I used to be scared of dogs, until I met Saya…Saya was abandoned at birth and found on the highway. He was going to be put to sleep as a puppy, when my Ayurveda teacher Shunya ji read his story on an online forum. She and her husband Sanjai ji went to meet him on a dark, rainy day in October 2002, and actually forgot his exact address, but somehow ended up right at his house; the first door they rang (with all the houses on that street looking exactly the same) was his!
Saya was meant to come to Shunya ji, just as I feel that my meeting Shunya ji was a predestined occurrence…as I discovered, six months into studying Ayurveda with Shunya ji, who learned this ancient science from her grandfather, a renowned Vaidya (meaning “doctor” in Sanskrit) from Ayodhya, India, that my own grandfather was also a renowned Vaidya, from Ahmedabad, India. Studying with Shunya ji has, in so many deep ways, been an experience of coming home (which I’ve shared more about in a previous blog entry: The Greatest Journeys)…
I’ve experienced so much healing these past two years, and I feel that Saya has been such a big part of that process. I learned from a Vedic astrologer named Shastri ji in May 2011 that I have Saturn in the 8th house. All Shastri ji told me was that I “should be cautious from dogs” as a result of that. Upon deeper investigation, however, I discovered that Saturn in 8th house actually signifies challenges around death, sexuality, violence, power, other people’s money, and taxes. Saturn also signifies father, karma, the hidden, subconscious, and is ultimately a teacher.
On July 27th, 2011, a woman named Vijaya Jhothi committed suicide. Vijaya was also a student of Shunya ji’s. On the night of her funeral a few days later, I searched for her online, and discovered that she had recently published a book about eastern spirituality, including many of her challenges surrounding her father, childhood violence, later sexual abuse, and so many other struggles in her life. She was a very spiritual person, and wished to share her experiences, for others to benefit from them. And while she was definitely a talented and insightful writer when it came to sharing about spirituality, it was clear that she had not fully integrated her spiritual insights and understanding with her own experiences, and thus, had not fully healed before she began sharing her experiences. Though she was definitely on a quest for Light, she claims that it was darkness that finally took over her in her last days.
Reading Vijaya’s words late into that fated night, with the whole apartment complex I lived in at that time shaking from the domestic violence that was ensuing next door, was a major turning point in my life. Suddenly, all the challenges I had faced during my childhood, all the subconscious memories, and hidden difficulties could not be suppressed beneath the surface any longer. I set a sankalpa (Sanskrit for “intention” or “resolution”) the next day, to summon within myself “the strength to let go of that which needs to be let go of, the courage to reclaim what needs to be reclaimed, and the wisdom to hold onto only that which is eternal and changeless.” I soon moved out of my apartment complex. Moving to a new place, surrounded by nature, trees, peace, and quiet was symbolic of the many ways I truly began to move on with my life after that awakening, and into a healthier physical, mental, and spiritual space.
Saturn in the 8th house, when faced, accepted and surrendered to for the great teacher it truly is, gives way to deep, spiritual transformation. I vividly remember the first day I first met Saya and Sakhi (another, more feisty doggie sibling of Saya :)). I was sitting in Shunya ji’s family room, waiting for her to finish getting ready to go to her talk that I was driving her to, when Saya and Sakhi both ran out of their room, jumped onto me, and started licking my chest, face, etc. In Vipassana meditation, it is believed that physical sensation is connected to emotion, which is connected to experience, from which wisdom emerges. Saya and Sakhi were just being their doggie selves, but my startled reaction to this innocent experience was a spark for my subconscious of the memory I was storing there of childhood sexual molestation by an older neighbor boy when I was six or seven.
To help ease some of the negative effects of Saturn in the 8th house, Vedic astrologers actually recommend, amongst other things, doing seva (Sanskrit for “selfless service”) for a black dog. The opportunity to care for Saya these past months, as he lives out his final days (he was diagnosed with bone cancer in October 2012) has been a blessing beyond words. During the brief, but deeply meaningful time I spent with Saya, I have not only had the opportunity to heal my relationship with my father by addressing the reality of the childhood violence we both experienced growing up, but also have learned so much about income taxes, how to manage money, confronted childhood sexual abuse memories so they no longer haunt me, and have, in so many ways, reconnected with my inner power and strength.
It is said of teachers, that:
“Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
I have always felt that Saya is my teacher, with profound lessons awaiting me each and every time I have been fortunate to meet him. It’s as if he knows exactly what I need to learn for my spiritual growth, and has been trying to help me work through the karma I have incurred in this lifetime. But the greatest gift I have received from him, interwoven into each of our interactions, and apparent to me even before I could uncover each of Saya’s many lessons, has been his deep, unconditional love, the kind of love that has made dogs famously known as “man’s best friend.”
I finally understand, from my experience, that amazing bond between humans and dogs, and hope to have the chance to continue to do seva for a black dog of my own one day, after Saya leaves his body. If I am fortunate to have a female dog of Saya’s breed come into my life, I intend to name her Sneha. “Sneha,” in Sanskrit, means “to oil.” Oiling my body, both internally, through eating food cooked with Ghee, as well as applying oil externally onto my body, has helped me tremendously, in terms of lessening the cracking of my joints and my physical aches and pains, and giving me more physical strength. Another meaning of the beautiful word “Sneha,” is “to love.” “Sneha” is, incidentally, also the name of Shunya ji’s paternal grandmother, the wife of her Ayurveda teacher Baba ji (meaning “respected grandfather” in Hindi), who used to lovingly nourish so many souls who were fortunate to come study with and benefit from Baba ji in Ayodhya.
After Shunya ji came out to take Saya and Sakhi (who were really just excited to meet me) off of me during our first meeting, I remember watching them with great fascination, as they started to eat some sweets on the coffee table. “Those aren’t for you,” I remember telling them, and then thought, “perhaps those are theirs, after all,” and let it go. Then, Shunya ji emerged to leave with me soon after, and fed me a Turkish sweet. Right before swallowing it, I remembered thst those were the same sweets that Saya and Sakhi were savoring!
After receiving my Vedic astrology reading later that same day, I remember telling Shunya ji how “Shastri ji told me to be cautious from dogs, so that I don’t get dogbites.” Remembering how I ate the same sweets that Saya and Sakhi also enjoyed, she laughed and said “I think you already had your dogbites!” (referring to the sweets Saya and Sakhi took bites of before I did). I feel that this was a most apt metaphor for how these dogs have helped and inspired me to transform the way I see the darker moments of my life (which are so easy to get stuck by, and to even identify with) into deeper remembrance of and faith in the eternal Light of Love, which the Vedic and Indian spiritual traditions tell us is who we really are, in reality.
“Jyotish” is a Sanskrit word used for Vedic Astrology. “Jyotish,” like “Jhothi” (as in “Vijaya Jhothi“) also means “light.” And it is to this Light, revealed to humanity in so many creative ways by the ancient rsis (Sanskrit for seers or sages) from India, who discovered such profound tools as Vedic astrology to help us see, recognize and start to self-identify with Truth, that I feel deeply grateful for, today and eternally.
I hope that, by sharing my experiences, now that I have healed, I can help guide others toward their own Light, and thereby repay, in a small way, my gratitude to Baba ji (who was also a profound Jyotish scholar), Tata ji, Shunya ji, Sanjai ji, Saya, Sakhi, and so many other teachers who have guided me toward mine.