Yudhisthira, the dog and something picked up from the alleys of India
No matter how much time I take cleaning my shoes, tomorrow, I still must go out onto the streets of Benaras. There, I will step in shit, spit, piss, dirt, and other ‘unclean’ things. If you live in a city such as Benaras, India, it is literally impossible to walk the streets of the city without stepping in shit. Not the big piles of it, but the spread out, rolled over, swept like sand and general covering of whole stretches of cobbled streets and narrow alleys that is impossible not to touch with your feet.
No wonder, at every house or store I would be expected to take off my shoes when I enter. In this world, you can understand a deeper meaning to washing someone’s feet; it meant to take the shit of the world off of them with water and with your own hands.
In the world of Benaras, I understand better, that to take the dust of someone’s feet- (a saying and action of extreme respect and honor or worship), was to say that the very ground you walk on, the very shit you step on, has become holy or sacred by the touch of your feet. It is only in this world of India, where shit is so obviously everywhere, that this older saying and custom reveals its original and more humble meaning.
When I was younger, I tried to make my shoes so clean that they would never get dirty. I tried to make my shoes ‘transcendentally’ clean, to clean them such that they would remain absolutely clean, no matter what I stepped in. But, I failed in that. I do not know if I failed because there was something wrong about me or in my lack of effort or my poor karma or wrong practice or laziness, or. . . . if there was or is something wrong, something lacking about that whole idea in the first place, fundamentally and utterly. I still cannot say 'Why', I just noticed that my white tennis shoes would always, inevitably, become dirty.
As I have grown older, I have noticed that one day, everyone must step in shit. Everyone goes out beyond that bend in the river, as a sadhu said to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi when they sat together in a cave above the upper Ganges and the Sadhu gestured to a bend in the Ganges, spread out below their mountain cave. He said that beyond that distant bend in the holy river, as it descends down onto the plains, it is all mud. One day, everyday, today, there is a world that has much dirt in it and we must step in it. . . that is where everyone we love is, that is where those who need our help are, that is where we all need help and love. Where else could we walk?
I am reminded of a story, told at the very end of the Mahabharata, where the Pandava brothers and their wife, Draupadi, after the death of Lord Krishna, have renounced their kingdom, retired from the world and begun to walk up into the Himalayas- towards heaven itself, accompanied by a loyal and helpful dog. One by one, they begin to weaken and die. First Draupadi, then Sahadeva and Nakula, the twins born of the Gods, the Asvins. Then the noble and skillful warrior, Arjuna, son of the Lord of the Gods, Indra; then the immensely powerful Bhima, son of the God Vayu, each of them falls and dies because of some lack or fault, however small, in their life. Finally, all that is left is Yudhisthira, the son of Dharma himself and the dog. These two arrive at the very gates of heaven, where Lord Indra, the king of the realm of death, comes to greet Yudhisthira. “Welcome O great and illustrious one. Welcome to Heaven. No human being has ever been able to arrive at these gates in their bodily form. Come in.”
Yudhisthira begins to enter in the gates and the dog follows after him. But Indra says, “Yudhisthira, this dog is not eligible, this dog is not pure or good enough to enter heaven with you. You must leave him behind. There are n dogs in Heaven.”
Brought up short by this, Yudhisthira replies, “This dog has been a loyal and true companion. He has stood by me through this long journey. It is not a good thing to just leave him.
I will not abandon him.”
“But you cannot come into heaven with this dog.” said Indra.
“Then this is not heaven for me.” replies Yudhisthira. He then turned away from the heavenly gates, the very gates he had been striving to reach for so long, where all those who he loved were waiting for him in their celestial bodies and began to walk down the long way he had come, accompanied by the dog. After they had only gone a little way, Yudhisthira looked back at the dog and there, instead of the dog that had been turned away by Indra from the gates of heaven, was Lord Dharma, righteousness incarnate, Yudhisthrira's Father, looking at him with a bright and happy countenance.
“You have done well, my son.,” he said to Yudhisthira. You have upheld Dharma
and passed the final test.”
Then taking Yudhisthira by the hand, they turned and walked together
through the gates of heaven, admired and worshipped by Indra as they went.
Yudhisthira was the son of Dharma. He was called DharmaRaj, king Dharma. He was known for his adherence to Dharma or right action no matter what the cost and he was the first human to walk into heaven. So, what does this have to do with shit?
Shit happens. We cannot avoid it. We cannot and must not abandon the ‘lower’ realms of the world. We must not abandon the earth and all the things that live upon it. We must not abandon the trees and the rivers. We must not abandon the meadows and the high mountains. We must not abandon the animals. We must not abandon the dog. We must not abandon people. We must not abandon the poor, the sick the needy, the mad or the intellectual, the beautiful or the ugly. We must not abandon anything whatsoever.
We need to recognize that wherever we go, whoever we are as human beings there is shit in the world and we will step in it and, we must recognize that we have all, always and already, stepped in it and we are tracking it around. We all must wash our feet and have the humility to bear with the dirty feet of others. Perhaps we will even wash their feet. In this way, like Yudhisthira, we hold fast to a great Truth and our care for a dog will honor God.
It makes no difference whether one believes or does not believe in Jesus or what is said to be the truth in the various churchs of exoteric Christianity to appreciate this beautiful and exquisite tale and the Truth it conveys.
Jesus tells a parable, a metaphorical story, in the New Testament (Matt 31-46). :
When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him,
then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another,
as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father,
inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink:
I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee?
or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand,
Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison,
and ye visited me not.
Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst,
or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
And these shall go away into everlasting punishment:
but the righteous into life eternal.
We must love God (Reality)
and in Reality . . . Shit Happens