The Dog That Said Maybe

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Over the years, people have come to Nepal to seek the guidance of monks in reaching a state of enlightenment. A worthy pursuit and I wish them well. I, on the other hand, have a less lofty goal. I came to hike.

My destination was an out of the way temple tucked along the rugged hills of the Annapurna Mountains. Sheltering there until I can acclimate my body, my plan was to strike out with no particular destination in mind as long as it went up.

The day I was to embark on my trek was greeted by chilly fog and the usual early morning chanting of the monks. They had been hospitable to me. So I waited until they finished to say my thanks and farewell. The monk who greeted me when I arrived and acted as my host, approached me. We bowed to each other and he gave me his blessing. Looking at me kindly, he said, “If you should meet Mu along your path, do not be alarmed, for it will be nothing.”

I bowed again, not comprehending, but wishing to be polite and be on my way, I said thank you again and departed.

The day wore on and I found myself gasping for breath from the cold thin air, leaning on a rocky outcrop near the edge of a precipice. I had stopped for a brief rest and to survey the grand vistas around me. Lost in the moment, I was startled by what sounded like gentle laughter. I turned around to see where it was coming from and was surprised to see a big hairy dog quite covered with dust, sporting a silly grin, sitting on the sparse wild grass looking at me.

I looked back saying nothing, waiting for what might happen next. As the dog sniffed at the air in my direction, a question formed in my mind. Before my mouth could utter the words, the dog spoke.

“I have no name. I am simply dog,” it said, responding to my unspoken question. Tilting its head and grinning still, it continued, “Why do you ask the same question each time we meet?”

Astonished and at once feeling silly talking to a mind-reading dog, I replied defensively, “I didn’t say anything, and I’ve never met you before.” It considered for a moment and then spoke again.

“This time I heard you ask it in your mind. Before this time you spoke in words. And before that, you made twisting gestures with your hands, waving them in the air. That one time was very funny, yes,” it added with a snort.

This is very weird, I thought to myself, but I could not shake off the sense that somehow this is not the first time this scene has played out. In a different somewhere, this dog and I had a conversation similar to the one we’re having now. Did I ask for its name then too, I wondered.

The overcast was lifting, sunlight slowly exposing the rich colors of the rocky landscape. Then, like a lamp illuminating hidden thoughts inside my head, it came to me... the hike, the thin air, dehydration... I’m hallucinating!

Setting aside the impulse to laugh the situation away, I decided to play along and see where it would lead. “Dog,” I called out, “so tell me about the other times that we’ve met.”

“Why ask me, you were there too,” it countered. “Besides,” the dog went on, “it take would too long; the other times, they are beyond counting.”

It stood up on all fours, the lively grin still playing on its face. It approached me, tail wagging, and dust powdering the air around it. Standing by my side, staring out into the open space, it said, “Now is more interesting than the other times, yes? Now, you speak to me and are not wishing me away.”

It went on to ask, “That temple where you stayed, would you say that to get from there to here is the same as from here to there?”

Puzzled, I took a moment before responding. “Well, yes, of course, the distance between two points doesn’t change no matter which point you start from.”

Ignoring me it continued, “How long did it take you to get up here?” I consulted my watch and said, “about five hours, why?”

“Yah, how about you jump over the edge there and tell me if it takes five hours to get back down to the temple,” the dog giggled.

“Now wait a second, you’re being ridiculous,” I complained. “You’re confusing the time it takes to travel between two points with the space between them. Of course there’s a difference. For instance, traveling up or down would depend on the terrain. And don’t forget gravity would make it easier going down and harder going up.”

“What is gravity,” the dog woofed inquisitively.

“Gravity is...”

I caught myself and felt silly trying to explain gravity to a dog. The conversation was starting to make my head spin. Changing the subject and to put an end to it, I said, “Look, my turn to ask a question. Are you real at all, or am I just imagining you?”

“Yes!”

“Yes, you’re real or yes I’m imagining you?”

“No!”

“See here, let’s keep this simple, okay, there are only two possibilities: yes or no.”

The dog scratched its ear. I waited. The dog looked at me knowingly. Still I waited. Then it howled in absolute delight.

Once its amusement subsided, it looked kindly at me, just like my host monk at the temple, and said, “Time and space, even the question and the answer are not for counting for they are nothing.”

“Then what is there,” I asked perplexed.

With an unlikely wink it replied, “there is only dog.” Then with a final laugh it said, “Maybe.”