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Ben the Protector Dog

The sweetest, fondest, brightest dog I’ve ever had

Ok, so we have a dog. A puppy. A 40kg puppy.

My husband promised that our Spanish rescue was a small boy, the little one of the litter and probably wouldn’t be any bigger than 35kg full grown.

When he hopped out of the transport van that had driven him and 7 other dogs all the way from Spain he was already 35kg and only 9 months old. Now he’s 10 months old and 40kg. Apparently big breeds like Spanish mastiffs don’t stop growing till they’re 15 months old! Ay-caramba!

Still, I don’t mind at all. He’s the sweetest, fondest, brightest dog I’ve ever had the pleasure of hanging out with. The bigger the better.

Protectors are a special category of spiritual energy

That said, he is a force of nature. All that clumsy excitable puppy trapped inside those giant bones. And I have come to realise that he is – in his Spanish canine way – a Tibetan protector.

The protectors are a special category of spiritual energy in Tibetan Buddhism. They’re not really people nor are they imaginary. They are – as Reggie explains – a manifestation of the sambhogakaya energy in the world. That is the roaring, radiant energy of enlightened space. Not nothing but neither something specific.

In Tibetan iconography, the Protectors are those fierce, fanged and fiery demons that grace so many Tibetan temples. Figures like Mahakala, Kurukulla, Chakrasambhava. They’re fierce and wrathful manifestations of enlightenment. Because in the Tibetan worldview, enlightenment doesn’t pussyfoot around. It comes like an avalanche. Like lightning. It comes like a heart attack.

Life (capital L) smashes through our little life

Indeed, this is precisely how the “Protector” energy does manifest in the world. We don’t normally see 6-armed muscle-bound monsters with three eyes and skull caps of human blood showing up at our door. But we might have a heart attack. Or get knocked over by a bus. Or our house might burn down, our job vanishes or our partner run off with contents of the shared bank account.

When Life (capital L) smashes through our little life, then this is the shocking work of the Protectors. And from the life (little L) point-of-view it’s a catastrophe but from the point-of-view of enlightenment or Life (big L) it’s a moment of awakening: you ARE going to die, everything you’ve collected IS going to be scattered, nothing lasts.

We can live in the delusion that these things won’t happen – but the Protectors hate delusion. They hate sleepwalkers and dissociators. They want the world to wake up and will use any means to make that happen. Not all so dramatic but all disruptive. Disruptive of the comforting delusions of the ego.

Hand-crafted socks destroyed in the time it takes to visit the toilet

So when I come downstairs and my lovely collection of succulents, tended and nurtured for 5 years from my London flat, are scattered around the front room in a miasma of soil and green waste, then Ben is waking me up to my clinging to that. They’re just plants in a pot.

When my favourite Kashmiri shawl from Katmandu is shredded on the carpet…. likewise, I am forced to let go of it. I only wore it about twice anyway and I can turn it into a nice scarf.

When the book I just bought from Holy Island about the Ngondro is a chewed-up pulp. I can let go of that too.

When the carpets never stay clean for more than an hour, I have to let go of the weirdly intense importance I lay on having clean carpets.

Of course, there is no malice in a puppy

When the kitchen floor is filthy again, 10 minutes after me cleaning it, I have to let go of that word “filthy” and all the historical connotations it has.

When the amazing hand-crafted pair of socks that D spent 12 hours knitting in different yarns get destroyed in the time it takes him to visit the toilet, then it is – in his very sanguine words – a lesson in impermanence.

Of course, there is no malice in a puppy. And it’s hard to be angry and ultimately his massive puppy eyes make you laugh at your flash of fury. The protectors are exactly like that.

The protectors in a lighter (non-dog) mood

They don’t always appear in puppy form. They can just be a sudden shift in circumstance or understanding.

Two days ago, I spent 45 minutes of a meditation stewing in self-directed fury because I had realised that I had double booked myself for two teaching gigs in one night. I re-wrote my schedule, argued and lost friendships, burnt bridges, tried to solve the issue a thousand ways, felt overwhelmed, wallowed in ‘why me’ and made myself sick in the stomach. All in the space of about 10 minutes towards the end of my sit. And then when I got up, went upstairs and checked the diary, there was no clash after all.

That’s the protectors in a lighter mood.

“Throwing their head back in laughter that fills the three worlds”

I had THOUGHT my way into so much pain and knotted suffering. But it was entirely illusionary. There was no conflict. And Big Life used that whole fandango to teach little life a lesson: even if there were a clash, that sort of torturous thinking is never worth it. “Life is too short to put yourself through that”, they are saying. “Look how ridiculously painful your thinking mind made things… for nothing. Wake up! Don’t do it!”

One of Dharma Ocean’s favourite protectors (who lives up in the mountains and hills) is described as “throwing his head back with laughter that fills the three worlds”. And I suspect that the governing characteristic of all protectors, male and female, fiery or wily, is humour. Their very essence is puncturing. They often have sharp teeth, like Ben’s pin-sharp puppy ones, or pointy, “slicey” weapons – things that cut through and deflate all of the ego’s ridiculous inflations.

Of course, we all try desperately to fence off their fierce incursion into our ordered ego-lives, but if we’re brave and we let a baby, a toddler, a puppy or a husband or wife into our world. Crash! Slash! Pop! You’re letting the protectors in and in tumbles Life.

I’d love to know your thoughts about dogs and puppies. Drop me a message with any thoughts, comments, questions, queries or insights that pop up while reading the blog. I’d love to hear from you!

Find out more about The Mindsprings School. A series of courses created by Alistair to help you live a happier life.

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