Dialogue between a little dog named Zap and myself or Zen Buddhism in a nutshell.
Zap is our adorable 8 years old sixteen pounds male Shih Tzu dog. Zap is a very smart and very happy little dog wagging his tail almost all the time even during the night (probably having nice dog dreams).
One may wonder why this little animal is always so happy despite the fact that Zap does not have money, a 10,000 sq ft house and 2 luxuries SUV’s. He does not have a lovely spouse, kids, family, friends, girlfriend, powerful job and a lot of control, fame and material wealth. Zap does not have a Rolex watch, a health club, a golf club, four platinum credit cards, two computers, one Smartphone, $3,000 suits, thirty two ties, two 110 in flat TV’s with 1,200 channels, a condo in Florida and a cottage somewhere. Zap never goes to a five stars restaurant; he always eats the same thing at the same place. He never travels first class around the world three times a year to get excited about new surroundings and to avoid boredom.
Zap is not on a power trip or ego trip and he is not a control freak. He has no ambitions, no expectations except of course getting love, having daily food and going out for pee. He does not have hobbies such as reading, writing, cooking, gardening, listening to music, going the movies and sport events, playing cards or surfing the Net. Zap does not have a Facebook or a Twitter account and he is not interested in being friend with powerful and well-known dogs to feel good and proud about him. Zap respects other dogs even if they do not have the same color or bark the same way. He regards any living species as equal and respects them. Zap reveres his environment and never tries to destroy it for his own needs and pleasure. He does not worship any God in order to get protection, recognition, forgiveness and feeling good about himself. No self-complacency, no self-righteousness, no hatred or condescending towards other dogs’ beliefs.
During most of the day Zap will sit still for few hours in front of our back door looking peacefully at the garden in a sort of meditating state...maybe he is meditating.
I could not understand Zap ongoing happiness so, one morning, I took him for a one-on-one chat and asked him:
“Zap tells me how can you be so happy and serene all the time”?
Zap could not answer verbally but he looked at me intensively trying to fulfill my quest. I could perceive in his eyes his compassion. He was thinking how to help me the best he could. His answer- from his eyes - was full of wisdom, logic and common sense.
“It is easy daddy (that’s how Zap is calling me”); listen to me carefully.”
First I am going to give you the keys of my on going dog happiness and serenity then I will tell you why most humans are failing to reach them. I will repeat the key points several times when needed.
The keys to maintain my happiness and serenity are:
1- SHARING LOVE, PROMOTING COMPASSION AND FORGIVENESS:
I am receiving great love from mom and you and I am loving you both of you all the time as much as you love me. To love is to be one with others.
2-TAMING MY EGO-SELF:
If I am excluding natural disasters and diseases most of our suffering and dissatisfaction come from our ego-centred mind producing ongoing desire, hatred, fear, illusion and misunderstanding. As a dog my ego-self is minuscule when compared with humans’ ego so my desires are reduced to love, food, chewing my bone, playing with my red ball, going outside for a pee and a poop and having good sleep. Going to pee outside in a lot of snow when it is very cold and windy is not fun but I am not angry because there is nothing I can do about it. You see dad no anger, no craving, no "I want this or I want that", no anxiety, no dreams and no illusion. No past, no future. Controlling my ego self is best achieved by practicing meditation.
3- PRACTICING MEDITATION:
Quite often you look at me a bit baffled when I am sitting still, looking outside in the garden for hours. You wonder what I am doing. I am meditating daddy by focusing on my breathing. A sound weird and stupid to you isn’t it? Not so. Meditation is essential to achieve serenity and happiness. Meditation means mental focusing on something such as breathing. To focus is to create a mental anchor. This anchor is used to delete incoming thoughts to achieve clear and mind Meditation has been used for thousands years in the Eastern world and now is growing very fast in our Western countries. It is logical, simple, cost nothing but unfortunately requires lot of discipline, perseverance, time commitment and a non-judgmental approach. To meditate, posture is important and many of them can be used: I sit still on the floor or on a chair or I walk slowly.
Sitting still on a cushion placed on the floor is my first choice. Regardless of my posture and after achieving a still body the next step is to stick on my mental focus point, which is my breathing. By focusing on my breathing as mental anchor I am aiming to attain still and clear mind. It takes daily practice to achieve it. This anchor is helping me to control incoming thoughts. As you know daddy our minds produce over 30,000 thoughts continuously but, despite its enormous power, our brain cannot deal with two thoughts at the same time so, during meditation, when a thought is appearing I am mindful to its presence. Having a thought over a thought forces the initial one to disappear. It is like pressing the delete key on your computer. Once the thought is gone I go back to my breathing until the next thought and so on.
Meditation is critical in maintaining clear mind, inner peace and well-being. You see daddy still body brings still mind, still mind brings clear mind and clear mind brings serenity and happiness. No more unnecessary and useless thoughts. During the day I am not trying to think too much unless to make an important decision.
I know that most of my thoughts are unnecessary, just tricks created by my little mind to feed my ego and delude me away from true reality. Thinking too much is like talking too much to us. We are at the same time the talker and the listener; it is non-sense and waste of energy.
Meditation is helping me in keeping my mind as clear as crystal water. As I said earlier my mind is producing thoughts continuously like the kidneys produce urine but I am trying not to believe in all of them since most of them are deceptive.
Finally meditation is helping me in using my mind like a mirror: The mind should reflect things as they are without judgment and not as I want them to be. Life, animals, humans and events are just what they are, nothing more nothing less.
In summary meditation is helping me and my friends to:
- Develop, maintain and control a quiet and clear mind free from my ego-centered thoughts.
- Discover the wonders of my inner self to achieve peace within and to help others.
- Control my ego-self main source of dissatisfaction, anger, fear, illusion and uncertainty.
- Become mindful to the present moment, to my thoughts, senses, activities and environment moment to moment.
- Using my mind like a mirror reflecting things as they are since judging everything is a waste of energy and believing that we can control them all the time is profound arrogance and stupidity. In fact we are controlling only a very tiny part of our life.
4- PRACTICING MINDFULNESS:
To be mindful is to pay attention, to be aware, to focus to something without any judgment or decision.
To what am I mindful you may ask? To everything outside and inside self.
a - Mindful the present moment:
I am living moment to moment with no nostalgia of my past nor hope or worry for my future since both of them are, in fact, just concepts like time. They are very useful in our day-to-day life but they do not exist except in our mind.
Here is a practical example daddy: few years ago in the prestigious University of Cambridge very clever astrophysicists were explaining to the Dalai Lama that the Big Bang was the beginning of the Universe. As you know the Dalai Lama loves to study and talk about mathematics and astrophysics. At the end of the power point presentation the Dalai Lama asked them with his usual gentle smile: ” Ok, ok but what was before your Big Bang? Where all this energy is coming from? The Big bang cannot start from nothing? Surely there is something before it to trigger this huge explosion.”
The Nobel Price recipients were surprised and could not answer him not only because they did not think about it but also because past, future, beginning and end are just concepts and tools to make our life easier. Daddy, keep in mind that Nature is just a continuous phenomenon without beginning or end sort of perpetual circle. Time, beginnings and ends are very useful in our daily fife but they are just human’s mathematical inventions for the purpose of convenience. We cannot function without them. Here is an analogy daddy: when we say that the wave rolls and dies on the shore we are right and wrong since the wave “died “ but the water remains “alive”. It just takes a different form.
b - Mindful to my thoughts:
Like in meditation, being mindful to a thought is like having one thought on the top of the other. Since our mind cannot handle two thoughts at the same time the initial one can be deleted immediately rather than been carried for hours and be slave of it.
Mindful to what I do, see, hear, touch, taste and smell.
Mindful to my environment and all living creatures.
5- UNDERSTANDING TWO FUNDAMENTAL REALITIES:
Am I pessimistic by saying that everything is transient? Not at all, I am just realistic and all of us should accept and behave accordingly. You, the cat, the trees, the sun, the good, the bad things and me do not last; they simply change in form all the time. We are just transient manifestation. Change is an absolute necessity to bring life to any living things and to promote evolution. If an acorn remains an acorn the oak tree will never grow; if my dad sperm remains a sperm I will be not were born. Believing that everything will last is one of your greatest illusions.
Nothing has a separate, independent, self-entity. A sheet of paper will not exist without the tree, the sunlight and energy, the soil, the air, the paper mill. You see, daddy, all living creatures are transient and all living creatures are related, compounded and dependent to each other’s and to our environment. With the risk of repeating myself you and I cannot survive without the oxygen of the trees, the food of the soil or the heat from the sun. You see daddy you, all living beings and I are, at the same time, part and result of the Universe. This is our common True Nature.
6- RESPECTING ALL LIVING CREATURES & THEIR ENVIRONMENT:
I am revering everything around me including your little cat. I am not judging living things nor react emotionally to them. When you or mom is upset at me because I made a mistake I am not mad at you since I know you love me anyway. To be angry is, in fact, a reaction of our ego, mine is too small for that.
7- CONTROLLING MY DESIRES: I WANT THIS! I WANT THAT! I WANT IT NOW!
Not being greedy about money, power and fame. Having no money I am not trying to buy happiness with it nor become wealthy. It is even worse when this money is borrowed like humans do. Happiness is not outside me and cannot be bought. True happiness can always be found only by digging within our own self if one is willing to look for it. It requires a lot of practice. This inside happiness and serenity is part of my True Nature.
8- MAINTAINING ETHICAL BEHAVIOR (In familial, social and professional situations)
Since I am prevented from talking and writing I cannot use bad words to offend others. Words and water are sharing the same trap: easy to pour impossible to retrieve. I am also behaving properly with everything around me.
NOW DADDY I WOULD LIKE TO TALK ABOUT HUMANS:
Most of you have great difficulty in achieving ongoing happiness and serenity in your life despite getting everything you are looking for. Think about this important question: Why is there is so much dissatisfaction, suffering, anger, fear, frustration, jealousy, violence, wars in your species over the last 1,500,000 years or so? Because humans are, above all, slave of their powerful ego-self.
1) YOU HAVE DIFFICULTY IN CONTROLLING YOUR EGO-SELF CENTERED MIND:
We, animals, are puzzled to see how humans – despite their so called intelligence - are so deluded by their deceptive ego-self, their materialistic, self-centered and hedonist society. Humans believe that they are the smartest specie on Earth because of their technological achievements but are they the happiest one? Ask your psychiatrists. Their waiting rooms are full.
As I said before one of the main causes of human dissatisfaction and suffering is your ego-self centered mind. You see the main purpose of your mind is not just to think and analyze but mainly to feed our ego-self that is I… me… my…. myself. Your ego-self has big appetite and to make sure that it will succeed without interference your mind is working at your sub-conscious level meaning that people do not realize it.
If I am asking you “Who or what are you?” and, in your answer, you are forbidden to use anything related to yourself you will not be able to give an answer because of the phenomenal control of your ego-self on your thinking. What you are is not what you think you are since what you really are is beyond thinking.
Your ego-self is the source of your desires, hate, self-centered power trip, self- righteousness and never ended material quest; all of them causing suffering, dissatisfaction, frustration, fear and worries. Don’t forget that desires bring more and more frustration since desires are endless and external happiness is transient.
“Success is not happiness, happiness is success said the Buddha.”
Trying to fulfill all your desires all the time during your life is impossible, frustrating and silly since life does not have any specific agenda for you.
So, how can you deal with your self-centered mind? By practicing meditation. Did you realize that human mind produces over 30,000 thoughts every day? Thinking is necessary to analyze and make decision but most of your thoughts are useless and somewhat deceptive since they are tools to feed your ego self. The practice of meditation is the key to learn how to become mindful to your unnecessary thoughts and to get rid off them. As I said meditation is a simple exercise of mental concentration on a specific focus point nothing else nothing more. Meditation is the most powerful weapon you have to clear your mind from unnecessary thoughts, ideas, worries and expectations. Daddy, try this little trick: be mindful of your thoughts, assess them by asking, “how useful this thought is?”. Then deleted it if useless. Also do not believe in all your incoming thoughts.
So your ego-self producing desire, anger and illusion is the main factor of dissatisfaction and suffering
2) DIFFICULTY TO REALIZE THAT:
b - Everything is interrelated without a separate independent self-entity. Nothing is separated, nothing is independent, and nothing is in control. Again remember this. All living creatures are dependent of their environment to be born and to survive and are part of it. Thinking otherwise is a pretentious illusion created by your ego-self trying to fool you.
3 - YOU HAVE DIFICULTY TO BE MINDFUL:
Again, being mindful is to pay attention on something without judging and without decision. To what am I mindful?
a - Being mindful to the present moment that is NOW:
Did you realize that most of your thoughts are glued in the past or trapped in the future without paying too much attention at the current moment? This is a big mistake also born from your deceptive mind. So, daddy, try to be mindful to the present moment since the present is the only concrete reality. Past is dead and future is not born.
b - Being mindful to your incoming thoughts:
When a thought is popping up be mindful to it. Since dealing with two thoughts at once is impossible it is easy to let go the first one and go back to what you are doing.
c- Being mindful to your actions: what you do, see, hear, touch, smell, and taste.
d - Being mindful to your environment and all beings.
Being mindful is, in fact, a form of ongoing meditation helping us to filter and deflect our thoughts. When you eat just eat, when you drive just drive, when you workout just workout and always try to delete ongoing unnecessary thoughts.
DAD…… HERE IS A WONDERFUL STORY
Around 2,500 years ago Siddhartha Gautama a.k.a the Buddha (the awakened one) taught the following that I am paraphrasing since - as a dog - I am not good in translating Sanskrit or Pali:
1 - All needs are endless and therefore never satisfied. Success does not bring happiness since happiness is success. Happiness is not how much you have but how little you need”.
2 - “The secret of health for both your Mind and Body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly”
3 - While lying down waiting peacefully for his death Buddha was watching his beloved servant called Cunda preparing mushrooms the Buddha’s favorite food. Cunda came to him and asked:
“Dear Teacher what was your most important message during your 50 years teaching that your followers must remember”? Without hesitation Buddha replied:
“All things are ephemeral, work hard within yourself to achieve salvation”
They were his last words. He died at 80 years old or so, probably around 483 BCE.
You see daddy the keys words here are inside and salvation. Salvation like happiness is found inside self not outside and meditation will bring you to them. Salvation is to be free from our own ego-self; but it is not an easy task to achieve. However when you achieve it after long practice you become “awakened” meaning “aware of“ like the Buddha was. It means you have discovered your True Nature. There is nothing in the Universe, which is not part of you.
It is called Enlightenment a big word to describe no attachments, no hatred, and no illusion. It means your mind is clear like a mirror reflecting things as they are and not as you want them to be. Inner peace is achieved with no illusion, no fear, no worries. You become one with the Universe.
In summary daddy the secret about dog’s happiness can be summarized in the following ten points already mentioned before:
- Sharing love with everyone: no hatred, jealousy and fear.
- Controlling of my ego-self centered mind and its traps such as desire, anger and ignorance (illusion) all of them causing dissatisfaction, worries and suffering.
- Daily practice of meditation to tame and clear my self-centered mind.
- Learning to be mindful all the time: present, thoughts, actions, and environment.
- Being respectful to all living creatures and their environment.
- Maintaining ethical familial, social and professional behavior.
By the way daddy you can also join a Zen Buddhist Temple and listen to the Buddhist teaching called Dharma. Finally you may try to solve a koan given by your Zen teacher.
My little dog looked at me in the eyes while wagging his tail. He was happy in helping me.
I was amazed and puzzled by Zap’s knowledge about Buddha and his teaching. His answer was so profound and yet logical and simple. How can one explain his insight about Buddhist philosophy? Where and how did he learn it? Then I realized that this breed of dog originated from Tibet around 2,700 years ago. Maybe at this time some Shih Tzu have been listening live to the Buddha who was living and teaching nearby at the border with current Nepal.
Zap ancestors have probably transmitted Buddhism wisdom and the Dharma to the next generations of Shih Tzu up until now including Zap. Maybe our little dog is enlightened?
Now I consider Zap as part of my Sangha (Buddhist community). I should call him Zap Sunim meaning teacher and learn more from his love, serenity, wisdom and compassion.
I expressed my deepest thanks and respect to my little dog while watching his happiness and learning from his love and wisdom
Ven. Ji Gong Sunim.
He took the Buddhist Precepts in 2006. He is currently practicing at the Awakened Meditation Centre (9 Mountains Zen Gates Toronto Ontario Canada) under the supervision of Most Venerable Zen Master Sunim Hwasun Yangil from Korea. He received from Sunim the Transmissions in 2013 with the title of Dharma teacher.
Married for 44 years with Catherine and father of two boys. He is a cardiac surgeon and critical care specialist He is also teaching mindfulness meditation.