Thursday, March 23, 2006

Dharma bum

As all dog lovers know, human beings and dogs are particularly well suited to living together. This is because we have many of the same needs for a healthy and happy life: similar foods, clean water, daily play, fresh air and sunshine, safety and a warm bed, love, companionship, approval, work to challenge our bodies and minds, and rewards - a word of praise, a back rub, a cookie - for a job well done. It may be a cliché, but I really am learning a lot about life from my dog.

It's also a cliché - and I have no idea if this is true - that for some traditions espousing reincarnation, the highest animal form a soul can occupy is human. I may have been a newt in my last life, but the only way I'll be a newt again is if I really fuck up this time around. (Again, this may be a strawman conception of reincarnation, but it's a conception that has currency in the popular imagination of the U.S., at least). I don't see any good evidence, however, that humans are further along the journey to enlightenment than other animals. That looks like blatant androcentrism. In fact, in the case of my dog, whereas I may be more intelligent than he, I suspect he is the more enlightened one.

The official Christian line is at best agnostic about whether or not dogs have souls, whether they can be saved, and hence whether they go to heaven. From a purely androcentric point of view, a lot of us believe that if there ain't dogs in heaven, then it ain't heaven. But disavowal of the androcentric point of view is one of the reasons I left Christianity for Wicca. My dog is far more deserving of heaven than I am. (And yes, I know that Christianity isn't supposed to be about who deserves to get into heaven.)

My dog, Lugh, is my dharma teacher. It's a cute idea, but I mean it seriously. For example, this past weekend we were walking in Prospect Park. Lugh ardently pulled on the leash in his excitement to get to the place where we run off-leash with the other dogs. The pulling looked like it hurt him, as his neck strained forward in his collar and he gasped for air. I said to my partner, "Lugh doesn't realize that life would be so much easier and less painful if he just gave up the struggle. We would arrive at the same place at roughly the same time. It's the struggle that's hurting him."

I've been thinking about that ever since.


Spicy Cauldron said...

As you'll no doubt know, I'm a fixed-in-my-ways cat person. Bast blesses our home. Right now, with my boyfriend away because of work, I am constantly ganged up on by our feline chums. This article of yours, though, I found absolutely fascinating. Thanks for writing it. I believe soul equates to energy and beyond that, I am open to ideas - but it means that I believe all living creatures, from single cell organisms upwards, have souls - the sparks of life. I also think it follows that reincarnation makes a lot of sense. Everything else in the universe is recycled, nothing is wasted, so why not soul energy?

Whether or not we cross species when our energies continue beyond death, that's an interesting and of course unanswerable question. As is whether personality survives or is merely the vehicle in our current life by which our soul learns ahead of the next one. I have a theory that our personalities, which we hold to dearly, are transient - tools for the soul to learn with, then absorb in death and rechannel in entirely new directions. x

Spicy Cauldron said...

PS Any chance you can update your blogroll link to my site from the old Blogger one to my shiny (relatively new) one at x

Inanna said...

Spicy - blogroll duly updated. I don't know how I missed it before! I had updated my Bloglines subscription.

I like your theories. I've been thinking a lot lately about souls, bodies, death, reincarnation, spirit, etc. I love to hear what people believe. I especially like the idea that the personality, like the body, is something transient, a vehicle for the soul to "embody" and enliven for its journey on earth, then dissolving as the soul continues on its way after physical death. I'm not quite sure how that fits with my sense that our beloved dead remain with us throughout our lives - perhaps the personality doesn't leave the soul immediately with the body, or perhaps what remains with us is the dead's pure soul, pure Oneness?

Thank you for your comments.