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Updated: July 6, 2013 16:30 IST

Purr-fectly cathartic

Mihir Balantrapu
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The Dalai Lama’s Cat: A Novel; David Michie; Hay House, Rs.399.
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The Dalai Lama’s Cat: A Novel; David Michie; Hay House, Rs.399.

Buddhism’s ageless tenets are condensed in a deceptively light-hearted manner.

The Buddha wasn’t kidding when he propounded his “universal” truths. He evidently never intended to restrict his wisdom to humans alone. Really, if you have a mind, a body and a psyche full of emotional detritus (and a coat of vanity-stoking fur around your gluttonously-distended belly for added measure) Buddhism will hit just the spot.

Just ask HHC — His Holiness (the Dalai Lama)’s Cat — resident pet at Jokhang Monastery in Mcleod Ganj. Better yet, read Her eponymous novella, The Dalai Lama’s Cat, penned mysteriously under the pseudonym of ‘David Michie’ (who, incidentally, a simple Google search reveals, is quite the prolific writer on Buddhism and enlightenment himself).

The book’s tone is deceptive. It’s light-hearted, but in dead earnest. Prima facie, you have a cat giving an autobiographical account of her life as she hobnobs with the Dalai Lama and other concomitant holy beings and celebrities. So, there is the risk that you will be lulled into thinking it a fun but frivolous book and put it down, chastising yourself for not picking up a more serious treatise on Buddhism.

Hold it, though. The Dalai Lama’s Cat condenses all the ageless tenets of Buddhism you will need into 200-odd pages narrated by an aspiring ‘Bodhi-catva’ (along with many more dubious cat-based puns).

The book’s stark message is that if you can be like a cat, with a spirit that wants to roam and observe, transact love amongst your fellow earth-walkers, and be open to lessons that are ever being doled out by the lives around you, that is a life well lived. Armed with Her feline adorability, HHC is a welcome guest at any nook of the monastery and its surrounding regions. She is privy to the most confidential audiences His Holiness grants persons in high places (though She isn’t one to shamelessly name-drop aside from giving the most telling hints as to their identity!) within His private chambers. The more you are able to identify yourself with HHC, the closer you yourself feel to the Dalai Lama’s compassionate persona.

Be it with respect to Her gluttonous proclivity for diced chicken liver, or Her evolutionary but vain urge to preen Herself, or Her jealousy towards an interloping rival pet, HHC’s self-criticality and cathartic revelations present the reader with relevant solutions for their own flaws and dilemmas. She confronts all Her demons — gluttony, vanity, ignorance of Self, envy, lust, pride — and manages to hobble her way forward, singed, battered, embarrassed, but tail held endearingly high.

The cast of characters in and around Jokhang serve as case studies too. From an aspiring but superficial Buddhist wannabe and his subsequent transformation, we learn that the true value of spiritual seeking lies in the inner journey and not in external trappings. In a perfectionist who tends to lose her cool in pursuit of the ideal, Michie makes out a case for equanimity and calmness. In an erudite but diffident man, Michie attacks the inhibitions that paralyse one in the pursuit of one’s aspirations and prescribes the cultivation of an unshakeable self-confidence.

But I’ve said too much already. As the Dalai Lama says in the book, “Meditation does not belong to Buddhists… Perhaps you can try?” Feel free to try this at home.

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