In the Hindu epic poem the Mahabharata, after an awful, brutal war that made brother turn on brother, student turn on teacher, and saint turn on god, only six people remained. They left the plain of the mortals, and headed upwards along a questionable path towards the heavens.
Six people, and a seventh. A black dog joined them on their sojourn.
As they went up the icy trail, they fell. One by one, until only one man, and one dog remained.
The man was named Yudhisthira. The dog was named Dharma, but he didn’t know it at the time. If he had, he would have recognized him…
Yudhisthira arrived at the Gates of Paradise, without his siblings or his wife. His only companion was the black dog.
The Guardian of the Gates reprimanded him.
“You can come in, but dogs don’t go to heaven. You are known for your being just, come in and enjoy the fruits of your karma. But leave the mongrel behind.”
Yudhisthira looked upon the Guardian, puzzled.
“This dog has followed me from the plains up to the summit of heaven. My brothers all fell to their deaths, as did my wife. But,” he bent down to stroke the dog’s head, “he made it this far. Surely, the heavens have a place for a dog.”
The wrathful Guardian laughed. “If you would trade Paradise for a dog, you are far more foolish then your stories suggest. Walk in without that simple creature, and the Heavens will be yours. Or sit here in this vast, cold, bleak emptiness, with your pet.”
Yudhisthira responded with the innocence, and stubbornness of a child.
“If your Paradise is too good for a dog, it’s probably too good for me. This dog deserves anything you have to offer me.”
And so, Yudhisthira sat down, with his dog, for an infinity.
(It’s amazing how easy that is to do)
After an additional infinity, the wrathful Guardian returned.
“Yudhisthira, you have waited eternities. Leave the dog, and come in. We are waiting for you.”
This time, Yudhisthira smiled. “If you want me so bad, let me bring the dog along. Otherwise, I’m fine where I’m at.”
The Guardian solemnly responded. “Your father, Dharma, the Guardian of Justice, the Lord of Compassion and Grace, demands your presence. Would you deny him for a dog?”
Yudhisthira returned to stroking the dog. After he was certain the Guardian was annoyed, he said “If my father is truly just, I would already be inside with my dog.”
And so he sat for another infinity.
It was cold; it was bleak. But Yudhisthira had seen too much blood, too much betrayal. He was not going to abandon the dog.
For a third time, the Guardian returned.
“Let it go. Come in. It’s cold out here.”
“The dog comes with me. If Dharma wants to spend time with me, I’m right here. With my dog.”
The Guardian laughed. “Who do you think the dog is?”
Indeed, the dog was his father, Dharma. Justice, truth and compassion.
And for everything Yudhisthira had lost in the bitter throes of war, it was his dharma that let him pass into the heavens.