For a long time it has been my conviction that we are by far the greater beneficiaries in the lives we share with our pets.
I’d like to offer this brief excerpt, from the very end of my book Buddhism for Pet Lovers, which I hope may explain just how much they can help us – and we them.
Gifts and beneficiaries
As pet lovers, we value the unaffected love and connection we share with our companions. That purr in the middle of the night, and the reach of a velvet paw as our cat acknowledges that we have surfaced—perhaps momentarily—from deep sleep. The tail-wagging frenzy as we step through the front door and are reminded that there is more to life than whatever has been burdening us all the way home. The swoop of our parrot from a perch, onto our shoulder, welcoming us back into his presence. With our pets, unlike the vast majority of sentient beings, we can be unaffectedly ourselves. Their simple acceptance, along with the way that they draw us constantly into the present, are among their most constant and frequent gifts.
But they offer far greater gifts than these.
I never cease to be astonished by how much attention, intense scrutiny and passionate debate our society focuses on things like politics, property prices and interest rates—subjects of great importance, to be sure, but which are relevant to us for only as long as we are alive. If there is something about us that endures, surely that opens the door to even more important questions? Questions like: what is it, exactly, that may continue? Is there a relationship between my experience of reality now and how I may experience reality after death? If so, how can I ensure the most positive outcome, both for myself and others? And what of those relationships with others: does conventional reality provide a full account of how they have come into my life, or could a deeper set of dynamics be at play?
Day-to-day life very rarely invites us to explore these really important questions. But our pets do. Facing the terminal illness of our beloved companion, what pet lover doesn’t worry about what will happen to this being who has been so utterly dependent on us? Or question if some part of them may continue? Or simply wonder what is the best way to help them face their own death?
In prompting these questions, our pets may do more for us than even some of our dearest friends. For in asking questions about their spiritual lives, we come to face our own. That dimension of our existence that we may routinely ignore, or postpone till some mythical point in the future when we have more time, can no longer be avoided: we are spiritual beings too.
If it is our pets who bring us to this recognition, if it is they who encourage us to cultivate love and compassion, and to act in accord with our highest nature, then what are they doing if not carrying out the work of enlightened beings? Who is the ultimate beneficiary in this relationship?!
We sometimes hear it said, when people bring home a dog or cat from a rescue centre, that although they saved the pet by giving it a home, in reality the pet saved them. And this may be what they mean. The spiritual lives of pets are inextricably bound up with our own spiritual lives. As outlined in this book, there is much we can do to contribute to the wellbeing and development of our closest companions. The counterpoint is that in giving us the opportunity to be our kindest and most virtuous selves, our pets offer us gifts of inestimable value.
As we chart our journey towards an understanding of our own ultimate nature, our greatest mutual supporters in our search for abiding happiness may be found on our lap, perched on our shoulder, or sitting on the front doormat, leash in mouth, with an expression of irresistible expectation.
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(Thanks for the gorgeous kitty pic at the top of this blog to: https://www.google.com.au/search?rlz=1C1JZAP_enAU691AU691&biw=1024&bih=662&tbm=isch&sa=1&q=beautiful+tranquil+cat&oq=beautiful+tranquil+cat&gs_l=psy-ab.3…18145.22174.0.229126.96.36.199.0.0.0.399.2008.2-3j3.7.0….0…1.1.64.psy-ab..16.5.1613.0..0j0i67k1j0i30k1j0i24k1.265.8EQfLNpXexs#imgrc=CNZ1nyiE-2KvrM:)