I remember well that first morning I laid eyes on Peepaws. My first thought was to have one of the boys kill it and throw it into the incinerator. Ordinarily, I would agree with my Buddhist brothers and not harm any living thing but there are exceptions to every rule and I felt, in this case, it was warranted. Peepaws had to be one of the ugliest creatures I have ever seen.
Living on the back of a Buddhist Wat, I have gotten used to seeing strange animals from time to time. Most Wat’s are sanctuaries for unwanted animals and sometimes people… and since we eat quite well at the Wat Opot Project, whatever is dropped off at the Wat, usually ends up at our place during mealtimes. There are always litters of scrawny kittens wondering over… because of mean dogs, large rats, and over-affectionate children however, few make it to maturity. Once there was a piglet that was born with only three feet. The owner evidently thought it would not live for long and so he dropped it off at the Wat, rather than destroying it and perhaps suffering consequences. Somehow the pig found his way over to our place every day and ate a good share of our garbage. It gained considerable weight and then one day, just before a major Holiday, someone claiming to be the pig’s owner came to pick him up. I think I know the ending to that story but at least the pig’s life was not in vain. I could see no value in preserving the life of Peepaws however because while eating dog meat is not uncommon in Cambodia, only the best dogs are selected for that honor and there wasn’t enough meat on Peepaws to make starting a fire worthwhile.
Peepaws got his name because “Pee” is the Khmer word for two and “Paws” is what most dogs have four of. I was not sure if Peepaws was born defective or had gotten his deformity from some unfortunate accident that should have taken his life… either way I felt the kindest thing for someone to do would be to put him out of his misery.
I don’t know how many breeds went into his pedigree but I am sure that a good part of Beatle went into his ears, which were three sizes too big for his Chihuahua size body. His front paws were in fairly good shape, most likely a result of having to drag the lifeless rump and deformed back paws around all day. Peepaws could run and bark impressively and I guess that does qualify him as a dog but certainly not one a man would want to call his best friend, especially not me. I needed a real dog, one that would make me look good when guests came around and could keep the cows from coming in and eating my garden, which anyone living in a third world country would understand because the farm animals act as the community’s garbage collectors and they decide what is garbage and what is not.
It wasn’t long before Peepaws realized which table had the most leftovers and just as I knew would happen, he chooses my table to sit under and my feet to lie next to. He even seemed to read my mind and tried pleasing me by chasing some of the cows out of my garden. One day he snuck up behind one of the larger ones and started barking loudly. The unsuspecting cow took off on a run with Peepaws in close pursuit and had he not tried cutting the cow off by running in front of it, he might have actually succeeded in chasing it off of the property. The cow, however, when seeing the little dog running on only two feet with its rump bouncing up and down and its back legs and tail swinging haphazardly in the air, stopped in its tracks and if I didn’t know better, I would say it started mooing with laughter. Embarrassed and humiliated, Peepaws gave up the chase and never again ran after the cows.
The children were more accepting of the little mutt than I was and didn’t seem to mind the fact that he was deformed. They often included him in their play and didn’t mind if he would snuggle in close to their feet at night while they slept. On one hot muggy night, the children made their bed outside on the sidewalk where it is cooler and as usual, Peepaws crawled in by their feet. It was around midnight when he started barking. He ran out from under the covers and continued barking for awhile… then there was silence and a short time later he quietly slipped back into his place by their feet. In the morning they found him there… two fang marks in his rump, from a poisonous snake, explained the cause of his lifelessness.
Greater Love hath no dog than to lay down his life for a child and for his Act of heroism we granted him the status of Knighthood in the Kingdom of Dogs. The children buried Sir Peepaws that same day in a grave befitting of the title he had earned.
After sharing this story with friends, I was informed that the Buddhist parable about Asanga was very similar to the one about Sir Peepaws and I have included it for your enjoyment.
A Buddhist Parable
(From The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying
by Sogyal Rinpoche)
Asanga was one of the most famous Indian Buddhist saints and lived in the fourth century. He went to the mountains to do a solitary retreat, concentrating all his meditation practice on the Buddha Maitreya, in the fervent hope that he would be blessed with a vision of this Buddha and receive teachings from him.
For six years Asanga meditated in extreme hardship but did not even have one auspicious dream. He was disheartened and thought he would never succeed with his aspiration to meet the Buddha Maitreya, and so he abandoned his retreat and left his hermitage. He had not gone far down the road when he saw a man rubbing an enormous iron bar with a strip of silk.
Asanga went up to him and asked him what he was doing. “I haven’t got a needle,” the man replied, “So I’m going to make one out of this iron bar.” Asanga stared at him, astounded; even if the man were able to manage it in a hundred years, he thought, what would be the point?
He said to himself: “Look at the trouble people give themselves over things that are totally absurd. You are doing something really valuable, spiritual practice and you’re not nearly so dedicated.” He turned around and went back to his retreat.
Another three years went by, still without the slightest sign from the Buddha Maitreya. “Now I know for certain,” he thought “I’m never going to succeed.” So he left again and soon came to a bend in the road where there was a huge rock, so tall it seemed to touch the sky.
At the foot of the rock was a man busily rubbing it with a feather soaked in water. “What are you doing?” Asanga asked.
“This rock is so big it’s stopping the sun from shining on my house, so I’m trying to get rid of it.” Asanga was amazed at the man’s indefatigable energy and ashamed at his own lack of dedication. He returned to his retreat.
Three more years passed, and still, he had not even had a single good dream. He decided, once and for all, that it was hopeless, and he left his retreat for good. The day wore on, and in the afternoon he came across a dog lying by the side of the road. It had only its front legs, and the whole of the lower part of its body was rotting and covered with maggots.
Despite its pitiful condition, the dog was snapping at passersby, and pathetically trying to bite them by dragging itself along the ground with its two good legs.
Asanga was overwhelmed with a vivid and unbearable feeling of compassion. He cut a piece of flesh off his own body and gave it to the dog to eat. Then he bent down to take off the maggots that were consuming the dog’s body. But he suddenly thought he might hurt them if he tried to pull them out with his fingers, and realized that the only way to remove them would be on his tongue. Asanga knelt on the ground and looking at the horrible festering, writhing mass, closed his eyes. He leaned closer and put out his tongue….
The next thing he knew his tongue was touching the ground. He opened his eyes and looked up. The dog was gone; there in its place was the Buddha Maitreya, ringed by a shimmering aura of light.
“At last,” said Asanga, “why did you never appear to me before?”
Maitreya spoke softly: “It is not true that I have never appeared to you before. I was with you all the time, but your negative karma and obscurations prevented you from seeing me. Your twelve years of practice dissolved them slightly so that you were at last able to see the dog.
Then, thanks to your genuine and heartfelt compassion, all those obscurations were completely swept away, and you can see me before you with your very own eyes. If you don’t believe that this is what happened, put me on your shoulder and try and see if anyone else can see me.”
Asanga put Maitreya on his right shoulder and went to the marketplace, where he began to ask everyone: “What have I got on my shoulder?”
“Nothing,” most people said and hurried on. Only one old woman, whose karma had been slightly purified, answered: “You’ve got the rotting corpse of an old dog on your shoulder, that’s all.”
Asanga, at last, understood the boundless power of compassion that had purified and transformed his karma, and so made him a vessel fit to receive the vision and instruction of Maitreya.
Then the Buddha Maitreya, whose name means “loving-kindness,” took Asanga to a heavenly realm, and there gave him many sublime teachings that are among the most important in the whole of Buddhism.
Wow! In comparing the two stories I would have to conclude that I have a long ways to go in my search for Enlightenment. I wonder what would happen if we all understood, as Asanga and Peepaws did, the boundless power of Compassion?
Wayne Dale Matthysse