While feeding the dogs that live on the stairs of my building some milk biscuits, I suddenly notice how healthy and energetic the littlest dog seemed to appear. Two weeks ago, most of his body was covered in mange and to call him sickly would be an understatement. I almost suspected that one day I would come home to find a canine corpse on my climb to the third floor.
Two weeks ago, I was in the thicket of caring for an old man I found dying in the gutter near the railway station. Though I hope to write more on the lessons I learned from this man at another time, today my tale is about one realization in particular. On my second day in the lung diseases ward of the Civil Hospital, it struck me rather powerfully that there was no difference between the man I found and anyone else there. Other patients were equally worthy of compassion as was the under-appreciated staff that, for the most parts, heaps neglect and sometimes abuse on the patients. In fact, I distinctly remember the feeling of not knowing who in particular should receive my attention as I was feeling compassion for them all. This feeling sustained throughout the day, such that I couldn’t help but feel for the dogs that were slumbering on the steps when I returned home late that night. I resolved that I must do something.
On the night of his departure back to the U.S., Virenbhai gave Dharmesh all the packaged American food that was left over in his refrigerator. Not having eaten a proper meal in several days, I only discovered Virenbhai’s gift a few days later on the morning after my compassion realization at the hospital. I cooked up what looked like breaded eggplant, only to discover that it was breaded cheese unfit for my lactose-intolerant stomach. Still, I greedily ate the tasty bread-coating and left the cheese aside, momentarily stumped about what to do with it. Then I remembered the dogs.
Surprisingly, only the smallest dog wanted to eat the cheese. Watching him eat it was a lot of fun, and he instantly became my friend. Over the next few days, he would follow me around enthusiastically and it only took me a couple of lessons to teach him to sit, stay, and come when called. He got more cheese and food over the next few days, but I was not consistent about feeding him by any means. Though I would joke to the people in our building that he was my chela (disciple), I actually got very busy again and began leaving home before he had awaken in the morning and returning long after he had gone to sleep at night. Until today.
As I was enjoying the sight of him and the other dogs finish the biscuits I was feeding them, I suddenly realized that his mange was gone. He looked like a healthy, albeit tiny, normal dog. And then I felt an itch on my bicep. And another on my forearm. Over the last few days, splotchy marks have appeared over right upper arm, my left arm, my stomach, and even one on my face. Lately, I’ve also felt a lot of idiopathic fatigue, coupled with a fair bit of weight loss. There’s reason to believe that I have intestinal worms, and armchair physician that I am, I made a self-diagnosis of ringworm (a fungal infection of the skin that is not actually a worm) in addition to my likely case of intestinal worms.
Right there on the stairs, I started laughing. Several years ago, I told my friend Shruti of some transportation mishaps I had experienced, including the effects of a long-standing curse from the ‘tire gods’. I had been plagued with a seemingly impossible series of parking tickets, speeding tickets, flat tires, nearly missed flights, and assorted bicycle near-misses that would be scary if they weren’t so funny. Shruti listened with such compassion that I almost felt relieved of my bad transportation karma, only to later discover that my transportation woes had in fact actually ended. This would be a wonderful thing, except that Shruti herself then experienced an abrupt onset of an impossible chain of vehicular incidents. In two years, the list is something like 3 stolen cars, 6 accidents, dozens of parking tickets, and almost daily near-misses. We joked about how she had been so compassionate in listening to my transport issues that she traded transportation karma with me, and was now working out my bad karma. It was a joke, but I think we both secretly believed that there was a sliver of truth in it.
Which is why I was laughing on the stairs. The thought that I was working out doggy karma absorbed in a moment of excessive compassion was hilarious. I headed off to the local pharmacy and bought de-worming tablets and anti-fungal cream, still smiling at both the dog’s transformation and my degeneration. For a moment, I was doing some metaphysical math in trying to connect the ripples: Shruti’s compassion freeing me of many burdens such that I could in turn free others of burdens, culminating into a moment where apparently a dog was the last known benefactor. It all made me wonder for a moment about whether it is worthwhile to be compassionate towards a dog if that meant that one might sacrifice something else of value (like one’s own health) or not have that time available to help humans. And then I thought of something Jayeshbhai often says: “Its all God helping God.”