The Urban Dharma Newsletter - April, 2012

In This Issue: Buddhism and Pets

1. Buddhist - Share the Love with Pets – By: Rebecca O'Connor
2. What Dogs Teach Us about Peace, Joy, and Living in the Now – by Cathy Taughinbaugh
3. A Buddhist lesson in pet care – by Eric Beauchemin, Radio Netherlands
4. Cats find peace and tranquillity in Kennington Buddhist Centre
5. Portland Buddhist Priory sees spiritual side of pets – Monique Balas
6. Buddhist Pet Food – By Brian Schell
7. Buddhist Pet Owners and the Euthanasia Conundrum – Dr. Patty Khuly
8. Animal Burial with Buddhist Rituals in Bihar

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Hi, This issue is all about being a Buddhist pet owner… The ups and downs, the joy and sadness of caring for our little friends.

I have two new domain names, hopefully making getting around Urban Dharma a little easier.

www.mypodcast.net – This will take you to my podcast page, having said that, I have posted eight new podcasts. These were all recorded at ‘Against the Stream’ on Melrose in Los Angeles. I talk about some new stuff… And some old stuff in a new way.

www.pdfdharma.org – This will take you to the ebook page on Urban Dharma… eBooks in PDF with audio and video as well.

Enjoy the newsletter.

Peace… Kusala


1. Buddhist - Share the Love with Pets – By: Rebecca O'Connor


Animals are regarded in Buddhist belief as sentient beings. In this religion all life forms are sacred. Animals may have very different minds from humans but they are just as capable of suffering and many other feelings. Animals and pets are also looked upon slightly differently than in many other religions because of the doctrine of rebirth. The belief is that a person could be reborn as an animal, and an animal could be reborn as a person.

In Australia last year, a Tibetan Buddhist master came to help family pets on the path to enlightenment. This may sound laughable (or like a great idea to PetCrazy people), but many Buddhists feel very strongly about animals deserving Buddhist rights and treatment. Care for all
living things is a central tenet of Buddhism. So Lama Zopa Rinpoche, a Buddhist master taught by the Dalai Lama, blessed about 100 cats, dogs, even mice and mudcrabs.

"Animals don't have as many opportunities as humans to attain happiness," said Lama Zopa. The master feels that animal blessings are a way for Buddhists to create compassion and amass merit. Basically, loving animals is good for the soul. There are stories of dogs arriving regularly at the Buddhist temple being treated as spirits wishing to embrace the religion. After all, they have expressed a desire to partake in the ceremony and may have the opportunity to do the same on two legs in another life.

Lama Zopa advises pet owners to not only give their pets creature comforts, but expose them to holy objects, recite prayers to them and bless their food. In Thailand's capital, Bangkok, they've gone one step further and begun offering Buddhist funeral rites to pets. This brings great comfort to Buddhists who have lost their beloved pets. Why not?

There are many who believe that dogs are the perfect example of Buddhism.

Dogs live entirely in the moment. They have a limited memory of the past and don't seem to spend much time pondering future. To a dog only the now is important, the love that surrounds them, the pleasure in a meal or a game of fetch. Some people argue there is much to learn about proper living from a dog. So perhaps Buddhism is one of these things.

Many Buddhists also enjoy cats. Take for example the Maneki Neko ("beckoning cat") is a common lucky charm in Japan. You will see the Maneki Neko in shop windows where it sits with its paw raised and bent, as if beckoning customers to come inside. There are myriad superstitions regarding cats in Japan. Some Japanese believe that when a cat washes its face and paws in the genkan (parlor), company's coming.

Of course in most cultures and religions what all PetCrazy people share is love for their pets and a desire to enjoy their company, while giving them a wonderful life. Maybe you can share some of the Buddhist's deep respect for animals with your pet as well. And if you're Buddhist, maybe your pet can help remind you of your best qualities.

Some Buddhist Names for your pets:

Anzan : quiet mountain
Banko : everlasting
Butsugen : Buddha eye
Butsuju : Buddha-life, Buddha-age
Daiji : great compassion
Eshin : understanding mind
Gensho : original blessings
Hakuyu : unknown
Joko : pure fragrance, quiet lake
Kodo : the way of light
Kogen : wild, untamed source
Muji : ground mist
Ryoko : unknown
Shindo : new way
Taido : gentle way
Zenkei : inconceivable joy

2. What Dogs Teach Us about Peace, Joy, and Living in the Now – by Cathy Taughinbaugh


“Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.” ~Marianne Williamson

Are you a dog lover? I know I am.

Animals of all kinds can bring us so much joy, not only when things are going well, but also when we feel pain and are suffering.

“Man’s best friend” can be our true and faithful companions through thick and thin. We look to our pets when we are ready to play and laugh, and they instinctively know when we need their support.

I’ve had a dog most of my life. From purebreds to mutts, I’ve loved them all. It has always felt comforting to me to have a dog around. The joy dogs provide is well worth the effort.

We all have struggles and challenges in our life, and it’s during those times that our pets can really come in handy to help us find our joy.

One of my most stressful challenges was discovering my daughter’s addiction to crystal meth. I felt blindsided by this discovery. I knew she was struggling, but this was something I had never expected.

I learned from this experience that the time I have spent working on myself, as opposed to the time I have spent trying to fix her problem, has been the most meaningful and the most productive. Despite having addiction in my life, I could find my joy again.

For parents in the midst of addiction with their children, it can be emotionally exhausting for long periods of time. It’s easy to let the stress of the situation overtake you.

I am one of the lucky ones. My daughter has gone on to seek recovery for her addiction. She has grown and matured in ways I would never have expected.

We have both learned life lessons, and have evolved into new and hopefully better people. We both know to take it one day at a time.

From this experience, I found I needed to change. I needed to approach life in a new way.

As I watch my dog go through her day, I realize the lessons are really right there in front of me if I care to pay attention.

Here are some of the ways I can be the person my dog wants me to be, and be the person I want to be as well. I know that whatever life brings me, joy is still always there for the taking.

1. Connect with others.

Our relationships with others nurture our soul. We may neglect our friends because of our work or other interests. We may just get busy and forget to stay in touch.

When we look to our dogs, they need our connection on a daily basis. They need our love, time, and attention. When we stay connected with others, it feeds our soul and helps to lead us to a long life.

2. Live for today.

We can spend time regretting the past and worrying about the future, but I have learned that the solution will not be found that way. Spinning my wheels thinking about things that I cannot change is not productive.

Dogs live for today—and so can we. We can appreciate every moment as it comes and be grateful for what we have. Like all animals, when we live in the present, we can have more enthusiasm, joy for life, and less worry.

3. Forgive.

Forgiveness may be something we consider, but find difficult to really feel and carry out. The payoff in not forgiving is that we can continue to blame others for how we feel and remain the victim.

When you study animal packs, there is rarely a conflict, as the members of the pack solve their problems and move on. They don’t hold a grudge or worry about what happened yesterday.

Forgiveness gives us back our power, as we regain a sense of wholeness, peace, and the ability to move on with our lives.

4. Trust your intuition.

Many of us have not developed or have lost touch with our intuition. We listen to words, but neglect our inner feelings. We may feel uneasy about a certain situation, but neglect what our body is telling us.

Dogs understand what is going on beneath the surface, as they are led by their instincts and rely on their gut reactions. We have these clues as well. Hone in on your intuition and it will guide you to a life of peace and serenity.

5. Find balance.

When any of us have a traumatic situation, we can get off track and spend too much time focused on the situation, neglecting the other areas of our life. I have, at times spent too much time worrying about the problems of others. I’ve learned that we shortchange not only ourselves, but those around us.

Notice how well a dog does when their life is balanced. Dogs need their exercise, a dose of love, and structure to their daily routine, and so do we. When we balance our life, the stress fades to the background and we enjoy life that much more.

6. Set clear boundaries.

We teach others how to treat us. Many of us have a hard time setting boundaries that are clear and believable. We can waver and be indecisive, and those close to us may not know where our boundaries begin or end.

Close, connected relationships start with clear and consistent communication. Our relationship with our dog is a perfect example. When the rules are clear, and enforced consistently, our pets do well; otherwise they are confused about what is acceptable behavior.

7. Find your purpose.

Have you ever wondered why you were placed here on earth? Sometimes we lose our way and are not sure about our true purpose. The same is true for dogs.

When dogs are given a job and contribute in some way to the well being of others they feel a sense of satisfaction. As humans, we need to find our purpose as well. When we take the time to discover our purpose in life, we feel more fulfilled, and our life feels more meaningful.

8. Make every day special.

Sometimes we can let days go by and get swallowed up in our routine. Every day is the same and our excitement is lacking.

Have you ever noticed how a dog finds everyday life exciting? They can’t wait to eat, go for their walk, see you come home, or greet a visitor. We can learn so much by observing how our pets have enthusiasm for the simple joys of everyday life.

Everyday can be special for us as well. When we take the time to look, we may find our joy is still there waiting to be rediscovered.

3. A Buddhist lesson in pet care – by Eric Beauchemin, Radio Netherlands


Chiang Mai, Thailand -- It's estimated that there are between 60,000 and 100,000 stray dogs and cats in Chiang Mai, Thailand's second largest city. Many of them have been dumped by their owners because they are suffering from disease or the owners can no longer take care of them.

These strays roam the city's streets or are left at one of Chiang Mai's many Buddhist temples, where people hope the animals will be taken care of. But the stray animal population is growing so quickly that the monks and nuns can no longer cope.

Two and a half years ago, a group of Westerners and Thais set up the Lanna Dog Rescue Project. The volunteers go around the city and visit temples to collect sick animals. They then take them to one of the local vets for treatment.

They also have the animals sterilised to try to reduce the population of stray dogs and cats. After being treated, animals in need of additional care are taken to a shelter where they remain until they have recovered. Then the volunteers take the animals back to the temples.


It may seem rather strange in a relatively poor country like Thailand to be paying so much attention to cats and dogs, but according to Roshan Dhunjiboy, it has to do with Buddhist philosophy. "There's a principle called metta which means love for every single living thing, from a blade of grass to your husband or your lover. And I think we are practising metta, at least I am as a Buddhist."

Many people drop their pets off at Buddhist temples because they believe that the grounds are sacred and that is where metta is being practised.  According to Otome Klein, another of the group's volunteers: "People who live near temples know that if they give the dogs or cats to the monks and nuns, they will probably be taken care of. But nowadays there are simply too many animals, many of them sick, arriving at the temples."

Putting animals to sleep

The animal owners cannot put their pets to sleep because it goes against one of the main precepts of Buddhism: though shall not kill. "We have great difficulty," says Dhunjiboy.

"When we have very sick animals to even find a vet who will do it. We had the case of a darling little puppy called Ton who had cerebral distemper and was suffering for five months, and we wanted to put him down, but the monastery wouldn't do it, and so he died naturally just a month ago."

Many of the volunteers joined the project because of their love for animals. Half of them are Westerners and the other half are Thais. The volunteers are able to raise about 100,000 Baht - that's a little over €2000 - a month. The money is spent on the medical costs, a shelter, vet care and neutering the animals.

Why not use the money to help poor Thais?

It's a question which the volunteers frequently hear, says Dhunjiboy. "Actually we are doing both because through this work with animals, we get to see the poor people who are otherwise invisible. The animals we deal with are the animals in temples, the animals on the streets, and the animals of poor people. You will find people in the slums here who have about eight children and about 11 dogs. And they all are hungry and they are all not looked after, so we help them by helping the animals and they love their animals. We teach them how to keep them healthy and clean and the children I think profit from that too in the end."

Since the project started two and a half years ago, the volunteers have been getting increasing support from local people. "We never do anything without the permission of the community," says Dhunjiboy.

"Because the communities are very well organised around the temples. For instance we had a mass sterilisation project just last month where we sterilized in four days 103 dogs and cats, and that was arranged by the community. They completely arranged it for us. We just brought the doctors. The more you involve them in this, the more they begin to realise that this is something beneficial for themselves and not only for us or for the animals, but for the whole community."

Even the poor

More and more Thais, even poor people, are trying to help these animals. Some of them go around on bicycles and feed up to 100 dogs a day! "They boil rice," says Klein, "they go around with a big pot mixed with some chicken meat and they distribute it every day in this stall or maybe in that little temple." Dhunjiboy, who comes from Pakistan, finds it amazing.  "You will find sick dogs here in Thailand, but you will hardly ever find a starving dog, the way you will find in India or Pakistan. People feed them. They may feed them badly because they have nothing else than pure rice to give them, but they will feed them. I think there is a basis there in Buddhism and this is one of the expressions of it. We have to care.”

4. Cats find peace and tranquillity in Kennington Buddhist Centre


Battersea Dogs & Cats Home has rehomed two unwanted cats to a Buddhist Centre in Kennington, London. The lucky pair will get to meet Jamyang’s Teacher Tibetan monk Geshe Tashi Tsering, who has recently returned from an overseas tour with the Dalai Lama.

Shadow and Star arrived at Battersea in March, after a member of their family became allergic to them. They were then spotted in their cat pen by Sue Guthrie, who works at the Jamyang Buddhist Centre in Kennington. The Centre was looking for a pair of cats to move in, and Sue felt Shadow and Star would be the perfect match.

Sue explains: “We wanted two cats so they could keep each other company, and they will get lots of attention at the Centre as we have volunteers living here and there are always lots of visitors. I’m sure they will enjoy relaxing in the calm courtyard next to our Buddha statue and exploring the building.”

As well as a new home Star also has a new name, and is known as Tara, which is Tibetan for Star.

Battersea has rehomed cats to a range of interesting homes all over the country. Rehomer Ros Davies explains: “The Buddhist Centre will be a fantastic place for Shadow and Star to live.

Every time we rehome a cat it’s always great to wave them off, and some of our residents have recently left for really interesting new homes. Larry the cat went to live in 10 Downing Street, while Pirate and Marley are now living in a London theatre.”

5. Portland Buddhist Priory sees spiritual side of pets – Monique Balas, Special to The Oregonian By Monique Balas, Special to The Oregonian


At one point during a recent meditation service at the Portland Buddhist Priory, the only sound in the room was a cat meowing.

That would be the temple cat, Mr. B. He had wandered in during the service, but Doshin the German shepherd was there for the duration, curled in his usual place.

It's not unusual to see animals at the Southeast Portland temple because "the Buddhist view is that they are a part of who and what we are, and we live with them," says the Rev. Meiko Jones.  

That philosophy applies to those who want to be ordained or commit to the practice of Buddhism.

They are encouraged to ordain their cats or dogs as well.

That's what brought Mark Ferguson ultimately into Buddhist practice.

"My own spiritual path had to include my companion animals," says Ferguson, a counselor and owner of six rescue dogs.

Ferguson sought a faith that treated animals as an important part of spiritual practice.

Previously an Episcopalian, Ferguson received his lay ordination in November, a ceremony that highlights commitment to the Zen Buddhist path.

"We're all sharing this life together, the animals with us, as well," he says. "We're all moving toward enlightenment."

Buddhists believe animals are entitled to their own naming ceremonies, funerals and memorials. They also believe in rebirth, and pets could be distant relatives in animal form. This thinking may affect how they treat their pets, Jones says.

In fact, she doesn't like the word "pet," preferring the word "companion" or "friend" to indicate their egalitarian relationship with humans. Buddhism isn't the only religion that recognizes the importance of animals, however. Many other denominations see an increasing importance of companion animals in the lives of their congregants.
At the Episcopal Parish of St. John the Baptist, on the campus of the Oregon Episcopal School, the annual pet blessing is among the church's most popular services, says the Rev. Robert Bryant.

The Oct. 4 tradition honoring the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and ecology, has grown increasingly popular in American churches in the past 20 or 30 years, he says.

"For many of our folk, it's as important to them as Christmas and Easter; it's their favorite Sunday of the year," Bryant says. He sees the increasing popularity as a symbol of the growing importance animals play in our lives.

"Our pets are such an integral part of our lives, and we live in such a compartmentalized society," he says. "Religion is not about compartmentalizing, but bringing together."

The annual ceremony is a nice way to enable congregants to include their furry family members in their worship, he says. People sometimes humanize pets to the point of excess, he concedes. But this can be a positive thing in some ways.

Though Christians don't traditionally believe that animals have souls, people now are more inclined to see animals as living things that deserve respect, rather than just creatures designed for our use, he says.
The Unitarian Universalists established an animal ministry program 25 years ago to improve the treatment of animals, says the Rev. LoraKim Joyner,former president of the animal ministry. Joyner, who lives in Florida, was unsure whether there are any participating churches in Oregon. But she says the program has grown increasingly popular nationwide in the past few years.

The Unitarian Universalist animal ministry incorporates issues such as factory farming, animal abuse and animal testing into sermons and social action programs. The Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations is in the midst of a four-year multicongregational study on the implications of "ethical eating."

"We're volunteers who are helping our faith go deeper into what it means to take care of nonhuman animals," says Joyner, who is also a veterinarian.

First Unitarian Church of Portland doesn't have a formal animal ministry, "although we do affirm the importance of animals in people's lives," says the Rev. William Sinkford.

One reality of modern life is that many people are lonely, and their pets can ease that loneliness significantly. It isn't our connection to animals that's new, but the extent of our isolation, he says.

"The animals may be the safest and most reliable source of contact," Sinkford says.

Some churches offer interfaith animal chaplains, who are specially trained clergy or lay members who offer services within their own congregation, such as pet loss grief support, memorial services or prayers for sick or injured animals. The chaplains are a specialized ministry of InterfaithOfficiants.com.  

The Faith Outreach program of the Humane Society of the United States tries to engage faith organizations to take on animal protection issues. The group's premise is that religious values urge people to treat all living creatures with compassion.

The connection between animals and religion has even crept into academia. Harvard University offers a summer term course on religion and animals, taught by scholar Paul Waldau. He also serves as president of the Religion and Animals Institute, which explores the relationship between religion and animals.

Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, offers courses on animals and religion taught by religion professor Laura Hobgood-Oster. She recently published "The Friends We Keep: Unleashing Christianity's Compassion for Animals," which examines current animal issues in the context of Christianity.

Whatever our religious beliefs, Bryant suggests reflecting on the lessons our pets can teach us as the new year approaches.

"If we can only treat each other with the love and devotion our animals give to us," he says, "what a better world we'd live in."

-- Monique Balas

6. Buddhist Pet Food – By Brian Schell


Question – I am attempting to follow a vegetarian lifestyle. I also share my home with three cats and two dogs and one foster cat. I am a big animal activist. But, doesn’t the purchase of pet food, which is made out of animal bi-products, going against the Right Action Precept? What, in general, are the Zen belief on pet ownership (for lack of better terms)?

And my response:

Dumb question? No way! This is actually very interesting, and nowhere near as simple as it may sound. I couldn’t find anything in writing on the subject, so all that follows is just my logical stream of thought on this. I could well be wrong or taken the wrong line of reasoning. I’m going to guess that others will chime in on this topic on the blog.

We have discussed vegetarianism here in the past, (http://www.dailybuddhism.com/archives/59 and the comments beneath it). Different groups have differing opinions on the topic. I think everyone agrees that in theory vegetarianism is best, but most groups do not require it, not even for monks. That’s not really your question, but I wanted to remind people about that discussion if they want to refer to it.

Now, your dogs and cats are meat-eaters, so feeding them requires some other animal to be killed. My understanding of your question is whether or not buying ‚ meat for your pets is a bad thing.

Many Buddhists believe people with negative karma are reborn as dogs. Dogs are not intelligent enough to raise their karma on their own, so they essentially have to remain dogs until their negative karma has worn off. Eventually, they will get another chance to become human again and can work on reaching Nirvana. I think the important idea to get from that is that karma doesn’t work the same way for animals as it does for people because they are not able to affect their own karma, at least not to any great extent.

Some animals, such as cats and dogs, are carnivores by nature. They cannot survive on a vegetarian diet. They eat meat because they have to; it’s the way of things. There is no negative connotation or bad karma involved when a cat kills a mouse. It’s just in the nature of the animal. If you were not in the picture, and the animal lived out in the wild on its own, it would kill and eat meat on its own, oblivious to karma, Buddhism, or any of the high ideals that humans have.

It is true that by buying dog food, you are paying someone to kill animals; this taken alone is a bad thing. However, if the pet food makers did not kill the animals, your animals would do it themselves. Either way a food animal dies. This seems to me to be a zero balance situation and the net karma is unchanged.

Therefore, I am going to say pet food is probably a karma neutral situation.

Also keep in mind that by treating your pets well, you are increasing your own karma, and the positive psychological effects of pet ownership probably affects your own karma as well. Pet ownership overall is a good thing for a Buddhist.

7. Killing and Karma: Buddhist Pet Owners and the Euthanasia Conundrum – Dr. Patty Khuly


I’ve got this patient whose cancer has not yet been named by the pathologist (we’re awaiting biopsy results), but it’s probably some nasty business given her symptoms. Which is why I tiptoed into the subject of euthanasia last week with her owners. To no avail. Turns out many Buddhists won’t euthanize their pets.

Though I know all about the "no killing" thing with Buddhists, this was news to me. After all, I’d euthanized pets from at least five Buddhist families. I guess this provision is not so uniformly considered in the same light by all Buddhists.

Here’s some background on this case:

I love this patient. She’s a fluffy white, gracefully aging cat with a beautiful disposition — one much befitting her owner’s kind (albeit worry wart-ish) manner.

Her owner is the sort of client who will call you on your cell phone in the evening and on the weekends, but he’s also ready with a rapid apology and a basket of fruit or some other token of appreciation for the above-and-beyond stuff we’re occasionally called to do for his cat. He takes great care of his cats, and — get this — he once even donated a sizable sum to my favorite pet charity (Penn’s Shelter Med Program) in my name.

Hence, a great client.

But back to the Buddhist thing:

The guy’s a practicing Buddhist with a heavy commitment to his spiritual life. Which is why he’s reluctant to entertain the concept of euthanasia for his cat if he can "in any way avoid it."

It’s an understandable conflict when you read these words (sourced from a great blog post on the subject of Buddhism and euthanasia in humans):

    Buddhism places great emphasis on the significance of human life. Of the six realms of traditional Buddhist cosmology, the human realm offers the best opportunity for enlightenment. To take life — one's own or someone else's — is seen to be wrong, something outlined in the first precept which guides us to abstain from killing living beings. On both counts, euthanasia could be seen to be wrong. On the other hand, Buddhism places great emphasis on compassion (karuna). If someone is dying in terrible agony, would it be so wrong to hasten their death — especially with their consent? Would it not be, in fact, an act of compassion?

Seems the same conflict applies to pets, though less so given they are not in the "human realm" yet. Yet if "we are all upon the wheel of life," as the Buddha Siddhartha is said to have taught, the concept of euthanasia avoidance should be no different for dogs and cats — or even cockroaches — than for humans. Animals should also suffer, as it is considered a significant element of that "wheel’s" forward progress.

Yes, I get it. But I don’t personally agree. While I will offer (and he has agreed to accept) lots and lots of pain relief, if and when it’s needed, euthanasia is probably out. But we’ll see if when the time comes he won’t agree with what the Buddhist blogger I referenced ultimately had to say:

    In the end I think we have to follow the Buddha's teachings to think for ourselves and not just blindly follow a teacher who says that "this" is good and "that" is bad. We all have to find our own path and in the end no one can walk it for us.

And to that, all I have to say is, "AMEN!"

8. Animal Burial with Buddhist Rituals in Bihar


"Maitri, a non-Government Organisation, has made arrangements to give special medical care to pet animals, and if they die, give them a dignified burial. Being run by an Italian lady in Bodh Gaya, the NGO Maitri tends to stray and pet animals in a way that is rarely heard in other parts of the country, even abroad.

The animals brought to the Maitri are rendered all possible medical care such as immunisation and anti-rabbies treatment. In case of death, these animals are given a dignified burial at the organisation's specially maintained graveyard as per Buddhist rituals.

Adriana Ferranti, the Italian director of Maitri, says: "I do what one does when a human being dies. We circumambulate the dead remains, be it a dog or any other animal, around a Stupa to seek Buddha's blessings for the dead being. Thereafter, we bury the animal with due rituals. It is done to ensure a better rebirth for the animal."

Many volunteers, including some workers of Maitri, consider it their social duty to tend to all uncared animals including cattle, cats, rats and goats...."

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