Today we visited an animal shelter for cats & dogs.
I’m beginning to see life as a series of crossings all sentient beings have to make. Some crossings are very hard. Besides providing food and care for animals, we might help them cross from sickness and fear to more auspicious states through our prayers and personal rituals.
So I brought sage leaves and prayer flags with me to the shelter in hope that they might be of service.
After wiping down the cats, I came to the end of the shelter corridor where a stupa stood on a metal trolley.
A stupa is sanskrit for a dome structure used for buddhist meditation or for holding sacred texts and relics. Stupas vary in size. Some are small enough to be placed on dashboards.
I think the stupa at Boudha in Kathmandu, Nepal, is probably the largest on the planet. Walking around it can cultivate wisdom and compassion. The stupa that needed cleaning today was about half my height.
As I was removing dust from the stupa with a wet cloth, a large orange cat suddenly hopped onto the trolley top. He began weaving around the stupa as if he was making a circumambulation with his body!
When I managed to peel him off the stupa, he wrapped his paws around my neck and started purring and rubbing his face against mine affectionately.
I lit a sprig of sage leaves and passed their white plumes of aromatic smoke over and around the stupa after the cleaning was done.
Then holding the burning sage, I walked down the length of the corridor and paused at each animal enclosure.
The cats were fascinated. Many came towards me and lingered at the wire mesh to be closer to the smoke blessings.
Even their 17 year old dog snoozing at the doorway got up and joined us.
At the section that housed the dogs, we were barked at. Then as their eyes followed the smoke and their ears picked up the prayers, many calmed down.
A girl dog with gentle eyes wagged her tail merrily at us and wouldn’t let us out of her sight.
As I prayed for the animals to be healthy and happy, and to be released from all causes of difficulties in life, I realised I was essentially praying for myself.
Towards late afternoon, my friend raised the prayer flags over the entrance to bless everyone.
We learnt that the shelter caregiver’s late mom had been wanting to get a set of prayer flags for their shelter since they moved here. But the daily upkeep of the place and looking after animals left them with little time or energy to go looking for prayer flags.
My friend initiated this shelter visit about 2 weeks ago. The sage leaves were given to me recently. The prayer flags were gifts from years ago. I learnt that today is the feast day of the archangels.
All these seemingly random occurrences have come together to facilitate my intentions to support animals and their caregivers. And it brings me comfort to know that the prayer flags put up today will be fluttering under the light of the mid-autumn full moon in a day’s time.
In our village home at Covent Garden along one of the Singapore canals, there was a fallen tree trunk by the doorway. Depending on who was using it, it was sometimes a bench and sometimes a table.
The tree trunk of nearly black wood was often my grandma’s work bench.
On it my grandma could often be seen crafting her much sought after anklets and necklaces made from embroidery threads of 5 colours.
These “Five Coloured Threads,” or “ngoh sek sua,” as they are called in our minnan dialect, were meant for babies and toddlers, especially those who cried for no apparent reason at night.
Judging by the visits of parents to our home, grandma’s handiworks must have some positive outcomes.
My grandma had suffered unexplained losses in her life. Yet she could provide this support to her community willingly & cheerfully, as she rolled the 5 threads representing the 5 elements into one wearable work of Peace to soothe a restless baby and to calm an anxious parent.
Years later when I wear rudraskha beads on my wrist and pass them over the head or back of animals as I pat them, my grandma’s hands were on me.
And who have known that my grandma’s simple blending of the elements to make peace would prepare me for my affinity with prayers flags 40 plus years later in Nepal?
Oliver came to sit on my lap during morning prayers.
Half way through my mala beads, the sky darkened, the wind rose and the rain fell. It was bright & sunny just a while ago!
I resisted the urge to get up and rush about to shut the windows in my home.
“What if the wind sends in more dust?”
“What if the rain wets my study table?”
The what ifs were threatening to unseat me.
Meanwhile, Oliver, the Grandmaster of Sleep, continued to nestle more comfortably on my lap, paying no heed as the sky darkened further and the wind swooshed about, sending hangers in the balcony clattering.
After I decided to let them be, I realised maybe Rain and Wind had come to assist me to scatter my prayers further to reach more sentient beings! It was a precious moment in my practice.
With that thought in mind, I stay put and completed the morning dedication.
By the time the prayer ended, the rain had also stopped and the sun appeared again. It was all so brief!
Oliver did not protest when I put the mala beads over his neck. He simply went onto another cane chair and continued his morning nap. 😄
I thought of the occasions when non-action was my only option.
For example, holding an umbrella while walking is not possible for me. And when a light drizzle suddenly becomes a downpour in the midst of a traffic light crossing, I cannot run. But I’ve had strangers offering to share their umbrellas with me.
Then there are times I cannot make the crossing from the steps of a bus to the kerb. One time a youth with tattoos from his arm to his neck gave me his hand.
We’re often told to take initiatives, to be proactive, to solve problems, to eat lunch or be lunch, but sometimes staying put or not having any option, IS the way out.
So my wish is, if anyone is feeling trapped or lost, may he or she not panic and seek unhealthy distractions, but to try & stay put with the situation, because a solution could be just round the corner. 🙏
In mid April 2020, in the midst of lockdowns and stockpiling frenzy, a friend’s beloved dog passed away in the Middle East.
In her grief, my friend found lighting tealights, butter lamps and candles deeply comforting. She was also a little concerned that her supply was running low. Travel restrictions and curfews also made it hard for her to make purchases.
On 23 April I mailed her a box of butter lamps. My intention was for them to lift her spirit from the darkness of loss and to light a path for her departed Nepalese dog child.
It took a long time for the parcel of light to reach her. It had to first leave Singapore to go to the USA, and from there, it then made its way to the Middle East.
Two days ago, more than a month later, the butter lamps finally arrived at my friend’s home in the desert.
When she opened the parcel, it was also Day 49 of her dog’s passing.
Today on full moon eve and on the Tibetan holy day of Saka Dawa, my friend in the Middle East raises one butter lamp from Singapore for her Nepalese dog son. She puts it in a holder that has followed them from his country of birth.
I like to think that the butter lamps that I sent out on account of a humble dog must have blessed many postal workers and handlers as they passed oceans and deserts in time for his 49th day observation.
And I couldn’t have asked for a more auspicious timing for my friend’s gloom to be lifted as she celebrates her beloved companion’s entry into the full moon and into Saka Dawa.
May we continue to be Bearers of Light for one another, regardless of what forms we take and what kind of crossings we make.
I didn’t witness the stalking nor the hunting. But the little black cat, crouching by the dead bird on the pavement in the midday sun were some tell-tale signs that I might have just chanced upon the aftermath of a hunt.
Arms folded under his velvety chest, the round headed feline, barely out of kitten hood himself, seemed stunned at how quickly he had brought his prey down.
He scampered off as I got closer, probably afraid that I would hurt him. But I wasn’t even going to chastise him because a cat’s instinct is to hunt.
It was very unfortunate that this bird, still a fledgeling herself, met her end so soon. Her soft feathers of black, green & yellow were not yet fully grown. Parts of her delicate skin were still visible under the downs. I found out later that she was a Black-naped Oriole.
Could this have been her first attempt at flying? Or did a strong gust of wind toss her in the direction of the cat waiting below? Or did she know her time was up & offered herself to be hunted? But most of all was she frightened during her last moments?
She was bleeding from the beak, indicating something inside her was broken. The rest of her 100 gram or so body was still intact as I picked her up from the pavement with tissue papers.
“You’ve just died. But don’t be scared. You’re not alone.” I communicated my thoughts to her.
I didn’t save her life, but I could at least make her last memories on earth a little less traumatic. As far as I understand it, death is not an easy experience even if we know it is inevitable.
So I brought her home and placed her facing the sky & windhorses. Then I lit incense to purify her trauma and a butter lamp to light her way.
I anointed her feathered head with essential oils to purify her mind, and asked her to forgive the cat and go in peace.
A sprig of flowers from the red radish plant was placed on her heart to purify fear.
And between her perfectly formed talons which hadn’t been to many places yet, she held a rose, so that in her next birth she will walk freely without mishaps.
All was peaceful and quietly completed.
During the lunar new year a month ago I was intrigued by the gold & red offering papers for invoking spirit horses to send gods on journeys. I bought some just for fun.
And now these Spirit Horses would accompany the Oriole home.
In the evening, I wrapped them in a khata and buried the bird under a young tree, with my mother’s help.
I’ve named the bird, Beauty, because this was the word that kept coming to mind as I prepared the Oriole’s body for its return to Mother Earth.