Recently I met my first Bhutanese businessman. He’d been born in a remote village and pulled himself up by his bootstraps, as we say in the US, to become a charming, well-spoken, international entrepreneur, handsome and contemporary in a black turtleneck and gray sport coat. Explain to me, I asked him, about the dogs.
“I grew up hard,” he said. “I am the first in my family to leave the village. When you don’t have enough to eat, whether that dog eats or not cannot be your concern. Also Bhutan has so many dogs, so many dogs. We think that if we feed them then they will grow stronger and there will be more. If the dog lives or dies it is its karma.” To stress his point, he related another tale about how infants in his village, at one point in history, were taken to the cold river, held by their feet and dunked in head first. If they survived, they were meant to live. It was their karma.
Besides, he said, “We Bhutanese are lazy. If we go by a dog that is suffering, we think, I could do something about that, but why bother.”
“Lazy I don’t think is the right word,” I said. “Lazy means slothful and maybe ignorant, but the Bhutanese, I think, are neither. In fact, they may be the counterweight to the Western penchant for intervention. We in the West think we can change everything. The Bhutanese, perhaps, practice more humility.” Is it such a bad thing, I wonder, to just let something be, to let it live out its own karmic existence?
Karma isn’t just “fate” or “consequences,” but an accumulation of merit or de-merit from actions performed in one’s current and past lives. A person’s suffering in his current life may be because of misdeeds in a previous life, but if he suffers gracefully and commits acts that contribute to the happiness of all sentient beings, then he gains merit for the next life. All sentient beings take part in the circle of karma, including dogs. In fact, one of your past lives may have been as a dog, or a mouse, or a spider, or a yak. As one of my students told me, any of those sentient beings could have been your mother.