The Dog with His Own Statue

by Derek Lin

March 1999

The First Virtue in the Eight Virtues is filial piety. If you cannot fulfill this first virtue well, then everything is false. People say dog is man's best friend and dog can be much better than man in this example below.

We had an excellent class recently that I would like to share with everyone. Section 50 of Tao Te Ching spoke of a sage who understood life and therefore could not be harmed by wild animals. This lead us into a discussion about the animal kingdom. Do animals have souls?

Most group members felt certain that they possessed soul, even if they could not say exactly what a soul was. Did it have something to do with the mind? Emotions? Self-awareness? Sentience? The final concensus was that a soul gave someone human characteristics such as compassion, loyalty and selfless sacrifice.

The group was not so certain that these characteristics applied to animals, so I cited a true stories about a really remarkable dog.

It was the story of Bobby, a dog in Scotland who actually had a statue erected in his honor. What did Bobby do to deserve this recognition? He was nothing more than a street dog without a master, who had to struggle to stay alive. One day an old man named Jock noticed his plight and bought him something to eat. Somehow Bobby understood and appreciated this single act of compassion in a world of cruelty, so that when Jock passed away Bobby began to stand guard by his grave. Day in and day out, in any kind of weather, Bobby would hold to his lonely and brave vigil. This continued on until the day he died, fourteen years later. The townspeople were deeply moved by Bobby's incredible devotion, so they buried him next to Jock and built a statue in his memory.

This story makes you wonder. Are there many humans who can match Bobby's dedication? When we receive help and kindness from others (parents, friends, or perhaps total strangers), do we remain forever grateful and seek to reciprocate in any way possible? Or is it more likely that we either forget about the event after a few days or, in our own mind, downplay the role played by others and glorify our own efforts?

For the Chinese, one of the most important virtues is the ability to feel true gratitude. It is the basis for filial piety, and the reason why we pay homage to our ancestors. If we forget this, how can we compare to Bobby? Can we still claim to have more of a soul than a street dog?