If Shi Tzu were bred by Tibetan Buddhists to resemble lions, why do they look like yaks? In the way finches inflamed Darwin, this query awakened Petronius Jablonski from dogmatic slumbers. His Eureka! is mankind’s gain. Excerpted from his Odyssey of Historic Proportions and Priceless Treasure of Philosophy:
I empathize but disagree with the Reader’s pragmatic reaction.
“Scholar, of what import is the Shi Tzu’s origin? One can scarcely accommodate the joy and gratitude their company invokes, much less murky historical references. If the phylogenic tree bore any resemblance to reality, man and Shi Tzu would stand coequal, far above monkeys and dolphins. The dog may be our best friend, but the Shi Tzu is our allegiant peer. What more needs to be said?”
Dear Reader, knowledge of Shi Tzu history is an intrinsic good and thanks to my fruitful meditations is murky no more. According to the traditional legend, Tibetan Buddhist monks bred them to resemble lions. Folklore alleged that the Buddha traveled with a little dog who could transform itself into one. This is suspect for six reasons. First, Buddha was a great philosopher, perhaps the first rigorous empiricist; he was not a wizard. The urge to deify great philosophers can be very strong, but Hume and Schopenhauer should be the first choices.
(It is not impossible that one day legends about Zeus and I will abound, starting innocently as factual accounts of our daily wanderings through Pulaski Park and growing into wild tales of his metamorphosis to a great cosmic yak.)
Second and most importantly, the Shi Tzu does not look anything like a lion. How to account for the discrepancy between the traditional legend and the contemporary reality? I here offer four plausible accounts. The most tenable was conceived during Sandy’s exposition, the deliriant properties of which rendered me more prolific than an oracle.
It is conceivable that the monks began with sincere intentions of breeding lion dogs, which they presented as oblations to the Chinese emperor (perhaps the great man who destroyed the flying machine). The folklore surrounding magic pups probably intrigued him. Different sects of monks, not unlike car dealers hoping to allure customers, vied for his favor.
As we all know, craftsmanship leaves when the bottom line enters. Breeding became sloppy. At least one sect of monks lost its tenuous grasp of teleology. When quantity replaced quality, as it invariably does, they produced a batch of dogs not only distinct from, but superior to the lion dogs of their competitors.
“But how could such dogs be presented to the emperor?” the Reader asks.
Beyond certainty, the following conversation occurred (in Mandarin, of course).
“These dogs you present to me, they look not like lions,” the emperor says, stroking his long wispy beard as he scrutinizes two puppies playing at his feet.
The nervous monk, dreading this response all the way from his mountainous village and through the palace strewn with Shi Tzu poo, experiences the first in a series of life-saving inspirations. “No, your highness,” he says with a deep bow. The palace eunuchs inhale in unison. “These two are not lion dogs.”
“They are not?” the emperor asks in justified horror. To defile the breed is a crime against the emperor, the Buddha, and a harbinger of certain doom.
“They are yak dogs, highness,” the monk says. With head still bowed he sees the feet of the guards approach the throne. “Highness, the yak has true Buddha-nature and is the persevering friend of man.”
Eunuchs and guards stand immobile but their eyes bounce wildly, seeking attestation from one another. Within the context of another religion, such talk would be deemed blasphemous.
“And the lion?” says the emperor. The creases across his forehead bode ill for all three visitors.
“The lion is holy, highness,” the monk says, trying to ignore white sparkles twinkling around the hem of his red robe. They subside with deep breaths. “But he spends his days in indolence, sleeping and fornicating. He is not the friend of man; he eats man. The yak spends his life humbly lessening backbreaking toil. And like the Buddha, the yak causes no sentient being to suffer. The lion, despite his holiness, inflicts terrible suffering on sentient creatures every day of his life.”
“How is it I have never heard this teaching?” says the emperor.
“Highness, teachings are so many that a thousand monks in a thousand years could not learn them all.”
One of the little yaks pees on the emperor’s foot. The monk closes his eyes. He opens them at the sound of gasps. The emperor is on his knees, delicately petting the puppies. “Go, wise monk, bring me more yak dogs.”