LR has generously transcribed a talk by Tahn Pamutto given during the recent Bhava Daylong. You can see it in comic form here:
“BHA-VA ! BHA-VA!”
So, at one point I was up in the Pacific Northwest. I was at a hermitage called the Pacific Hermitage near Portland. It was very early on, and there were just two other monks. We would go alms round, and then we’d have the rest of the day to do whatever we want, to practice. And we would come together the next morning.
Yeah, it was nice, it was a hermitage. It was meant to be just a secluded place for monks to go to. And the main monastery was somewhere else. So we were really off in the middle of nowhere. And even though the monks had been there for about a year going alms round in this one town, it was still every day we would meet somebody who had hadn’t seen us. And it’s just because so many people in the modern day, they live here, but they work over there, and the relatives are way over there. So on any given day, the chance that they would run into the monk who comes by every day at nine thirty, you know, it could take a year before that happens.
And this is what happened. One day, after the meal, I was just out on a walk to stretch my legs, and I was walking by this suburban house on a road that we didn’t usually go down.
And there was this dog, a little Maltese kind of, you know, the fluffy lap dog…yeah. You know, everybody’s seen them. And everybody knows that when you condense the mentality of a dog into a smaller and smaller package is sometimes gets more and more intense. It gets concentrated.
And this is exactly what happened with this little Maltese. He had a very, very intense personality. And I was walking by his yard, and it was HIS yard, and he came right up to the edge of the boundary, his whole body shaking and quaking.
And I was fresh out of meditation. I had been at this hermitage, I had been living the holy life, the ardor and effort. I mean, I’d come out of a three month winter retreat just a month prior. And so my mind was in a totally different place. And so I looked down at this little yapping dog, and I didn’t see a threat.
One, because if he went to town on my ankle, I’m pretty sure his teeth would break before he did much damage. It was not a threat.
But also there was nothing in me that wanted to perceive him as a threat. There was just nothing but loving kindness and compassion. And so I looked down and inadvertently I just started beaming this loving kindness and compassion at this little animal, because he was not a threat. He was potentially a friend. And I just looked at him, and as I looked at him, just shaking all over and frothing at the mouth and rah rah, ra ra ruff !… I had this mental image.
And it was like he was wearing a mask, a dark mask, Like a, voodoo mask, or a warriors mask that’s meant to be fierce.
He was wearing this mask, and it was meant to scare people away and to intimidate people and to make himself seem fierce. And he had it on, and he was wearing it, and he was putting all of his intensity into this little mask. But I could see past the mask, and I could see that on the other side of this personality that he was putting so much energy into, was just a dog. It was just a wee simple little dog who had every reason to be kinda scared of the world.
So he’s little, the world is big. It kind of makes sense that he developed this mask to seem bigger than he was, and to have more influence. But nevertheless, as I saw that, I just felt so much compassion. And I’m like, Oh, that, that looks so painful. It looks so unpleasant to have to do that.
And I wondered if he realizes that people would actually just like him as he is, and he doesn’t have to put so much effort into being something else. He could take off that little mask. And I don’t know quite what it was, but somewhere where my mind was, and somewhere where his mind was, it was like a balloon had popped. And, he looked at me and he was expecting all of this response.
He needed me to affirm his, his personality that he was putting out there. And I totally didn’t. It built up and built up, and then poof, it just dissolved. And his mask fell away. And suddenly he was just standing there. He was still twitching all over of course. But gone was all of the ferocity, gone was all of the “get back or I’ll bite you!”
And there was just a dog. There was just a little dog. And he just kind of like, he just shook once more, wagged his tail. And then he ran away, ran back towards the house. I thought, “What a cute little dog.” I didn’t think anything more of it. You know, in meditation, sometimes stuff is just happening, and you don’t “take” it. You don’t “own” it. You don’t say, “I did that”, or “this is the result of my practice”… You’re just like, “Huh. That was a thing.”
And I just started walking again because, you know, what could it mean? I didn’t know what it meant. And certainly I didn’t think I broke the dog, I just surprised it. It came at me aggressive, and I just loved it. It’s aggression fell away and so ran off.
I didn’t think anything more of it. But the next day I was walking along on Armstrong, and a car pulls up and I hear this cute little “arf !”
There’s a woman driving, and there’s a girl in the passenger’s seat, and she has the dog in her lap. And instead of growling at me, the window’s open on the little girl’s side. And the dog looks at me and it’s just happy to see me.
But now what was really telling was the other two people in the car. They were shocked.
I had broken their dog.
They had apparently seen this exchange. This dog had been a terror. He had been causing a lot of problems, and he had been barking all the time, and he’d been chasing people and just being a mess.
All that had dissolved, and he didn’t know what to do. And he was as shocked as I was. But now his family was shocked as well. He had this big personality, and they didn’t quite know what to do with it. They knew that deep down he was this little dog, And so they would tell him, “Stop barking. Stop barking, stop barking.” But it’s amazing. You can say that a thousand times, and a dog won’t stop barking. You can yell at it. You can raise a stick, but they just keep on slobbering at the mouth and barking and being aggressive.
And then in that one moment… when it’s totally on them, and they realize that the world does not require that of them, it might just fall away.
And so the family, they were coming by to say thank you.
“We saw you had a little reaction to our dog, and he just hasn’t been the same since.”
I had my alms bowl, and they put some fruit snacks and milk cartons in the alms bowl. “We hope you have a nice day.” And I’m just like, “Okay, bye.” And that was it. That was the story of the little dog. To be honest. I never found out his name even. But we had a moment, him and I.
And so… we can talk about bhava, we can talk about becoming, and we can be very theoretical about it.
But… but what I say is don’t let it stop there. Right. I do a lot of talking. I do a lot of, a lot of talking. And you guys, you all do talking, but most of the talking you do, I’m not even there.
And it’s a lot of it’s just talk. Yeah. A lot of it is intellectual ideas. What I really hope for at the end of the day is that it gets gears turning. And that you walk away from the talk and you try something, or you look at something in a new way, or you just let go of a particular thing that you’ve been doing this whole time without really assessing whether or not it was working. Because that’s what the Dhamma is suggesting we do.
It’s saying, you know, this idea of bhava, of existence is built in, You would not have been born without this. It was in fact the causal condition for you to be born. It is that you intended to be born, you had a desire for existence and that ripened in an existence.
But was that really working out on a moment to moment basis for this little dog? The personality of the bhava that he was trying to put so much energy into was out of sync with his actual reality. And now most of the world was willing to just accept that that’s what he was telling everybody he was. But it, was so much effort, it was so much pain, for him to keep that mask on, to keep that personality, to keep that idea going.
And it’s no different for us than for that little dog. You know, it’s easy to make similes and the Pali Canon is just filled with so many stories of animals because it is very easy to show simple, practical things when you’ve got a simple, practical little being.
Right. You know, monkeys teasing crocodiles and birds fleeing from a fire and all of those jataka stories. They’re really just trying to show about karma. “This” quality in “this” existence creates “these” kind of patterns. Yeah. You can see it very quickly when you take something like the short lifespan of an animal and all of their diverse characteristics. But when we take a whole bucket of human beings and we put ’em together and we put in different hats and different badges and different associations, if we let them age differently, and then we shake it up and we see all the little personality quirks that come out, it’s much more complicated.
It’s much harder to see how bhava does not suit us. It doesn’t work for us. And if we can figure out a way for it to kind of wind down like that…that would be a more productive and happy state.
Tahn Pamutto, October 2022