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The Zen Of Cats

Are pets Buddhists? They do seem to have an intimate understanding of the five hindrances to enlightenment: anger, attachment, restlessness, sleepiness and doubt.

Take the cats we have had:

Sunny talked and cried. His demands went on endlessly (to be let into the bedroom, usually). Even if he did give up and go downstairs, you would hear about it in the morning!

Funny…but how often do we humans become attached to what we fancy we must have? How often do we find ourselves doggedly (or, cattedly) pursuing happiness?

Then there was his sister, Butch. Butch would join the others in milling about my legs at meal time. But if someone else got the first bite she was hissing. And if another cat came near while she was allowing you to pet her, you could expect hissing at the very least.

I know, you’re thinking: “What a Butch!” But I finally figured her out.

Judging by the size of Sunny, Butch was the runt of the litter. She probably had to fight to get food growing up. I started to see Butch as conditioned to aversion, habitually reacting to old problems without a sense of connectedness to other beings.

Do you know someone like this? Well, maybe she’s just…a Butch.

Our first cat was the Duchess. When Duchess came to live at our house she took up residence in the basement and we didn’t set eyes on her for three weeks. Duchess, you see, was afraid of loud noises, strangers, laughter, sudden movements--and Butch.

You could usually find Duchess in the basement—although she did come upstairs if her food dish was empty or she sensed I had on my favorite pair of black trousers. She’d jump into my lap, purring loudly, until she judged enough of her white hair had coated them sufficiently. But let someone walk in the room suddenly—and she’d be off like a shot!

She was just a scaredy cat.

How often do we humans do this: scare ourselves with or run away from things…through doubt?

And then there was Mr. Dingle.

Dingle’s green eyes were quite captivating, especially when he gave you his “killer cute” look while sprawled on his back.

Dingle couldn’t stand being inside. He was a walking advertisement for restlessness—and could hear a door to the outside open, no matter where he was in our house. It didn’t matter if he was napping or having a good wrestle with one of the other cats—he could hear that door open and was there in ten seconds flat. My evening greeting to Mr. Dingle routinely consisted of, “Get back!” as I held him aside at the front door while retrieving the mail.

Once, Dings escaped for four days—a classic case of “Looking for Mr. Dingle”--while I fretted and mourned. Finally, he showed up, covered in motor oil and very hungry.

From time to time before, he’d ventured out briefly, of course—but rain would send him back in almost immediately, while snow between his toes literally stopped him in his tracks—and for two days one winter he cried and cried, as if asking irritatedly where the grass had gone, and why didn’t we bring it back right now?

How often do humans do this: become restless for some unnamable, unknowable more—and then when we finally get the thing, we discover it’s not, after all, what we really wanted, anyway?

Every time I consider them: Sunny—caught by attachment, Butch—torn by aversion, Duchess—separated by doubt, and Mr. Dingle, with eyes so big—restless for the wide, wonderful, sometimes painful unknown, I realize anew how the hindrances are related. Sunny’s attachment also showed anger, Butch’s anger her fear of loss, Duchess’ doubt, so like Butch’s sense of separation and Dingle’s restlessness, filled with so much attachment…

I’m thankful to have known these feline teachers, now gone, but once placed in my life to show me the effects of the five hindrances, and how I must be aware of them.

But…what about sleepiness, you ask? Well, that’s actually a dog story—so that will have to wait for another day.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 20th, 2011 03:58 pm (UTC)
Haha. Very cute! I can gaurantees that no one here has the sleeplessness issue! Lots of attachment to food and da' mama though! AW
Jul. 20th, 2011 04:13 pm (UTC)
cute. one spirit book club runs a zen pet photo contest yearly which is always fun. I've considered writing something, 'meditating with cats' as mine seem to see that is a time to mess with me
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )