Anyone who loves cats or even remotely likes them may well love a beautiful little book I was recently given by a friend. Even if you are not a cat lover per se, you have to admit that cats do have a knowing and almost regal presence. Most are ridiculously laid back and detached but exude confidence at the highest level and the feline heroine of this tale has all the above in bucket loads. It has never surprised me that Eckhart Tolle, author of the Power of Now, refers to his pet cats as the Zen masters he lives with and that the Dalai Lama shares his home, which includes his study and bedroom, with one. Yes, the Dalai Lama has a beloved cat and I know this because the said book above is called just that “The Dalai Lama’s Cat”.
Life in Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama’s Himalayan home city, is portrayed as seen through the blue eyes of his adored cat he calls “Snow Lion”. Snow Lion, who is known by many names, but most commonly referred to as HHC (His Holiness’s Cat), is a female Himalayan stray who has been saved and adopted by the Dalai Lama.
HHC shares the timeless wisdom and insights she is exposed to during the Dalai Lama’s audiences with other Lamas, heads of state and famous people from all walks of life. In light of her exposure to the finer points of Buddhist philosophy she explains the doubts she has about herself as she begins to apply the lessons she has learned. (Even a mouse is a being!). She becomes more and more aware of her short comings and how they can hurt others and tries to focus more on others rather than her royal self. (A mammoth job for a princess of noble birth).
HHC’s spiritual journey is much the same as that of many spiritual acolytes or any of us who have attempted meditation or have spiritually strived. It is heart warming to gather that the frailty of the human condition in these endeavours is shared by even those that are surrounded by spiritual giants in an atmosphere untainted by normal worldly distractions – one would imagine living with the Dalai Lama would make the path to enlightenment or even the art of meditation a while lot easier. In fact anyone who has trouble with mindfulness and meditation will resonate with the beautiful Snow Lion as she struggles with the fact that she can only maintain focus for two minutes before falling into a sleepy stupor.
HHC’s observations outside of her sanctuary, as she roams the village making friends, are noteworthy. She is fascinated and bemused by the number of human tourists that exhibit the same short attention span she does and how many of them wear Buddhism like a badge without really understanding or practising its tenants daily. She is quick to realise though that unlike her house mates the tourists seem to seek happiness from external things and are rarely entirely focused on what they were currently doing. Understanding that true happiness is born from the desire to bring happiness to others which requires authenticity, compassion and being anchored in the present, increases her resolve to practice more. After all, no one else can make us mindful and we need to be mindful if we want to be truly happy.
This beautiful little story about Snow Lion’s life with the Dalai Lama and her spiritual evolvement is filled with spiritual pearls, humour and insights into Buddhism and mindfulness. It may give you the little nudge you need to get you back into a mindfulness or meditation practice. At the very least it may give you something to ponder on. As the Dalai Lama says, “inner development is something for which we must take personal responsibility.”
The Dalai Lama’s Cat is written by David Michie who has also written Buddhism for Busy People and Hurry Up and Meditate.