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The Dog Story

The Dog Story

Yesterday, I mentioned just how ingrained some of the ideas of Buddhism are in the East. Here is a little story that I think exemplifies the differences and just how deep they go.

One day in Japan, I had the afternoon off and was watching TV. My Japanese was limited, so TV was always a challenge, but once in a while I found a story I could follow. That afternoon, I tuned in to a children’s movie about a dog. I turned it on in the middle, and I assume the dog had gone on various adventures that I missed.

At the point in the story where I started watching, he was going to one of those schools that teach dogs how to assist blind people. Upon the dog’s graduation, he was assigned to a nice old man who was mostly blind. The dog and the old man lived together several years, and they loved each other very much (cue the ‚Äúhappy master and dog montage‚Äù). Then the old man suddenly died. The dog missed his master, and went to live with a younger couple who took care of the now-old dog. The dog too, grew sicker, finally having an accident that left him on his deathbed.

The old dog lay there on his bed, surrounded by his new family, all in tears. The camera looked down on the scene from above. The dog’s breathing grew shallower and shallower, the camera started to go dark. The dog’s eye’s closed and the camera faded to black. The heroic star of the movie, the dog, was dead. Yes, I was sniffling too by that time, but that’s not the point!

OK. So far, there’s nothing there that we all haven’t seen before in a tear-jerker dog movie, right? What do you suppose came next? I absolutely expected to see the camera fade back to a new scene with the dog, now in a cloudy realm. The dog would look over and see his old master, no longer blind, and probably a lot younger too. after a joyous reunion, the the two would walk off into the mist together, a happy ending after all. Does that seem like a normal story to you? Here in the West, that’s how it would have ended. Not this time.

Instead, the camera faded in to a blurry scene with lots of fuzzy action. The image clears, and we see a batch of newborn puppies, minutes old, drinking milk from their mother. The camera zooms in on one of the puppies, who we now realize is the reincarnation of our former hero-dog, ready to start some new adventures. The End.

That just blew me away at the time. For Japanese, reincarnation is every bit as accepted and ‚Äúnatural‚Äù as someone in the West going to Heaven. I[‚Äòm not saying they all believe it, any more than all Westerners believe in Heaven, but they all accept it as part of their culture to the extent that it’s in a children’s dog-movie and doesn’t require any explanation. Reincarnation is possibly the toughest part of Buddhism for Westerners to really accept, and here it is just an accepted part of children’s television.


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11 comments to The Dog Story

  • Timothy Hilgenberg


    Reincarnation surely is as “un”believable as going to heaven! What is “heaven” that is not a “rebirth” in a “better” place – or hell for that matter. I know what you are trying to say and I think you have a point. Perhaps it’s me being European, but I think I would have been surprised as much by the original ending as the one you suggest… in fact I would have been surprised that there was something after the fading of the camera.

  • I love it! For me, reincarnation is a little easier to believe, but not in such a simple linear way. More simply that the universe recycles our energy after we take off out of these particular forms we get so attached to. After all, it recycles everything else!

  • Rebirth could happen in heaven, hell, the animal realm, hungry ghost realm, human realm. I don’t get it, what is the surprise?

  • I think anything is believable based upon one’s perceptions and environment. If one is brought to believe in heaven and one is raised to believe in a cycle of reincarnation they will stick to that because that’s what they’ve been taught/understood to be true. That doesn’t necessarily make one any more believable than the other on more than an personal level. Personally I am ready to accept either as true, I may come back to live again or I may go to heaven.

    It’s interesting how much ours and the Japanese culture share while maintaining an undeniable amount of individuality from ours.

    That does sound like a very touching cartoon though.

  • Jordan, where were you raised and were you raised in the Buddhist tradition or something else? My point was that it WAS surprising to someone (me) from the USA. You just wouldn’t see that kind of ending over here; too many people wouldn’t really get it. If that show were released over here, they’d probably change the ending to what I wrote the first time.

    Eazy: It was actually live action. Japanese cartoons make my head hurt.

    and someone on Twitter pointed out that I should have been using the term “Rebirth” all along instead of “reincarnation.” That’s technically true, but we have discussed the difference between the two terms here in the past, and it was not my goal to get into that again today.

  • I apologize, I saw children’s movie and interpreted it as a cartoon.

  • Brian, I am the son of a Beat generation Buddhist/ Physics teacher and grew up in the North West Suburbs of Chicago Illinois.
    So I guess I was raised something else. When were you in Japan and had you been familiar with Buddhism at that time?

  • This happened probably February or March of this year- relatively recently. Yes, I’ve been familiar with Buddhism for years, and was a Buddhist at the time. But I was not raised one, and I guess the “old ways” of looking at things still linger on long after we have decided to change our outlook.

  • Babu

    When one observes life (problems, suffering etc.) and try to think logically for a reason, one can go upto a point only. i.e. scientific logicgal reasoning can upto a point only with some more to go.

    When one tries to go beyond that point i.e. to the end of that reasoning then one needs to make an assumption. That assumption is birth-death cycle, salvation being coming out of the cycle. Once this vedic assumption is accepted, then again logical reasoning continues in the form of philosophy. All the indian school of philosophies Buddist/Jain & Vendantic follow this and has spread to the the east (china/japan).

    Christian/Islam/Jewish, i guess donot have this basis, that is why it is difficult to accept the rebirth concept in the dog story above. Just to know, if anybody could comment on what is the basis of these middle-eastern traditions?


    I was just looking for images on the web to put in this week’s Weekly Buddhism and did a Google search on “Blind guide dog Japan”… Up came information on this very movie!

    It’s called Quill, and apparently it was a big success over there.


  • Coming to this post from one of your emails Brian.

    When I started to meditate I did not believe in reincarnation, I just wanted what meditation would give me. But with further reading I accept reincarnation as a background fact – in the Eastern way.

    I half expected the old man and the old dog to both be puppies or to be brothers!

    The really weird belief is the “After I die there’s nothing”.

    Wait and see!