The Dalai Lama’s Cat: A Figurative Feline

I grew up seeing my father poring over Osho’s myriad books on Buddhism. When I was not a voracious reader, father would patiently sit beside me, reading some enlightening lines from the book to me. Like many late-starters, I began reading Sidney Sheldon, Chetan Bhagat first, and unlike many late-starters I made a radical shift by meeting Osho’s books too. His tomes were too hard to assimilate, especially when I hadn’t had my fair share of life. Most of it seemed impertinent, and I gradually weaned myself from anything which appeared that hard. I resumed reading a lot of fiction. All was well in my world. 🙂

But, in my to-do list that exists only in my mind, I noted that I should read some books on Buddhism, which I have always found fascinating. Last month, I read Timber Hawkeye Buddhist Boot Camp. It was like an omnibus of his Facebook posts. (It even had a couple of smileys.) The book offered rudimentary aspects of Buddhism targeting people with goldfish’s attention span, but it still provided a couple of enlightening moments. I wished that the author dove deeper. However, I understood that it wasn’t his intention. It was a quick, nice read all the same.

Today, I completed reading David Michie’s The Dalai Lama’s Cat. And, I am glad I read it.

CaptureThe Dalai Lama rescues a pedigree feline (a well-bred Himalayan one at that) from a group of boys in New Delhi. The cat, who is never given a proper name, is looked after by The Dalai Lama himself, his assistants, Mrs Trinci (an adorable, but ill-tempered cook), Franc (who owns a cafe), and many dignitaries who visit the Dalai Lama. She sits on the windowsill in the Dalai Lama’s room, and basks in the beauty of the snow-capped Himalayan mountains. She lounges on her ‘lotus cushion’, thoughtfully placed between a heap of Vanity Fair and Vogue at Franc’s cafe, and watches the patrons. Every now and then, she visits Mrs Patel, and wolfs down Indian delicacies carefully made by the loving woman. While her life seems perfect, just like every other living being, His Holiness’s Cat (HHC) AKA Rinpoche (The precious one), The Most Beautiful Creature That Ever Lived, Snow Lion, is bogged down by many conundrums. To her advantage, she shares her roof with the Dalai Lama, so her perplexities and predicaments are removed by the spiritual leader’s wisdom. Because of which, Rinpoche (the name that I love) shares her experiences and learning, and makes a beautiful attempt to explain Buddhism in a subtle manner.

“I began to think that perhaps the time had come for me to write a book of my own — a book that would convey some of the wisdom that I’ve learned sitting not at the feet of the Dalai Lama but even closer, on his lap. A book that would tell my own tale — not so much one of rags to riches as trash to temple. How I was rescued from a fate too grisly to contemplate, to become the constant companion of a man who is not only one of the world’s greatest spiritual leaders and a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate but also a dab hand with a can opener.”

I love Rinpoche’s tone. She has got that signature snobbishness of cats, and still tries to act modest. 😉

The blue-eyed cat explores some of the common themes that Buddhism promotes: Compassion, meditation, inclusiveness, listening to mind and body, karma… and even self-confidence. While I buy most observations, there are a couple which don’t agree with me quite well. But, they are thought-provoking still. Despite the serious tropes, David Michie’s writing is remarkably light, humorous, and witty. Also, a page-turner lies in this, with believable, beautiful twists and turns. 🙂 I like the book.

My favourite passages here:

“Even though cats spend most of the day dozing comfortably, we like our humans to keep busy. Not in a noisy or intrusive way — just active enough to entertain us during those periods when we choose to remain awake. Why else do you think most cats have a favorite theater seat — a preferred spot on a windowsill, porch, gatepost, or cupboard top? Don’t you realize, dear reader, that you are our entertainment?”

“I like this definition of of mindfulness,” said Chogyal to Tenzin… “‘Mindfulness means paying attention to the present moment deliberately and non-judgementally.’ Nice and clear, isn’t it?” Tenzin nodded. “Not dwelling on thoughts of the post or the future, or some kind of fantasy,” elaborated Chogyal. “I like an even simpler definition by Sogyal Rinpoche,” said Tenzin, sitting back in his chair. “Pure presence.” Chogyal mused, “Hmm. No mental agitation or elaboration of any kind.” Tenzin confirmed, “Exactly. The foundation of all contentment.”

“It is interesting how, once you have decided to strike out on a new course of action, events often transpire to help you. Not always in an obvious fashion, or immediately. And sometimes in way you would never have considered.”

“I was beginning to realize that just because an idea is simple, it isn’t necessarily easy to follow. Purring in agreement with high-sounding principles meant nothing unless I actually lived by them.”

“Most interesting, my little Snow Lion,” the Dalai Lama remarked after a while, as he closed his book and came over to stroke me. “I am reading about the life of Albert Schweitzer, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952. He was a very compassionate man, very sincere. I have just read something he said: ‘Sometimes our light goes out, but is blown again into flame by an encounter with another human being. Each of us owes the deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this inner light.’ I agree with that, don’t you, HHC?” Close my eyes, I purred.

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