There are two ways of listening…
For me, then to listen to the teaching means
That the more I hear, rather than becoming
Better or improving, the more I realize
The opposite, my worthlessness.
~Zentaro, a myokonin
There has been research done about people who have pets. The results are amazing. The researchers cannot explain why, but pet owners tend to live longer. They speculate that it may come from caring for another individual or possibly from the “petting” of these furry animals.
These furry animals become a member of the family. They give comfort and share affection unconditionally. They give us their attention and seem able to sense our moods and feelings at the time. They do take our time. We have to feed them, de-flea them, we worry about them when they are ill or get hurt. They become another child. They cannot talk; therefore, the “human parents” must learn to know and feel for their “furry children.”
We teach our human children about life and show them through our actions. They understand through words. We teach them to entrust in Amida Buddha and Shinran Shonin’s teachings and we try to communicate the teachings to our furry children. However, I wonder if our furry children can be taught to put paws together in Gassho and know its true meaning. It does not matter what they understand or how they know, we just know we are given their love and affection, without any calculation of how much they give. They are given the same attention and affection that we lavish on them.
In the Hongwanji paper, there was a picture of a minister who had taught his pet to Gassho. When the minister sits in front of the obutsudan (altar) the pet sits on its hind legs and puts front paws together in Gassho. One can only imagine how long it took the minister to train his furry child. It seemed it has become automatic for his furry child to offer Gassho when his “human father” does.
There is a feral church cat where I live. She is “semi-wild” but she is sweet, smart and has a good temperament. Sometimes when I practice chanting outside, she sits quietly and seems to listen. She relaxes and continues to stare at me. She cannot speak to ask questions, but she gives the look of understanding. However, I wonder if she really understands what I chant. She could just be waiting for her snack but she sits and pays attention. Every night I go outside and tell her good night and share my Namu Amida Butsu with her and sometimes in the morning she is waiting for me.
As I put her food down or call her, I yell “Itadakimasu” and she sometimes comes running, She waits until I finish reciting Nembutsu and through hand gesture I point to her bowl. She waits until I finish and then dives into her food. She has become a silent Nembutsu follower.
Even though she only mews, she seems to know what Namu Amida Butsu means. \When it is service time, she comes to investigate from afar. She never enters the temple but sits patiently listening and watching the Sangha. There have been a couple times when she has come to the temple and waits for me. When she sees me come out, she will run to the house and wait for me at the garage door.
Our furry children are teaching us many things. We have to open our eyes and ears to really see what they share. We can become more like them. Without asking what is in it for me, we put our hands together in gratitude and thankfulness for giving us a mind that can think and a heart that can feel and care for others. We teach our “furry children”, why not use this mind to contemplate on our true self and what our Nembutsu means to us? Our “furry children” can teach us to share unconditionally, we only have to take time to find our way in the teachings and learn to listen.
Gassho Rev. Seijo Naomi Nakano