DOGS AND GOD
“Human beings need something we can worship better than ourselves. We want to be connected with something other than human beings. This means that we want to worship something.
I love dogs and have some unexplainable feelings toward them. I feel something extraordinary [with dogs] that human beings do not have. Living my life with dogs, spending time with dogs, side-by-side. That is the goal of my life. The things you can not fulfill within yourself in life, I feel that dogs can do the job for us. In one word I would say I worship dogs like people worship God. Dogs are my religion.
For a long time, I did not understand why I was so attracted to dogs. From childhood, some people adore cats and dogs. Maybe I am one of those types of people. If you only associate with other human beings, I think we all make ourselves utterly unhappy beings. Human history is a good example of it. We have only thought of ourselves— if you look back.
Since we have mastered language, we have become unhappy beings. The words say everything about us. What we were most obsessed with expressing in words was about ourselves. Then what we found was nothing after all. We confused ourselves even more. The power of words itself is lost as well.
It is essential to be associated with animals, like dogs or cats; or someone religious. It is like praying and asking for guidance from God in your daily life.
I have my work in Tokyo, and I am away from my dog. When I get home, I return to myself. It is not only my wife and her support, it is also my dog and cat, and they are good to me. It is different from facing other human beings. Actually, if we could accomplish that between ourselves, like other animals do, maybe that is ideal. Maybe it’s something we humans lost long ago, skills we can not retrieve back. The human history that we cared about ourselves only made us all unhappy beings. Perhaps it is not too late. We should face dogs, live with them side-by-side. I feel that is the only way that we can save ourselves, to be as we are meant to be as human beings. To me, there is no certain sacred place. When I am tucked in bed with my dog at night, that is my sacred place.
You can not hold God tightly. You can not hold Buddha or a Buddhist altar close. Dogs are more like living God. They are warm and smell nice. And they want you to hold them.
Getting back to true me, away from evaluating myself on business success or personal achievement [means] getting back to myself being a simple dog owner. I always keep that in my mind. Rather than keeping it in mind, that is my happiness and goal of life.
Looking into dogs’ eyes, being with dogs, you gain something more than being with other human beings. When I look into dogs’ eyes, I become myself, true me. I get back the true value of myself. Not too small, not too big, [not] out of proportion. I feel that dogs know that naturally. I want people to look into dogs’ eyes.”
I met the world-famous Japanese anime filmmaker, Mamoru Oshii, in Tokyo and his interview was one of the most unexpected but heartwarming interviews in this project.
His film, “Ghost in the Shell,” gained recognition in Japan, Europe, and the U.S. It was released in 1995 and is now considered a masterpiece. The story as well as the technology of this film inspired the creation of “The Matrix.”
So I was surprised when Oshii-san said his concept of God was a dog, and that dogs represent the qualities of the Divine that we as humans seek most. Some aspects of dogs are obvious in this regard—they love us unconditionally, they’re loyal, and always happy to be with us. But what is so interesting is Mamoru Oshii’s explanation of why this is so important. He says that because human beings have language and are so focused on themselves, we’ve become unhappy. To get outside of ourselves, we must have pets who remind us to be present and happy. This is a similar philosophy to that of Ram Dass, known for his book: Be Here Now, and all of the other meditation masters. In some ways, having a dog or cat is another form of meditation.
Oshii-san summarized this perfectly when he explained why a basset hound—his companion in real life (apparently named Daniel!)—appears in all of his movies, sometimes as the only living being. He believes that the body is empty, like a shell, and the dog represents his body. In his view, people can be free if they are not in their shell/body. When he plays with his dog, he forgets that he is human, and he feels free.
There is a deep connection between dogs and humans. The importance of dogs to humanity is evident in ancient cultures. One city in ancient Egypt was named Cynopolis (“dog city”) and, by law, all its residents were made responsible for the good care given to all dogs. Orion, the hunter in Greek mythology, traveled with his dog named Sirius. The ancient Greeks chose the symbol of a three-headed dog to guard their dead. Images and figures of dogs are seen frequently standing guard at temple doors in Japan. Dogs are known to be loyal, courageous, protective, and loving towards their owners. Might dogs be angels in disguise? There are people who believe this to be true.
Having heard Oshii-san’s view of human beings, I better understand his artistic vision. As he expressed in our interview:
“I have a certain artistic consciousness; it’s the reason why I make films. In my case, things like animals or mechanical objects are totally opposite of living things. In the combination of opposite objects, I feel the beauty of it. I am not really interested in what humans can express. What I deal [with] in my own films are machines, such as destructive weapons. I do feel a type of beauty in such things. In the setting that no humans are part of, the beauty is established because there is no human involvement. I feel strongly that beauty could be created that way—in ruins of buildings, where there are no humans.”
The spirit of Portraits in Faith is that any and all paths to the Divine are good if they result in a person becoming kinder, more tolerant, and loving, and thus able to contribute for the benefit of the universe and all creation. I cannot think of a more accessible metaphor for God than the unconditional love and groundedness provided by dogs and other pets. My time with Mamoru Oshii reminded me of how complicated human beings can make life, and how spirituality is often about blocking out the language and the voices that distract us from our sacred nature.