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The Doggie Lama

September 27, 2006

I strive to learn from my dog, Nubble. I witness his unguarded loving and the magic or miracles that seem to be infinitely in his essence – though maybe not a thousand such instances, thus far. Yet as I think back to a day before he was a year old and a “chance” encounter, maybe I should not be surprised at the spiritual things I witness in him.

NubbleLoving to all creatures, big and small, leg totals not mattering as long as they have legs or to be politically correct, neither of us like snakes. He snuck in two water soaked new-born kittens during an Arizona monsoon. Herded children on different occasions back to the sidewalk when the parents were distracted. He pinned a huge dog picking on another at the dog park, before returning to our game of fetch.Chased birds away from his water dish, opting to allow and protect a one-legged pigeon. He guarded me as I healed after a drunken business owner smashed my car. Caused a crack-head with a gun to re-think her moves when we walked down a wrong alley. Held a car thief by the wrist without breaking skin until the authorities arrived. And, puts up with me in all my moods.

Daily, I had been watching the elaborate sand painting of the Buddhists visiting the Scottsdale Center for the Arts as they worked in shifts around the clock, performing their sacred ritual of laying millions of color sorted sand grains in the unique and exquisite art form of the Mandala. Representing the Universe with its beauty and fragility – constructing and on the final day, deconstructing the elaborate Mandala they create from memory. The concert and ceremony by the Famed Multiphonic Singers of Drepung Loseling Monastery was co-produced by Richard Gere Productions and Drepung Loseling Institute; endorsed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

The Lamas were comprised of Tibetan monks in exile. Drepung Monastery was established near Lhasa, Tibet in 1416. The Chinese Communist invasion in 1959 forced closure and destruction of its 6,500 monasteries. Some 250 monks from Loseling managed to escape the holocaust to rebuild their institution in South India and later in North America in 1991. Over the years many more young spiritual aspirants have fled Chinese-occupied Tibet and sought entrance into the monastery, thus helping to preserve their traditional culture. The number of monks presently in the re-established Drepung Loseling has increased to more than 2,500.

Nubble was less than a year old, on a leash, as we watched the procession of monks enter the lobby. He seemed to sit with respect akin to all who watched the holy men pass in their flowing saffron robes of healing orange and spiritual purple. While I am inquisitive, I have never wondered what a Scotsman wore under his kilts or what a Buddhist monk wore under his garments. Wish I could say the same for Nubble. His movement was clandestine slight, as he sincerely and somewhat serenely grasped the edge of the last priest’s robe and stepped backwards as any herding dog knows to do. He did not release, though the crowd released a collective moan blended to a groan.

Though in his eighties, the divine man’s hands moved as fast as a Kung Fu graduate of the Shaolin Temple – calmly rescuing his wrap waist high and gracefully tossing the yardage back across his shoulder and into place. The crowd went silent.

I attempted an apology and was told he spoke no English, by a young man accompanying them whom I found to also be a monk but served as their publicist and translator. He assured me no harm was done as I followed his gaze back over to the collection of six legs. Kneeling, his ancient nose within a couple of inches of my dog’s muzzle – was the smiling face of the aged saintly man. His pepper colored hair worn close to the scalp.Black eyebrows high on his forehead. His almond brown eyes framed by tortoise shell glasses similar to ones I had seen in pictures of my grandparents, taken some thirty years prior.

Nubble sat statuesque with his tail still, ears upright, while gradually tilting his head back and forth as the wise man spoke in whatever Buddhists talk. The seasoned priest tapped my hand and I somehow knew to release the leash to the ground. He slipped a thin knotted chain from around his coffee colored neck which Nubble eyed, as I prayed he not think it a treat. The roped chain held a tiny silver pail, similar to the charms my mom used to wear on a bracelet. The angelic man began to circle my pup’s tranquil head as he continued to converse with the Universe and Nubble.

The translator smiled at my inquisitive expression. He explained that the monks spend many years sitting outside the Mandala to learn the meaning and memorize it in totality before being allowed to partake in the sand painting. He said the pail, loosely translated, was “the pail of one-thousand prayers.” That it, and others, were used in ceremonies within the Temple, and prayed over at great lengths. Once they had collected more than one-thousand prayers, they were given and entrusted to senior monks to use in blessings.

Upon completion of the gentlemanly monk’s incomprehensible blessing to my dog Nubble, he handed me the leash as he stood and patted my hand. The priest’s smile connected with a glow in his eyes that covered me with warmth as good as any sunshine I had ever felt. He bowed. I bowed. Nubble offered a soft single bark. I sighed. He laughed.The crowd laughed. Nubble wagged his tail.

On the final day of the sand painting, the monks then take booms to deconstruct the intricate and complex Mandala, denoting the fragility of life. They bless and pour small portions of the mixed sand into one-inch plastic bags which seal; handing them to those who want one. I was standing a few rows back, when I felt the warmth – then recognized the smile. The elderly Buddhist monk who blessed Nubble with the Pail of One-Thousand Prayers, nodded to me – and I stepped forth to accept the sandy gift which now sits on my writing desk.

I never expected to have a monk wink at me. Of course, I wasn’t expecting Nubble to fetch his Dogma that week either.

Pierre O’Rourke assists authors and celebrities on promotional appearances in Arizona, and is regularly reminded of blessings through his dog Nubble.

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