They say everyone we come across in our lifetimes has something to teach us. But what about animals? They too are reflections of the same Divine Atma and don’t come into our lives by accident.
I used to think my dogs were here to teach me about loyalty. Their effervescent joy at being with those they love, their gratitude, their empathy with others, all seem divine qualities in themselves and worthy of emulating. I thought they were teaching me patience and tolerance as well, since their mischievous and sometimes destructive antics mean lots of cleaning up, and expensive repairs. I thought they were providing an exercise in humility, because whether they vomit all over my rugs, or eat the wrong thing and have loose stools all over the yard, I clean up after them without complaint and without a murmur. Every few days I set out bucket in hand and pooper scooper ready to clean the yard, proud of filling the bucket and clearing the lawn each time. Not once do I get angry at having to perform this unpleasant task, or feel unappreciated or accuse them of making my life miserable.
But lately, as we go through the Gita, I realize my dogs are here to teach me something much more valuable than merely tolerance or humility. My dogs are here to give me a glimpse of what I am striving for with all my satsang and sadhana and meditation: the sheer bliss of the Atmic state.
The Gita says we need to counter anger with love. But the common conception of love, whether for our spouses or for our children is entwined with expectations, which breed disappointment when unfulfilled, and result in anger and frustration when unresolved. No, that kind of love doesn’t counter anger, it is often the most likely cause. So what exactly does the Gita mean by love?
And then it hit me. The love I feel for my dogs, the kind of pure unadulterated unconditional love that allows me to wake up each morning no matter how tired or cranky or busy, and smile spontaneously at their waiting faces, feed them with joy, play with them in order to make them happy, comfort them with cuddles, and always treat them with unfailing compassion and kindness, is the kind of love that creates pure bliss. Because in that love there is absolutely no expectation. It is love for love’s sake. I don’t wake up each morning setting out to fix their flaws, or to train them out of some behavior, or to change their personalities. Instead, I accept them just as they are, flawed and imperfect and absolutely beautiful. I don’t merely tolerate their antics, I take joy in them.
And yet, and this is supremely important, I am not passionately attached, but compassionately detached. Despite my love for them, I know that they are here for a limited time, I know their lives are fragile and short, and that they will pass sooner or later from some cause or the other, as we all must. I know they are merely visitors in my life, here for a brief moment, sharing their love and accepting mine. And I accept their transitory presence. And that is why I am able to experience such joy. Where there is no desperate attachment, there is no fear. Where there is no fear, there is peace. And where there is peace, there is the capacity to love fully.
This is what my dogs are here to teach me. An incredible lesson. How blessed am I to be able to experience divine bliss right here, right now! This tiny taste is a privilege and allows me to see what life could be like, if I were able to love all beings in the same way. If I could let go of my expectations of everyone around me, if I could marvel at their uniqueness and accept and love them with all their flaws, if I could accept their transitory nature and fully enjoy the shared journey, I am sure my heart would overflow with unmitigated bliss. And I am sure that everyone around me would feel equally blissful, having been released from the burden of my expectations and having been accepted just as they are.
When my husband forgets to put the garbage out, or when my son prefers texting me to speaking on the phone, when my parents or my friends annoy or disappoint me in some way, I need to remember how accepting I am of my furry friends and their charming foibles. When I am upset that despite all the work I do around the house, I get no appreciation, or that I am stuck with chores I feel are beneath me, I need to think of that pooper scooper and how willingly and cheerfully I perform my duties when my love is unconditional. When I am feeling down because I see family rarely, or my only child is moving far away, I need to recall the transitory nature of everyone in my life, to truly cherish the moments I have with them, but be able to compassionately detach when we are apart.
It just goes to show that no creature great or small is without purpose and no interaction without meaning. Having understood the nature of my relationship with my dogs, my goal going forward is to face the world with the same humility, joy, love and compassion I have until now reserved just for them. They are here to show me what Divine Love feels like, and for that, I am forever grateful.