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November 21st, 2013

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06:30 pm - Taking a Long Sunny Ride Home

(a series of haibuns about dogs)


"A monk asked the great Zen master Joshu, "Does a dog have Budha nature or not?"Joshu replied, "Mu!"

Mumonkan, Case #1 (+)


They do not move at all when I put on my blue jeans. Sappho blows me off completely, not even looking my way. Miss Molly traces each and every movement of mine with her eyes. Yet neither her head nor her tail moves even a quarter of an inch.

How do they know it's not a trip to the beach? Is this my clothes? Well, sometimes I put on the very same pair of jeans and the very same sweat shirt. Is it a bag with work stuff? Well, it still sitting on the chair and not yet hanging on my shoulder? So, how do they know?

I lock the door, enter the car, start driving. And here they are again staring at the slowly rolling car. They have trained me quite well. So, now I always take a path were they can see me, even if it is a bit off the way. Maybe it will be easier for them to relax when they see me in the car going away

as I leave
she does not even twitch her head
*** busy with her bone

as I leave home
my dogs stay gazing
through the window

A foggy stroll back

Another dawn, another step, another stroll through the fog on the very line of the surf. A jacket on my back for the wind is strong and the clouds heavy with rain. Good for the scorched Texan soil but we do not want a down pour to interrupt our roam too much.

The dogs follow in a perfect pack formation, in a good rhythm, not too fast and not too slow. Sappho on the East side, on the side of the sea. Molly on the dryer West side. Their paws turning around in this ethereal rhythm that inspired someone to paint the yin-yang sign.

They like this weather, too, we all do. It's warm enough to wet a paw and a tail in the surf but not too hot for a long gallop along the shore to chase Sanderlings flying forth and back, disappearing, melting into thick fog.

the morning chant
my sweet Ladies lead me
to a stranded turtle

All of the sudden the sky breaks in half, opens up, and the bright light fills in the world. Yet we do not hear any voices, no one sings soft and uplifting tunes, no mysterious truths are revealed. Just a man and two dogs walking in silence, one foot in the water one foot on the sand

the morning chant
my sweet ladies
lead me to a stranded turtle

the sun breaks the sky
in one

this step by step foggy stroll
through the waves
taking us home

(after Basho)

no one walks
on this empty beach
this hazy morning

Coming Home

When I return home I see the black head of a dog sticking out from between white shades. “Were you there the whole day?”, I think. She is gone, in a moment returns with another dog, her head white, a dark spot on the forehead as if the third eye. They look at me wagging their tails. I pretend I do not see them, do nothing, breathe deeply from my hara, just as I do while doing zazen, the sitting meditation, calm down, and then start climbing the stairs.

Someone scratches the door from inside, I open it, get in, tell them to calm down, too. They do, eventually. I give them a cookie breaking it into small pieces so it lasts longer, sometimes another treat, too. After all, they are my dogs.

And then we go for an off leash roam, straight into the setting sun.

house sparrows
fly off when I leave home
fly off when I return

Does a Have It?

The Buddha Nature! And a dog! Has and has not! And that monk pestering the Master Joshu! Had he ever seen dog playing on the beach, melting into the rising sun? Did he keep his eyes wide open or wide shot? Did he pay attention?

happy dogs playing
and the happy man
watching them play

(+) "Mumonkan" (literally "Gateless Gate") is one of the most important collections of Zen koans. The first case in this collection is "Joshu's dog" that opens this set.

In his response, Joshu says "Wu" (Japanese "Mu"). The character used to denote this term could be literally translate as "no", "not", "nothing", "nonexistence" and so on. So, it appears like the Master denies that a dog has the Buddha Nature.

But sometimes appearances are misleading. The character used to express Joshu's answer is the single most common character in the entire Chinese Buddhist canon. It serves to translate a number of terms which are standard in Indian Buddhism.

Several Mahayana Buddhist sutras (i.e., spoken words of the Buddha) assert that all sentient beings, including animals, possess the Buddha Nature or the capacity for awakening. It looks like the monk relies on this doctrine. Joshu's answer forces him to go beyond doctrinal and intellectual understanding, experience and realize the Buddha Nature, and then express or demonstrate this understanding without relying on wards and doctrines. It is clear that Joshu does not reject the wisdom of sutras but rather only rejects the monk's understanding of this wisdom and relying on doctrinal philosophies.

The case appears one more time in another great collection of Zen koans entitled "Th Book of Serenity" where it goes as follows:

One time a monk asked Joshu, "Does a dog have Buddha-nature or not?"
Joshu repled, "No."
Another time, a monk asked Joshu, "Does a dog have Buddha-nature or not?"
Joshu replied, "Yes."


She's Been Always Funny This Way

We come home, settle down, finish a dinner and a desert. She picks up my scarf, or a French beret, or a glass, or an empty bottle of beer, glances my way as if asking for approval. I say nothing at all, giggle silently, watch her from behind the screen of a computer. She carries it slowly completely focused on her task, step-by-step to her place. Then she stores her newly acquired treasure among the other precious possessions -- missing plates and bowls, knives and beer openers, a zazen-meditation cushion, or a freshly acquired stick of incense. Once I even found there "The Tenor Madness" sign by the maestro Sonny Rollins himself. It was sitting in a pristine condition in the midst of her mat with her white head resting on it. One might think, my dog surely has a good taste in music.

She's been always funny that way, yes, always doing those little things that make the world go around and also make you smile when you return home. Still, thinking about it, if I were not such a mess, maybe I could find easier what I really need

on her bed
wrapped in my sweaty work-out pants
dog’s milk bone

Playing at Home

They play I watch hidden behind the screen of computer. Each and every move of theirs mimics the steps of their dance through the sands waves and sunlight. The match is almost exact except that now it is all happening in a slow mo.

Sappho grabs Molly's neck from behind, Molly spins around, counterattacks, they both roll over, take a pause. Molly grabs Sappho's hind paw. Her bite is gentle, always. Still, I do not like when she makes this very same move in a full gallop on the beach. Maybe I am a bit paranoid. But it is too dangerous, I think.

They wrestle for a while, rest, get bored.

Molly nibbles Sappho's ear, a sure way to start the play anew. So, they start and repeat the entire sequence again as if the great improvisers, adding a new figure, a new variation on the top of another, roll over on their backs with all fours up, wrestle some more, rest, then Molly licks Sappho's face, from outside to inside.

As soon as they notice me, they stop their business, maybe for good, one never knows about the dogs. They glance my way, look at me trying to establish an eye contact... Maybe it is the time to eat? Maybe it is the time to go out? "What would you like to do, Sir?" I almost hear them asking.

Today they are very respectful, somehow sense I am injured, need my rest and space. I did not take a good enough care of my feet, not enough pumice stone and soaking or Crisco, or something. So, the thick skin on the right heel got too dried up by the salt and broke, split deeply into the flesh. Walk is hard so we stay home. Somehow, they understand. They are very quiet.

I thought I'd love one dog
ended up loving them all
why not people?

Falling Asleep

I go to bed. They are with me within a minute or two. Molly on my right, resting her head in the nook of my bent arm, her body curled into my belly. Sappho stretched out on the other side with her tummy up. I scratch it. She murmurs something which sounds like, “Finally… you got it…” or maybe, “you got to it”, I am not sure. I tell her, “You are taking too much space, dear”. She only yawns and lick my hand. I turn around. It is not too bad to feel her warmth touch on my lower back.

When I wake up, in the middle of the night, the fire is out and they are both gone. I measure my steps carefully walking to a bathroom. Frankly, it is never a good idea to step on anyone’s tail when you are asleep. For one thing, you can twist your foot.

Only when the day returns I can tell the ocean from the sky.

another dawn
I share breakfast tacos
with my dogs


They Say, Animals Live in the Now

"An animal or bird enjoys samadhi every moment. When it grazes in the meadow, it is a grazing samadhi. When it flies up at the sound of a gun, it is a flying samadhi. Mellowed by the evening sun, standing quietly for a long time motionless in the meadow, it is in what we might call a "mellowing samadhi" -- a beautiful picture and a condition to be envied even by a human being."

Katsuki Sekida, Zen Training: Methods and Philosophy (Wheatherhill, 1985), p. 92.

“Not that it's necessarily the same thing as samadhi [the deep state of concentration], but I think that animals in nature tend to live in perfect balance. Too bad we infect them with our neuroses and fears. I have seen too many messed up dogs.”

A friendly dog-whisperer met on a beach

They say, "Animals live in the now". Yet, my black dog Molly recoils when I raise my arm in a rapid motion. When and how did she learn it, I wonder?

Perhaps it is her heavy armor not unlike the one carried by the Girl I know, blocking my every move, every attempt to come closer. Some nights I wonder what would happen if I were to write my love letters in blood and tears? Would it help? I doubt it. For some armors are worn for so long they grow into our bodies, they become our bodies or, perhaps, we become our armors. How hard it is to remove one then?

But we are humans, we hardly live in the now, we remember, anticipate, plan, and worry. So, what about dogs? Where do their armors come from? Is it in their bodies and genes? Is it preserved in alaya-vijnana, the deep “store-house” consciousness that, according to Buddhist sources, we all carry from our previous lives since time immemorial? Or, perhaps, maybe body and mind are not two?

Be it as it may! The fact is she has been with us for 4 or 5 years and I have always been good to her. I have never spanked her, not once, not even lightly. And yet she still recoils when I raise my arm in a rapid motion.

When Sappho, my bigger dog, plays with her too rough, perhaps nips her a bit too hard, Molly cries. They stop for a second or two, Sappho embarrassed, looks with remorse as if trying to say "I am sorry, sister, I did not mean it." A moment later all is forgotten, they play again as if nothing has happened at all.

Yet, after all these days, all these years, all these roams on the beach, and all these nights of falling asleep in a nook of my elbow, she still recoils in fear when I raise my arm in a rapid motion. So, I wonder, is it true that animals live in the now?

low tide unveils
many crab houses
we walk with care

Dog Troubles

Every dog loves the beach and so does every child. No matter how busy he or she is building another sand castle, they stop whatever they do and look at us roaming through the wet sand. So, we stop, too, look at them. "Mister! Mister! Do they bite?" they ask. "Sure they do," I say, "but only someone like a dark wizard, or an evil goon from out of space." "Or a thief trying to sneak into your house?" "Yeah, a thief, too, but not a kid like you."

They smile, "Mister! Can we pet them?" I show them how to make the Ladies sit before giving them a treat, "One little piece in each hand so the dogs can get them together." We play for a while and then take off.

The beauty of this part of Texas is that you can let them off leash from time to time, at certain places. Sure, you got to be careful, teach them what you want, learn what they will do, develop this elusive trust and respect. So, they will not run into the dunes chasing after the wild geese but encountering a rattler, and will not stroll too far chasing the sanderlings. I've done all of this, many times and yet still make mistakes. Like that morning maybe two years ago when I decided to give them breakfast tacos a bit too close to an access road.

You see, Sappho is a half dalmatian, and for hundreds of years and many generations dalmatians have been bred to follow moving objects. You can still find old Europeans paintings showing their ancestors running between the wheels of a moving coach. At first she was timid, always following me a step or two back. But once she settled with me, once she relaxed, she started to explore the world and act on her genes sometimes taking off and chasing a noisy truck like a cruise rocket.

That morning, she went into a narrow access road. The banks were too steep and too soft after and extended drought. I think she must have slipped and rolled over bouncing right under the truck. The driver should have seen her, must have. I guess, some people lack compassion... Ultimately, my fault entirely, I should have foreseen all of this, should have kept them on leash, never should have fed them so close to the bottleneck of the access road. I felt guilty and depressed for days, like a total f@ck up and a failure idiot that I was that morning.

The wound on her paw was deep. The vet said another quarter-inch and the tendon and artery would have been severed which would mean an amputation. 700-800 bucks from my pocket, too, but she recovered perfectly.

They never grow through these experiences, the vet said, never learn to associate a distant pain with the immediate danger. Ladies they are, for sure. But, after all, they are basically dogs, perfect exemplification of "dogness", always perfectly in the moment, learning from each other so well. So, now the little one has developed the same vice and both learned to chase the cars. Like I said, you have to be careful with the dogs.

Fortunately, there is hardly anyone here on the beach, when we come. Just us, the dunes, the ocean. You can see every car and truck from miles away.

a breezy walk
far away
dogs barking

Taking a Long Sunny Ride Home

Taking a long sunny ride home while listening to blues. Dizzy, Sonny Rollins, Sonny Stitt, and “Sunny Side Up,” just a kind of music you need to go deep in the grove, just as we pass over a long span bridge, my white dog Sappho asks me “Did you have a good walk?”

Frankly, I am startled, for she has never spoken to me, not in words, not like that. Still, I try to play it cool, play it straight. “Sure!" I say, "It was great. For I love watching you chasing birds." Then glancing at a back seat where my black dog is listening intently in silence, knowing her feelings can be hurt, I scratch her ear, scratch my head, and continue "I love watching you, too, Miss Molly. You guys are so pretty together, so graceful running back and forth, yin and yang in a perfect dynamic union. Still, you've done it like 10.000 times, never caught a single bird and yet you keep doing it over and over again. That is just silly."

Molly nods her head, Sappho giggles, and it downs on me, it's not about catching, it's about the chase. So, I crank up the music, change the topic, and say, "By the way, you have helped me to find two brand new haiku. That is so cool!” They grin and wag their tails and for a while we drive in silence just listening to blues. Then I ask, “Ladies! How was your walk?”

“It was great” Sappho says, “for I love watching you watching us running." "I love that, too," Molly interjects, "and those sunglasses you bought for us, to protect our eyes from the sun and the sand, they are so cool. But, for goodness sake, haven't you noticed we go through them like you go through toilet paper. They are too fragile for us, continuing to buy them is just plain silly, man."

Molly is very practical; Sappho not so much. She speaks slowly and calmly, "Yeah, indeed, they are cool. Still I'd prefer not to wear them when they are other dogs around. First, I wanna have an eye on those mothers…, OK? If they are all right, we'll play with them and you should always feel free to cut to the chase. More importantly, I love it when they can look into my eyes. You take your sunglasses off when they are humans around, especially the ladies... I know, there is something in there. Molly has fallen for that, too. But, for goodness sake to tell you the truth, if you take your sunglasses off while keeping ours on, oh man, that is just plain rude. OK?”

"OK" I nod and for a while we drive in silence just listening to blues. And you can feel the music flowing, the energy growing, a trumpet and two tenors trading 4s, when she kind of wiggles and stretches and yawns, "I’m kind of tired now," she says, "I'd like to rest on the back seat. Could you, please, take over the wheel?”

in crimson silence
with his two dogs
a boy sniffing sunset

(1 comment | Leave a comment)


Date:July 2nd, 2014 10:47 am (UTC)


Love your poems, and insights on your animals , you surprise me Dr. Stef! Did not expect to find someone with such a open warm heart.

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