the calligraphy of leashes

Leash1When I posted a picture of the puppies, a friend of mine commented that she liked the “calligraphy of the leashes.”  Earlier that day in sangha, we had entertained questions about the necessity of having a formal teacher.  I’m not sure I de-mystified any aspect of the questions yet somehow the elegance of my friend’s comment seems to be the perfect answer.

As the intense relationship of being a puppy parent unfolds, I’m learning that there is as deep a mystery about leashes as there is about calligraphy.  Similar to “bone” which connotes a strong connection in a calligraphic line, the leash has a dynamic power that expresses the relationship between two endpoints.  

The teacher-student relationship is no different.  In practice, all dharmas are our teacher however we risk using that to justify meandering from this person to that, this sangha to the other.  It’s easy to reject a flesh-and-blood teacher and claim that as an enlightened practice, not being caught in form or transcending the need for any Buddhas we meet on the road.  I don’t doubt that there are some practitioners who are blessed with the capacity to live such a life free of the teacher-form.  I do doubt that there are many who can.  (In fact, when we reject the value of a teacher-student relationship from this fear base, we become more vulnerable to the tricksters and charlatans who feed our neediness and desire to be elevated.)

The question of whether it’s necessary to commit to a teacher in some formal way is a trick.  It’s many tricks.  It’s a way of asking for approval to continue an illusion of freedom.  It’s a way of asking for validation to avoid a necessary mirror of practice.  It’s a way of expressing our fear that we would be found unworthy, unwanted and undeveloped.  While there are ways of being that are unworthy of our true nature and unwanted aspects of who we can be, it’s a good start into the koan of relationships to see that we are undeveloped.  But not undevelop-able.

Hence the leash – that inexpressible mirror of the relationship between a steady solid point and an irrepressible desire for everything that passes by.

The real question then is not about the necessity of a teacher but the need for a commitment to a relationship that might flow in a variety of calligraphic lines.  This is where our fears surge; entering relationship is in our ego-driven minds akin to being restricted, limited.  And yet.  What is there that is not relational?  When are we not one end of a line?  Sometimes those lines are taut and heavy, sometimes they flow with ease and elegance.  At all times the line is an expression of the quality of mind, of a connection that can grow in disciplined progression to liberation from that fear of being held back.

the vulnerability of sentients

Two new Zen Masters came to town last Saturday. They are Kazuo and Yuki of Imminent Death School of Canine Zen.

Photo courtesy of Friendly Giants Dog Rescue

Along with their three siblings, Kaz and Yuki (originally named Riggs and Riley) were slated for being gassed to death at a kill shelter north of Montreal.  I can’t quite get my head around the oxymoron of putting the words kill and shelter side by side but there you have it.  With 24 hours to extermination, Friendly Giants Dog Rescue managed to “pull” them from the shelter by convincing the shelter the pups would be picked up 48 hrs past their expiration date.  FGDR is a non-profit community of people who care deeply about the abandonment, neglect and rate of kill in shelters where pets or progeny of unexpected encounters between non-neutered/spayed dogs are frequently abandoned.

I don’t know how they do it.  I can’t even watch Hollywood-whitewashed movies about animals without dissolving into a blubbering mess.  And the Japanese original version of the story of Hachiko?  Let’s just say I refused to re-name Riggs as Hachiko or even Hachiro because I’d end up sobbing if anyone asked me what it meant.  So I designed a psychological hardening program that had me lurking on various dog rescue facebook sites.  For a while it all showed up on my new stream but that was too much like flooding myself into empathy overload.  So I made a vow each morning to check in on each site and just bear witness for a few months.

There is something about the vulnerable sentients that should pierce into each of our hearts.  It should activate and energize stepping into this cycle of life and death.  But there are so many and Frank tries to reassure me that not all can be saved.  To which I counter, why not?  And the deeper question is how?  How can we save all beings without frying our empathy circuits and frazzling our compassion networks?

Bernie Glassman is fond of pointing out that unless we take the time to bear witness and sit with not knowing, compassionate action is not possible.  It will not arise; instead what arises is ego-ladened and more likely to do harm than good.

And so it happened, one day, quietly, without fanfare.  I sent an email asking about Riggs.  The adoption form seemed to fill itself and the background check (yes they are that thorough) didn’t reveal that I once had to have rabies shots.  (Not to worry; no one I’ve ever bitten has hung around to complain.)  We made all the arrangements and the boys arrived last Saturday.

Yes.  The Boys.  Plural.  I have no excuse other than to say the idea of being alone, without companionship, pierces more than the idea of physical death.

Meet Kazuo:                                                                                        And Yuki:

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It’s quite the challenge to take on two 12-week old puppies of uncertain lineage – other than Large or Giant.  And apparently, our home is not quite puppy-proof; at least the boot rack and boots aren’t.  However, we seem to have fallen into a sesshin-like schedule and there is something powerful that arises when our focus is beyond our self-weighted needs.

These little guys have taught me a lot in the last seven days of Puppy Sesshin: Entering the heart of equanimity and harmony.  I’ll do  my best to transcribe their talks (played on souped-up woofers) and pass them along for your enlightenment.

In the meantime, enjoy the fur creatures in your life.  Oh and… get over to the various dog/cat/rat/all beings large and small rescues to help, donate, offer your professional services.  Whatever you have.  It all counts.  And it all matters.