” the cat whom I named “Mala.” Since Mala has been living at our Chengawa Buddhist Centre [in Canberra, Australia], she is completely transformed. Mala almost always joins us in the gompa for meditation evenings, settling herself down in front of the altar, crossing her paws and purring quietly.
In 2005, we were fortunate to have a weekend visit from Geshe Thubten Dawa who kindly conferred the Vajrasattva Initiation. Mala just wouldn’t leave Geshe-la’s side. After we set up Geshe-la’s teaching throne, Mala insisted on sitting at its base, then moving to its cushion. She insisted on sleeping at the foot of Geshe-la’s bed, and took to following him through the house. During the weekend initiation, Mala sat at strict attention next to Geshe-la’s teaching throne. Geshe-la just adored Mala, declaring her to be a “Gompa Cat.”
These days, Mala faithfully attends every meditation and teaching session; making sure that she has a front row position. However, she still finds it difficult to control herself outside the house. So we go out into the backyard on supervised visits. Most of the time, Mala is content to leave the birds, butterflies, and insects alone and to sit with me in the sun listening to Dharma teachings on my MP3 player. She is a little treasure!
—Ven. Alex Bruce (Losang Tenpa)