Archive for November, 2008


The Dog in Buddhism

The Guilty Dogs

One evening, after the king had spent the day traveling in his
magnificent carriage, the three pairs of horses were led back to the stables to
be fed and watered, but through some oversight the vehicle was left untended in
the courtyard.

During the night it rained, and the fine leather harnesses were
softened and began to exude a spicy, powdery odour that proved irresistible to
the palace dogs.   They tugged and gnawed, and scrabbled and chewed,
and when just a faint glow appeared on the eastern horizon, they tip-toed away
to curl up in their usual places.

In the morning, the syces and stablemen could not believe their
eyes.  With cold feet and trembling hands, they went to tell the king. 

The king was furious. 

We do not know how the people responsible were punished, but we
do know  that he called for the death of every single dog in the vicinity.

All the dogs in the city, pets and pye dogs alike, knew what
would be the consequence of the actions of the royal hounds (all but the very
youngest ones) and so they fled to the outskirts to join the packs that lurked
in the woods.  At any moment, they expected the king’s enforcers to come
and exterminate every one of them for something they had had no paw in. 

The lead dog who, it is believed, was the Buddha in a previous
lifetime, put his own fear aside, and calmly and with great dignity, went to
talk to the king. He was so imposing that the guards made no move against him.

As he approached, the king asked, "How is it that you are still

The great dog prostrated his head on the carpet between his
paws, rose again and replied, " I have come on a mission of mercy, your
Highness. "Why are you determined to put to death every dog in the kingdom? 
It is not possible that they all had a bite of the royal livery.  There is
certainly not enough leather on six bridles and harnesses for every single dog

The king replied, "Dogs chew royal property; dogs die." 

"Highness, you have always been a most just ruler.  The
guilty ones deserve a punishment, that is true.  Which dogs did the

The noble hound continued, "Maharaj, is it right for all to
suffer for the wrongs of only a few?  Your response to this question will surely cause deep
reflection by those in your own household, not to mention your ministers and
even your many loyal subjects of high and low degree."

After a brief hesitation, the king said, "If you can show me
the guilty parties, I will spare the other animals."

The skillful dog responded, "It is known that dogs will eat
grass to scour their stomachs, therefore, let all the dogs eat kula grass. 
This will make them cough up what is in their bodies, and then we will find the
guilty parties." 

"It seems that most of the dogs have fled," said the king. "Only the
royal hounds remain.  How can royal dogs be compared to common curs?  But
let us see if the kula grass is effective.  We will try it on them 
first, then."

The royal dogs were fed kula grass and lo, and behold, they
coughed it up along with little bits of gilded leather.

The king was amazed, and he reflected on his spontaneous angry
response.   He put an immediate stop to the dog hunt.  He even halted the
destruction of wild dogs (except those known to kill cattle.)  

As their penance, every year the royal dogs had to serve all the
others —  pets, pye dogs and even those that lived in the forest — at a
great feast in the city centre. 

So it happened that a great king learned the virtue of
restraint, justice, courage and compassion from the Tathagata, who in that
lifetime was living in the Animal Realm as a
lead dog.


Asanga and the Dog

Asanga yearned to have direct experience of the future Buddha,
Maitreya. He slowly learned patience through guidance, practice and
extraordinary experience.  Once, after he had been meditating for 12 years,
he left the cave and encountered a poor dog lying ill by the wayside.  It
was near death, its lower body covered with maggot-infested sores. 

His meditations had helped him to develop great compassion, and
so Asanga was moved to ease the animal’s suffering.  Naturally, he thought
of removing the maggots, but he realized that if he did that with his fingers,
he might injure them. (It is important to understand that in
the Buddhist view
— and that of Jains and many other people — there is no
hierarchy in the realms of existence; each
one is a poor  suffering individual like ourselves.) Therefore not to
injure any maggot but yet still relieve the dog, Asanga’s solution was to crouch
down and gently skim off the maggots with his tongue. 

The moment he did that, the dog disappeared and Bodhisattva
Maitreya appeared in its place.  Asanga said, "I have longed to see you all
these many years.  Why have you chosen this moment to appear to me?"

Maitreya replied, "I have always been with you, but before now
you were not able to see me.  It was necessary for you to purify your mind
and develop your compassion sufficiently before it was possible for this to

To demonstrate the truth of what he had just said, the
Bodhisattva whose name is maitri or loyal friend (or,
loving-kindness) asked Asanga to pick him up, put him around his shoulders and
take a stroll through the neighboring village.

Once there, no one noticed anything unusual at all except for
one old woman, who asked, "What are you doing walking around like that with a
sick dog on you?"

Of course, no one saw Maitreya and most noticed nothing out of
the ordinary at all. This tale from the biography of Asanga makes a lesser 
and a greater point:  There is no clean nor unclean, repugnancy comes from
learning.  And more importantly, whatever we experience — all of reality
— depends only on the state of our mind.

Asanga (ca. 300- 370 CE) was a brahmin
from Peshawar, so certainly before he left home, ritual purity was a matter of
great importance to him.  He is considered the founder of the Buddhist
approach called Yogachara, especially the branch known as Chittamatra or Consciousness-Only


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