“Does a dog have Buddha nature?” “No,” said a great master to a student. And to another student with the same question the master said “yes.” Who has compassion understands compassion. Who transcends sorrow lives “now” and dogs and humans do or do not know this according to their lights.
Ah but there are dogs who possess tremendous capacities for empathy. Studies at universities from Portugal to Sweden to North Carolina and Japan tell us that some dogs not only experience the emotions of their human partners, they also understand those emotions. And when human beings are anxious or sad, dogs will endeavor to ameliorate those same emotions. This isn’t new news to dog owners. But what is new is a growing understanding that dogs are far more sophisticated than human beings have customarily thought. Dogs possess empathy.
Did human beings some ten to fifteen thousand years ago see team work and empathy in dogs and in turn become their students and not their masters? This is what I’ve come to think after living these past twenty years with three soulful guide dogs.
Here in Kyoto, right next door to my hotel, is the Sanjusagendo temple containing a thousand statues of Kannon, the Buddha of compassion. I plan to go there today and sit and breathe in the sweet, invisible tinctures of caring. I remember how my first guide dog Corky once barked at the compassionate Buddha in the Cornell University art museum. Corky was not known for barking. She fixated in the Buddha, her body suddenly rigid. And she barked once.