New Moon Day: Ajahn Tommy

October 29, 2008

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Ajahn Tommy

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As Buddhists we view difficult people and situations as opportunities to cultivate our practice. The Chinese master Kuang-ch’in said: “Without hardships there can be no attainment in practice.”

In our monastery we have a little teacher who is particularly adept at enabling us to develop a bottomless well of patience and love. If we didn’t develop these things he might well have found himself in a new home by now.

His name’s Tommy, Ajahn Tommy. Ajahn means teacher and Tommy teaches us in ways that we don’t always immediately appreciate. Because Tommy is a Jack Russell, and he likes to pee.

Luangpor visits prisons several times a week and I assist him when he gets ready to go out and when he returns. On returning he gets himself in order in his bathroom in the main house and then I escort him down to his kuti, carrying his robes and prison bag laden with Dhamma books.

Upon shutting the outside gate near to his kuti excited barks and smashing tails greet us from inside. The key enters the lock and turns. The door opens and two wet muzzles thrust their way into Luangpor; one at about belly height (the Hungarian Vizsla’s), and one at ankle height (the not so venerable Ajahn’s). We force our way through the pandemonium and into the kitchenette, quickly releasing the hounds into the main room. They are locked in the kitchen for a reason. That reason, as you shall soon discover, is Tommy. After puffs and snorts and whines and blows the dogs proceed to get down to some more serious sleeping practice. Luangpor sits down, I bow, grab his tea cup and make my way back to the kitchen, ignorant of the reality that awaits….

I soon find myself standing in an invisible puddle on the cold laminate floor. I jump back. I’m not happy.

“TOMMEEEEE!!!!!!!!”

Ajahn Tommy, the Phantom Piddler, has been at work.

This series of events was not unfamiliar. It started a number of years ago (he hadn’t always been like it), when the kuti was nicely carpeted throughout. As it was a carpet there was little risk of stepping in the pee because you could clearly see it. Even the kitchen used to be carpeted. Before the Serial Piddler had entered upon his career of prolific peeing the dogs had lived quite contented in the main room. But once the puddles began to appear the dogs were rapidly restricted to the kitchen.

At this point, Tommy had only just begun to realise the joys of driving you up the wall and much was still to come. At least once a day and sometimes three times a day he would execute a pee on the carpet. But he knew that he shouldn’t. That was the worst thing. We’d open the back door, spot the puddle and look at him. He knew we’d seen what he’d done and he knew we were not impressed.

For this to happen once or twice is nothing. But for it to continue for months or even years on a daily basis is not so funny.

But what could be done?

We tried a number of techniques to try to overcome this downright disgusting problem. Because it wasn’t nice.

Firstly we were lovingly firm. We told him in no uncertain terms that peeing is not the way to carry on. We then cemented in that admonishment by locking him outside the back door (which by normal standards is pretty soft). It was vainly hoped that this would impress on him the graveness of his acts.

But it wasn’t only uncomfortable for him. We had to endure the howling and the thudding as the poor thing hurled himself against the back door. We couldn’t put up with it for much longer so we unblocked the dog door and allowed the shameful mutt to slither in.

And so this continued. But did it do any good? Did he learn his lesson?

No.

We contemplated building him a kennel outside but loving animals we just didn’t have the heart. The pot-bellied terrier who hated going for walks had lived with a carpet for years.

It soon became clear that being firm was not going to achieve anything at all. He simply carried on regardless.

After a period a thought arose: “Perhaps, being such a troubled little dog (because he was, he was a rescue dog), it is attention he is after.” And he sure had been getting that! Maybe if we were to make a huge fuss of him he’d stop. Maybe that would be enough.

And so now we’d open the back door, and it would be “Oh Tommeee. You’re such a goooood boy! That’s a lovely little pee!” And then he’d look confused and we’d carry on praising. It actually became quite fun. For a little bit. And it seemed to work for a while. The peeing subsided and we laid on the fuss. I mean really laid on the fuss.

But it wasn’t enough. And he couldn’t hold back. The peeing, after a short interval, continued.

Oh!….. What to do? He’s been admonished. He’s been given all the attention a little dog could want. But yet the pee keeps on flowing.

Consequently, our campaign took a new direction. “Ignore him”. This was to be the motto. It was time to simply ignore his behaviour. From now on, it was decided, we would pay no attention to Tommy’s misdeeds. We would quietly get on and soak up the yellow puddle and wash the carpet. You must imagine that this carpet had barely a pee-free patch on it by this time.

And so in I would come, clean up the pee, take a little peek at the worried Jack Russell out of the corner of my eye, and carry on.

One day I remember coming in and dealing with his business as usual. I then made Luangpor a cup of tea and sat down in the main room. After a while I turned around and found Tommy looking intently at me. He was waiting for a reaction. But he wasn’t going to get one. Then, after a minute, bemused at the lack of attention, he quite intentionally went into the kitchen to – I believe – check that he had, in fact, done a pee! The dog was fully conscious of what he was doing and that doing it was the wrong thing to do! Can you believe it?! And so upon inspection he realised that he had, of course, administered a successful dose upon the carpet and he came back in and looked at me as if to say: “Don’t you know what I’ve just done?”

A great teacher indeed.

Ignoring him worked for a period. But, alas, although a happy time, it was a short time. And Tommy began perfecting his masterpieces with renewed passion and vigour.

So we had tried everything. Firm admonishment had not worked. Buckets of attention and praise had not worked. Ignoring the pee had not worked either. The problem, in my mind, had reached its zenith.

But what can happen when a problem reaches its zenith; or when a difficulty is on the brink of engulfing you; or when you hit the bottom of a precipice?

Wisdom can arise.

A little understanding arose in me: Tommy is a troubled dog. And this is what troubled dogs do. They pee. No matter what you do or how you react, Tommy is a troubled dog who pees.

Now with this understanding arose patience, arose forgiveness, arose friendliness. Suddenly the anger and irritation lifted when this understanding took hold: Tommy is a troubled dog and troubled dogs pee.

That was enough.

It was at this point that we named him Ajahn Tommy – Teacher Tommy.

And so loving-kindness arises out of understanding. In part, it understands that all beings are troubled and that troubled beings ……..


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PS. Tommy hardly ever pees now. He is a reformed character (though he still doesn’t like going for walks).

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The next teaching will be on:

The Full Moon Day, Wednesday the 12th November

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