I had my dog put down last week. That is to say, I had him killed. But that sounds harsh, and I loved him, and didn’t want him to suffer any pain at all. So I’ll say I had him put down.
He was a good dog, but good dogs are numberless. Everyone’s dog is the best dog. Everyone’s dog is good.
So I won’t go on too much about my good dog.
It was a hard decision, not only because I loved him, but because I follow a rule: Don’t Kill Anything. And I don’t do this just to be a nice guy. I do this because I have vowed to follow the Buddha’s Five Precepts, which are:
- Don’t Kill
- Don’t Steal
- Don’t Commit Sexual Misconduct
- Don’t Lie
- Don’t Consume Intoxicants
I take the Precepts seriously—I follow them as closely as I can. But I’m not perfect, not by a long shot. So I fail sometimes. That’s what humans do, we fail. So that’s okay, too.
And I’m not the kind of Buddhist who believes in a Buddhist Hell, so I don’t think I’m going to go anywhere or be punished. Though I’m being punished a bit now, just by being human.
But that’s not really the way it is. It isn’t punishment. It’s just painful, sometimes, this living.
I take the Precepts seriously, and the first one says: Avoid Killing. You could also say, as I have: Don’t Kill. But this doesn’t work for some people. “Don’t” makes it seem like a sin, like you’ll be punished for it. And that’s not how it is.
You could also say “Cause No Harm.” Because that’s the idea. Don’t cause harm. Don’t hurt anyone. Because we’re all in the same boat. We’re all in this together. You don’t want to hurt anyone or kill anything, because that adds to the suffering in the world, and there’s already a lot. There’s already so much.
When people hear this they often protest, What if somebody’s trying to kill me? Or punch me in the face? Should I just let them kill me? Or punch me in the face?
And the answer is, Of course not. It’s not like that. You never have to let someone kill you, or punch you in the face.
But you realize that even those people who are trying to punch you in the face or kill you, they’re in the same dilemma. They’re like you, the results of causes and conditions. Every moment in their lives, and every moment before they were born, and every moment everywhere since the beginning of time led inexorably to this world being this way, at this moment, right now.
So you do what you have to do. And if you have to act now, if there’s no time, the only right action might be sudden violence, to stop a terrible crime, and the inevitable cascade of sorrow to follow.
But that doesn’t happen that often. Our habit is to kill out of hatred, or selfishness, or fear. We kill the Infidel because he mocks our Book. We kill the spider because we’re afraid of it. We kill the cow because we like hamburgers.
I did kill my dog, though. Or I had someone kill him. I gave the order. And I think it was the right decision, and it was mine, and I did it because I loved him and he was my Dog.
But also for me, because I couldn’t bear it, to see him as he was.
I was there with him right to the end, with my hand on the fur of his great thick neck. And I saw how quiet and peaceful he was and I wondered what was happening in his mind. Not only because I wanted him to be at peace but because I know that one day I will be where he was. My time will come, when my thoughts and breaths can be counted on the fingers of one hand. And I love this beautiful world and it will hurt to leave it, so I want to be prepared.
And I think it’s like this: the thoughts soften, they fade, till they’re gossamer thin, and then they’re gone, like smoke.
But they were always smoke. Do you see? They were always smoke.
And then the watchers stand and disperse, they walk away, each in themselves. And within them is the energy of that gossamer being, that unlikely miracle of life. And they leave with it, the memory, and it is their own memory, and that’s how it happens, how it never ends.
It hurts us because we want to be there, we want to see it all. But that’s not our lot.
We’re delicate smoke, we rise and we pass, we’re here and then we’re gone.