We all need guidance, teachers that make things clearer and who help us in becoming better people. Learning and growing as beings of consciousness is what brings us the most satisfaction in the world, though it might not always feel like it especially before the first coffee of the day when you are just shrugging to come up to full consciousness after the deep dive of dreams. Just because something is good for us does not mean we always want it, our energy oscillates up and down from low to high in a way that never quite seems to match our day's requirements, and intentions can get lost in the demands that life makes of us. Things are not neat and tidy, and just because it would be convenient to have the correct lesson and teacher turn up just at the moment that you need it, it does not mean that your guru will turn up with movie like timing. It is up to us to find the teachers that we need, to accept all that we do not know everything, we do not even know what we do not know, to have the awareness that there is always an opportunity to learn and to ruthlessly take advantage of them, no matter what they might be.
Even if they come in the form of a dog, it is up to you to recognise the teacher and it is not the teacher that has the responsibility to find you or even tell you that they are the substitute teacher for the day. It is up to you to choose your teachers, to be humble enough to accept wisdom in whatever form it might turn, there is always a choice, you get to engage, to listen, to try to find out what it is they are trying to teach you, it is a bridge that is built from both sides and is up to you to make that connection both between you and to the information they are trying to give you. You have to forsake your pride and accept their knowledge wherever it might come from.
Whilst not limited to dogs, nature provides many guides to wisdom, the writer Tolle is a particular fan of birds as being instructors for enlightenment, he likes to ponder on their inherent beauty, that they are utterly alien and capable of flight, something that we dream of doing yet is completely beyond us. However it is impossible to be jealous of a bird, flight might be admirable but the trade-off in consciousness would be too much to bear for most people which makes them perfect for the act of purely seeing. They are near-perfect objects of meditation in that they are utterly fascinating and captivating in their randomness, you know that when you are watching a bird feed, it is utterly momentary, is a piece of living are that will only exist for seconds before they twist their necks around to check their surrounding before they jump back into the air. It is their temporary nature that brings you into the moment, that forces your attention and awareness away from the future and the past, if you are not concentrating on what is happening in the exact moment, if you are thinking about how beautiful the bird is, you are going to miss actually seeing the bird, you either purely see or you do not really see it at all.
This idea also emerges in Mondo Zen, they have developed modern Koans, questions that promote experiences, the first of which is, can you purely listen? Which is the same in essence as Tolle's invitation to use birds as an an object for pure seeing, it equally extends to any of the six sense doors of sight, sound, smell, touch, taste and thoughts (which includes feelings and emotions). The purity we are looking for here is in being able to concentrate just on the chosen sense and nothing else, not to think about what you are listening to, not pay more attention to the feeling of the music, to let sounds just happen, to ignore what you are seeing and just focus the whole of your awareness on that single sense. And the reward for doing so is to have the experience of just sensing which is in fact just awareness, pure awareness and awareness that is aware even of itself.
Which brings us back to dogs as examples of pure experiences, they seem to be unburdened by memories, they live by instinct, utterly in the moment, how else can throwing a ball be the most exciting thing in the world every single time if you were not living only in the present moment. You never see a dog comparing one throw to another, a dog is never judging whether it is a good throw, every single one is the most all-consuming thing in the world. Every single bowl of food is consumed with the hunger of a starving peasant and nothing else exists in the world whilst there is something still to lick. They are the teachers of being in the moment and when they look you in the eye there is no doubt that they are utterly present as they connect to you with pure love.
It has been asked whether dogs have a Buddhist nature which is probably only a matter of interest to dogs, what the Koan is really about is how we do not know, and that not knowing is who we are, not a person not knowing rather you are, “the not knowing that is experiencing you”. I suspect it is partly a Buddhist joke that has got badly wrong in translation and everyone has been teaching it so long that no one is willing to admit to it now, because it does go to what Buddhists are trying to do. That is experience life in the same way as a dog except with a human consciousness which changes the experience, at least for most people.
It is about changing the point of view from being indivisible from the ego and the continuing story of you, which is endlessly fascinating to the ego, towards the awareness of the ego. Instead of just reacting to the external world, you are able instead to view your internal world at your centre from the heart, to bring light and awareness to it, to see its virtues and faults, to correct and change it, unlike the guard dog that the ego is, instead of just reacting, we are able to witness our thoughts, feelings and emotions in real time, we are able for the first time in your life to direct it instead of just starring in the story of your life. You can start to train that oversized puppy, correct its behaviour and produce an animal that is fit for purpose. It might be resentful initially but like an indisciplined puppy it responds positively to it if you do it with love, kindness and compassion. It might not understand it but it cannot help but trust you when you are clearly acting from a place of love rather than fear, and what better way is there to treat yourself than with love? It is the best practice in the world for doing the same for others, and if you have to learn that lesson from a dog, so be it.