Can dogs walk with us on the path to enlightenment?
In 2018, about 85 million families in the U.S. owned a pet, 60.2% of which were dogs. Faithful, kind, forgiving; compassionate words associated with dogs. They are the true embodiment of unconditional love — man’s best friend.
However, Buddhists believe dogs also have the potential to become enlightened and can teach us about responsibility, love, and other Buddhist principles.
By Sally Keys
Dogs embody many Buddhist principles
The Buddha taught the principles of Buddhism to help individuals attain a state of enlightenment. Serving as a guide to escape the suffering of Samsara, the principles of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path help free beings of the delusions and attachments of the material world.
Free of materialist thoughts, individuals can begin to understand the ultimate truth. Humans often are associated with being capable of reaching a state of enlightenment.
However, according to the Buddha Dharma, all sentient beings have Buddha nature — from ants to humans. Though we often look at dogs as wonderful companions — a great way to relax with a friend after a long day — beyond that, they can teach us to embrace Buddhist principles. They, themselves, embody many of these principles.
The first Noble Truth is that life is suffering, which is inevitable because of the attachment to materialistic items; only after ceasing attachments, can one stop suffering. One method to overcome these cravings is mindfulness.
When your dog greets you at the door when you arrive home or snuggles next to you on the couch, they are not worried about the future or someone’s opinions — literally, they are mindful in the present moment. Fashion, reputation and possessions are all materialistic affectations to which we humans apply value, preventing us from freeing ourselves from suffering.
Dogs live in the moment. Every moment with their owner is happiness because they are with the person they love unconditionally. They do not complain about their day or when they are in pain. They are greeting you with kisses and tail wags when you come back from work because they feel joy and love. Dogs are grateful for the time you spend with them and are understanding when you do not have time to play. They do not hold resentment when scolded because they do not dwell on the scolding. They live in the happiness of being with their owner — in the mindful, present moment.
Although they are not perfect from a Buddhist perspective, as they are deeply attached to their owners, they live an honest life not guided by expectations, hopes or fears. Dogs live a life of simplicity, sincere in their love for life with their owners. Attachment to the past hinders us with stress, refocusing our energies to the past instead of the present.
Dogs can teach us to live in the moment, a Buddhist principle on the path to an enlightened life. It can be a profound practice to sit or walk mindfully with your dog.
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