“Lots of people talk to animals… Not very many listen though… That’s the problem.”
~ Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh
“What’s the meaning of life?”, I asked Cecil as he lie snuggled between the cushions of the couch.
“It’s just this,” he answered as he closed his eyes and napped.
Cecil is my 7-year-old male Shih-Tzu that I adopted six years ago from one of the shelters I ran. He is also a Taoist sage.
Taoism is an ancient Chinese philosophy based the book Tao Te Ching, supposedly written in the fourth century BCE by Lao-Tzu as a manual on the art of living. Whether or not Lao-Tzu was an actual person is up for debate, but the wisdom in this short book of eighty one chapters has lived on through the centuries. Later, Chuang-Tzu elaborated on these ideas in a book, the way of Chuang-Tzu. Lao-Tzu, and Chuang-Tzu are considered two of the great minds of the Taoist way of life. I would take the position that Cecil, the Shih-Tzu, is right beside them.
Taoism is a simple philosophy that emphasizes living life in harmony with the Tao, which can be translated as the Way or the natural life. It discusses two basic concepts, both are the very things that Cecil shows me is his way every day.
The first is known as Wu-Wei, which means not doing. This is not to be confused with passivity, however. It means not to add any unnecessary effort to life by not forcing life to happen. Forcing a flower to grow by pulling on its stem will only serve to kill it. Wu-wei says to just allow the flower to follow its own way, and it will bloom.
“The Master doesn’t try to be powerful; thus he is truly powerful. The ordinary man keeps reaching for power; thus he never has enough.”
~ Tao Te Ching chapter 38, Stephen Mitchell translation
Cecil is a perfect example of this. I see it when we are at the dog park. He is only 15 pounds, but mingles with the larger and more aggressive dogs without fear of being bullied. He does this not by being assertive or aggressive, but by being fluid like water. Rather than trying to control, he goes with the flow. When a dog bothers him, he will allow his natural instincts to assert themselves, and when that situation ends, he peacefully and naturally moves on. He is like a “ball in a mountain stream”, to use a well known Zen metaphor. Not clinging, not striving, Cecil lives in peace and harmony even in the midst of dog park chaos. That is wu-wei.
Another concept of Taoism that is related to wu-wei is known as P’u (pronounced pooh without so much “oo”), translates as the “uncarved block.” This was elaborated on in great detail in the book “The Tao of Pooh.” by Benjamin Hoff. Even though I never met Mr. Hoff, I feel as we are connected because I studied Taoism under a Taoist priest for seven years who also happened to be Mr. Hoff’s teacher several years before. Cecil’s teachings are in perfect alignment with my old teacher’s, especially when it comes to the concept of p’u.
An uncarved block has infinite possibilities. It is waiting for an artist’s gentle guidance to help it become what it will become. This is Cecil. Flexible, humble, easy going, he will adjust and adapt to any situation that arises. Whether it’s a day just lying on the couch, or a seven mile hike through thick brush, or a two week long road trip across the country, staying in cheap motels and hiking the Grand Canyon, Cecil abides. Never complaining, never stressing, Cecil takes on whatever shape fits him at the moment and lives it to the fullest. Cecil is a living example of p’u, a true Taoist master.
I have three dogs. Bhakti (which is Sanskrit for Devotion), Bodhicitta (which is Sanskrit for Awakened Heart), and Cecil. All three are my friends, my partners and my teachers. I learn a great deal from each of them on a daily basis. I’ve spent most of my adult life immersed in learning eastern philosophy such as Taoism, and I can truly say that Cecil has been one of my wisest teachers.
“When a dog does not dwell in self, then things will of themselves reveal their forms to him. His movement is like that of water, his stillness like that of a mirror, his responses like those of an echo.”
― Cecil, The Way of Shih-Tzu