What is the meaning, purpose or point of this life, be it long or short? These existential issues are pondered by a dog, who is able to recall several immediate past lives. Is it just to have fun and games, to play and eat? If only it is that simple. And yes, as he realises, this does not add up to be of much significance. Experiencing the wide spectrum of the literal ‘dog’s life’, Bailey was loved and abused, rescued and put down, lost and found… Yet, he lived it all with a sense of reflective wonder, trying to figure it all out, never with ill will. With limited (mis)perception of the world, his simplified take on what is really going on, and what truly matters offers us complicated human beings some food for thought.
At first, as a parallel to many of us, he thought he should just enjoy life, with no need to ‘waste time’ on thinking about life itself. Like our animal friends, we humans too are currently trapped in the Desire Realm, where there is a habitually instinctive obsession with the Five Desires for wealth, sex(ual or sensual pleasures), fame, food and sleep. For dogs, preoccupation tends towards less of wealth and fame, albeit to more extent for the rest. We too are like Bailey in some ways. Due to rebirth, we could have been like him, and might become like him! Yet, there is nobility too. In each life, he does his best to be a loyal best friend and protector, though also being the occasional troublemaker who does not know better.
With his human owners, he rides through ups and downs, doing the best he can to accompany, cheer and console. In his doggy ways, it seems rather unconditional – what we humans have much to learn from. However, his life comes to centre around his loving owners so much, that he ponders what the point of his life is without them. As another parallel, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas strive on for the sake of all sentient beings. With the point of their efforts for guiding us towards complete liberation, their very being with great loving-kindness and compassion is for us all! This is called Bodhicitta – the noblest aspiration to guide one and all to True Happiness. There is simply no greater purpose, to seek, fulfil and share.
With his unexplained ability to remember his lives, Bailey is able to have wider perspectives of the cycles of birth, ageing, sickness and death, to attempt comprehending its mysteries. ‘Why?’ He asks repeatedly. Well, because there is still karma to resolve, with more lessons to learn. The Buddhist audience might even hope that he attains a human rebirth eventually, though it does take many lives for the average animal to spiritually (and thus physically) evolve to be human (again). Through trial and error, he concludes at one point, that ‘I love you and you love me, and it’s all that matters.’ Maybe every loving animal friend’s somewhat accidental purpose is to learn and teach us this?
With karmic affinity to find his ‘first’ beloved owner again, Bailey also reconnects him with his love interest. Is the purpose of life circular – to find lost loves, to love all over again? With death always looming larger on the horizon, will this not lead to heartbreak of departure again? Does this not make the quest for lasting worldly love futile? The Buddhist solution for this dilemma is to widen our sense of love, to be with less attachment to anyone in particular, but with more selfless care for all. This strengthening and expressing of Bodhicitta grow our more enlightened love. Like Bailey being happy when his owners are happy, may we rejoice with others’ well-being, and soothe their suffering without personally suffering.
In the ‘end’, Bailey shares what he learnt of his purpose in his multiple recollected lives. It is to have fun, find someone to save, lick the ones you love, not get all sad-faced about what happened or scrunchy-faced about what could, and just be here now. Yes indeed, do have some fun, but never indulge till you forget your greater purpose. Why not be Bodhisattvas to one another, to save each other spiritually, by being kinder and wiser? May the unhappy past only offer lessons to be better and not bitter, and the uncertain future be made surer with here and now lived well. Although we cannot recall our past lives now, birth in Pure Land will empower us to remember and reconnect – with pure love to liberate all!
(This article was originally published here.)