2. Animal Friends

Once, in these early years, an acquaintance of mine took pity on two border collie pups he had spied in a dog pound for unwanted strays and took them home. My friend's compassion dried up after one week of ownership (chewed shoes, fur over all of his clothes, malodorous carpets, the odd bone wedged under his bed!), and Subarata and I were implored to take them while he “had a break” – a euphemism, as it turned out, for “fled the country, never to be seen again.” Reluctantly – though, in hindsight, happily – we agreed. The two pups grew into wonderful and loyal creatures – lifelong vegetarians, they were full of mischief and fun, and possessed of great intelligence and intuition.

In pre-disciple backcountry New Zealand where we spent long months away from our own two-legged kind, our family of animal friends expanded to include lambs, wild pigs that had lost their mother, the odd goat, a mercurial and sometimes temperamental fawn, a white horse plus a few very unendearing hens that generally disapproved, with much cluck-clucking, of all these animal comings and goings.

Subarata loved animals, and they her. Sometimes up on a ridge at work, I would see her on horseback, far off on a farm track, Pied-Piperish with a stream of dogs, pigs and a lamb or two strung out behind her. Our winter cottage back in the mountains was like a scene from the movie “Babe” on those cold nights – dogs stretched out by the log fire and sighing contentedly; a lamb or two on a hay cot; the three pigs on the porch outside, squealing at the injustice of it all; prim and disapproving hens perched on the yard fence; the horse circling in the yard – snorting to gain our attention and hopeful of a late-night snack from the ever-doting Subarata.

Our vegetarian collies were very placid and gentle, especially Scruffles, the female. Raised as a pup with so many other species from God’s creation, the unbiased Scruffles would play with the lambs and pigs each day, an activity that most self-respecting canines would certainly frown upon. They both had wildly adventurous lives, even riding in helicopters when I had two summers as an outfit guide on six-day white-water rafting expeditions. Scruffles loved riding the rivers, her paws over the front of the inflatable and braced as we charged down the big, rolling rapids; while a more circumspect Scobie, preferring to stay dry, would sit up on the lashed-down food barrels, a difficult balancing feat, bracing himself against the pitch and roll and downward plungings.

Later we shifted to Adelaide and our spiritual path beginnings. The sea was at our doorstep and Subarata took the collies for long swims in the warm ocean, training them to venture far out on their own.

When Scruffles died, racing at full speed along a night-time road in glorious style, flowing and free – such a sight – then under the wheels of a sudden car, we were heartbroken. We felt the loss of our longtime companion for ages.

Where are they now, these lovely souls that shared their lives with us for a while and then were gone? What a compelling case for animal-to-human reincarnation they make, for where else can creatures of such sentience, intelligence and development go but onwards into our troubled human kingdom with its further, if bittersweet, possibilities?

If, through some divine dispensation, I might have some small say in all this, a boon for my many years of dogless austerity, I would choose for them a gentle transition to the human realm, perhaps even somewhere around here – as a brother and sister in some happy rural family, with lots of pets and farmyard pals, and doting parents, of course. Perhaps our paths might even cross – two children flying along a forest trail, happy and free, running wild towards me through the trees, and stopping momentarily to say, a little shyly to this stranger, “Haven’t we met you somewhere before?...”