Thursday, November 6, 2014


The dog, considered as "the man's best friend", is not very popular in religions. The Bible is replete with evidence of the low opinion in which the dog was held by Jews and Christians. Muslims too believed the animals frowned upon to keep are dogs as they are unclean. Such condemnation of dogs has been accompanied by the rise of the scavenging pariah-dog who ekes out its miserable life in the street. But there is a certain field of the very special boundary when we see an exception in many cultures.
In many myths, the dog has been a messenger between life and death, between the higher and infernal powers,  between the gods and man. For example, the ancient Egyptians worshiped the god Anubis, the judge and lord of the afterlife.
 The ancient Greeks revered dogs as messengers of gods or even demigods. In Greco-Roman mythology, the terrifying Cerebrus was a three-headed dog who guarded the gates of Hades. To the Egyptians and the Greeks the dog was esteemed as a companion of Hermes, who is both messenger and presiding deity of the mind and goes about accompanied by his faithful dog, Sirius, the all-seeing vigilance.
If the dog is a guide to the realm of the dead, it is also a keeper of the boundary between the two worlds. A companion in life, it continues to be such in death and so weaves the two together in a pattern of perpetual coming and going, a continual design of birth, death and rebirth.
Painting by John Emms
 In Christianity, Saint Guinefort, who was never officially recognized, was a greyhound that received local veneration as a saint after miracles at his grave. In fact, this loyal beast had slain a deadly viper that threatened the infant. In other interesting case, Saint Christopher is said to have come from the dog-headed tribe, where he was a cannibal and a barbarian, until he was redeemed, becoming an ascetic "athelete of God."
 In Muslim culture, despite the discourses about dog's purity, Ibn Al-Marzuban wrote a fascinating treatise titled, The Book of the Superiority of Dogs Over Many of Those Who Wear Clothes, which contrasts the loyalty and faithfulness of dogs to the treachery and fickleness of human beings. Or Ali ebn Abi Taleb, the seminal figure of Sufism has written: Happy is the one who leads the life of a dog! For the dog has ten characteristics which every believer should possess. First, the dog has no status among creatures; second, the dog is a pauper having no worldly goods; third, the entire earth is his resting place; fourth, the dog goes hungry most of the time; fifth, the dog will not leave his master’s door even after having received a hundred lashes; sixth, he protects his master and his friend, and when someone approaches he will attack the foe and let the friend pass; seventh, he guards his master by night, never sleeping; eight, he performs most of his duties silently; ninth, he is content with whatever his master gives him; and tenth, when he dies, he leaves no inheritance.
And in Hinduism, there are many images of dogs or shvan. The Apsara of Indra is named Sarama, and it is mentioned in the Rig Veda. Its offspring became the watch dog of Yama. Deities like Rudra, Nirriti, Virabhadra, Khandoba and Dattatreya have these companions. And certainly, Shiva, in his aspect as Bhairava, had a dog as a vahana.
One of the strongest and unexpected images of the dog in Hinduism is the episode from Mahabharata when Yudhisthir confronts Indra's divinity with his own humanity and is ready to forsake entry into heaven for the sake of a dog. I like very much this supremely beautiful moment, therefore I will remind it a little. So, Indra invites Yudhisthira. But he replied:
"The dog must come with me".
"That is not possible," said Indra, - "All cannot attain heaven. The dog is old and thin and has no value."
"In that case, I do not seek heaven,"- said Yudhisthira, - "The dog was my faithful companion and I cannot abandon it. It sought my help and gave me unconditional love. The pleasures of heaven will mean nothing to me in comparison to its grief. It has done nothing to deserve abandonment and had none of the weaknesses of my wife and brothers. If it does not deserve to go to heaven, then neither do I." And so he turned back.
"Stop!" - cried Indra, - "None have the qualities that you possess, O Yudhisthira! The dog is Dharma, from whom you have descended!" And indeed, the dog had transformed into the God of Dharma and blessed Yudhisthira for his complete lack of selfishness and dedication to righteousness in all circumstances.
Thus, the dog can represent the divine law also. But I think, the main thing is one essential quality. As guide or witness or guardian, the dog seems to exemplify supreme fidelity. The dog's faith has as its object his Master. This love seeks no recompense but has the power to uplift both lover and beloved and deeply move the hearts of other human beings. People of all ages and times have wondered to see its unsullied manifestation in a creature humbler than themselves.  Probably, it is a good example to all of us. Not just by sight or smell but by intense love for a beloved, the dog is guided home. Man also goes to a very long journey to his spiritual abode. And love and faith becomes in man the guide through the intangible realms leading to his spiritual home.
So, ask yourself a zen-question "Does a dog have Buddha nature or not?"

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