Zen + Dogs: Stone Wisdom

dogs-and-rocksThis post is Inspired by Robert Carter’s and Graham Parkes’ writing on Zen aesthetics specifically the role of rocks in Zen landscape design.

Nov 12

  • Lesson from Tom: Dogs like rock energy
  • Tom says, “I love to jump from rock to rock and run on the uneven surface”

Living on the Westcoast, one can’t help but appreciate the power of mineral world: the grand wall of Seymour and Grouse Mountain to the north; the diverse shapes and textured rock formations on the water’s edge of each Gulf Island; the rock outcrops, small mountains in themselves, emerging from Victoria’s front yards. Athletic dogs like Tom, and timid but adventurous dogs like Sugi, like to get to know stones by exploring the boulders on shorelines, and navigating the rocky hills of hiking trails.

In Zen Buddhism, rocks are particularly auspicious sites of kami, the vital energy of the universe present in all things. Shinto, the ancient belief of indigenous Japan, practices ‘the way of Kami‘, a belief in the wondrous and divine nature of the universe. Zen Buddhism adapted the aesthetic practice of garden design developed by Shinto masters, to produce the Zen rock garden. The rock garden is specifically designed as a meditative aesthetic form where rocks can be seen as sources of understanding.

In Zen, it is thought that mountains are particularly strong sites of kami, and the rocks in a Zen garden take on the specific role of attracting kami. These rocks may also function as scaled representations of specific individual mountains, a practice influenced by ancient Chinese landscaping practice. In the Zen rock garden, no water and very little plant life participates. Instead, the absence of these are emphasized through the arrangement of ‘dry’ elements: fields of raked, patterned sand; cascades of rocks recalling waterfalls; and rock paths seen as dry stream beds. In the practice of creating the rock garden, according to the classic treatise Sakuteiki, the master gardener would dialogue with the site and elements at hand, understanding the fuzei, “wind” and “feeling”. Following the principle of kowan ni shitagau (“following the request of the rock”) he would choose the most powerful rock as the starting point and dialogue with it and the rest of the rocks about their placements.

The Zen garden serves as a site of attention, where the observer can partake in a harmonious arrangement of living and nonliving organics, and participate in the contemplation of “dependant co-arising”, the interdependence of all things. The great Zen Master Dogen (“Valley Sounds, Mountain Sights”) said that all sentient beings and non-sentient things have the Buddha-nature and therefore all are equally divine. In this dharma discourse all of nature, including rocks, have something to say and teach us about existence.

references:

Carter, Robert. The Japanese Arts and Self Cultivation. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2008.

Parkes, Graham. “The Role of Rock in the Japanese Dry Landscape Garden”, from Reading Zen in Rocks: The Japanese Dry Landscape Garden. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005

Zen + Dogs: The Three-Headed Daimon

This post is part of the series “Zen and Dogs” (a project I’m doing for my PhD study) and experiments with forms from Zen story-telling, traditionally used as means for moral education. I’ve become interested in Koan practice. Koan is a public story or dialogue that relays an interaction between a Zen master and student and may describe a test to the student’s Zen practice.

Sept 26

threeheaded

  • Lesson from Tom: no use getting frustrated by not being able to control the emotions or expressions of others.
  • Tom says, “Find something to do together that is enjoyable!”

It’s 8:30am. There is nothing to be done about the pouring rain and the reality that we have to go for a walk. My turn, with Tom and Sugi and Bruce whom we’re baby-sitting (last day) for Greg’s daughter Lauren who is traveling. Baby-sitting, an appropriate term here because the dog is brattishly balking every few feet in protest to being forced to walk in the rain, and worse, having to wear a raincoat. I am irked by his ingratitude towards my good intentions…

Pierre Hadot’s Philosophy as a Way of Life discusses the philosophy of  Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD) and his proposition (from his written Meditations) that the Daimon —nature’s laws and ways, the force indispensable for all creation, the natural spirits— can seen as a guiding principle towards freedom and a moral life.

En route beside Britannia High School, it occurs to me it’s the time when kids are on their way there. Tom and Sugi, both off-leash, head towards the school grounds. I yell that I do not approve. Tom comes back, Sugi continues to browse, ignoring me. I realize frustration linked to the dogs expressing their own desires [contrary to mine!] Anger now directed at Sugi. In different locations, Bruce pooping and Sugi too. Pick up Bruce’s, locate Sugi’s, while keeping track of Tom.

Aurelius proposed three philosophical exercises intended to confront life for its reality. 1. Desire and aversion: People are unhappy because they desire things they can not obtain or control. The task is to develop temperance and to cultivate desire that has moral virtue. “Keep the daimon within you in a state of serenity…”

I try leashing Bruce to Sugi so that Sugi can lead Bruce. Normally this works, allowing for keeping track of two better than three. Today, Sugi doesn’t have enough strength to pull stubborn Bruce, or maybe it’s Sugi’s lack of will…

2. motivated action should be “right action” in the service of community. Inclinations should be towards social justice. “…neither saying anything contrary to the truth, nor doing anything contrary to justice.”

Tom now calmly out in front. Bruce on leash, Sugi browsing close at hand. That’s better. Continue walking, thankful for the pack formation.

Once Tom’s done, we head back. Bruce now moving with purpose. Can’t seem to shake the frustration. Feel surprised by my lack of equanimity at such mundanity. Reflect, searching for a deeper reason. Can’t find any…

3. assent; give ourselves to only that which is true.

Later, Tom reminds me of a special treat the four of us can share. I open a pack of Seaweed Snax. All four of us enjoy the salty, oily flavor. I feel contented through this small act of mutual enjoyment.

seasnax

Tom Zen Nap

Tomzen

  •  Lesson from Tom: Dog’s like a cozy place to sleep
  • Sugi says, “sometimes I like to get small!”

I like to photograph Tom and Sugi when they’re napping. Like humans, dogs can seem more vulnerable when they’re asleep. Inspired by my recent interest in Zen (I think there’s a connection but not sure what it is yet…), here Tom is trying to make himself small.

Beet tops for dogs

beet tops

  •  Lesson from Sugi: Dogs like freshly cooked veggies
  • Sugi says, “I’m growing to like a variety of veggies, who knew?!.”

Every wondered what to do with those beet tops attached to the fresh beets you’ve just  bought from the farmer’s market? Sometimes the beets come with the full leaves attached (which are good to eat stir fried with some garlic), or they come with a little of the leaf stem attached. I discovered that I can steam these stems and cut them up to put into Tom and Sugi’s food. They like them! They taste like beets and are nutritious…