If you will allow me to curl up on your metaphorical lap I will explain. At some point, nearly every cat lover faces a dilemma: How do you tell your feline companion that you are going away? And not just for a long weekend. Exactly how humans break the news of their impending absence is a subject of great concern to cats.
Some of us like plenty of advance warning so we can mentally steel ourselves for the change in routine.
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Interestingly, our staff members seem to have an innate sense of this and act accordingly, some sweet-talking their puss for weeks before their departure, others producing the dreaded cat carrier from the storage cupboard without notice. As it happens, I am among the most fortunate of cats, because when the Dalai Lama goes traveling, the household routine here at Namgyal continues in much the same way.
How can I describe what it is like to be in the presence of the Dalai Lama? Quite simply, it is extraordinary. From the moment he enters a room, every being within it is touched by his energy of heartfelt happiness. Whatever else may be going on in your life, whatever tragedy or loss you may be facing, for the time that you are with His Holiness, you experience the sensation that deep down all is well.
Reconnected to this source, you not only experience the profound peace and wellspring at the heart of your being, but you may also, for a moment, catch a glimpse of your own consciousness—radiant, boundless, and imbued with love. The Dalai Lama sees us as we really are and reflects our true nature back to us. This is why so many people simply melt in his presence. His Holiness reminds us of the best that we can be. Is there a greater gift? So you will understand, dear reader, that even though I continue to enjoy a life of privilege and comfort when the Dalai Lama is traveling, I still very much prefer it when he is at home.
His Holiness knows this, just as he recognizes that I am a cat who likes to be told when he is going away.
They may think he is confirming the visit. In reality, he is saying this specifically for my benefit. In the days leading up to a longer journey, he will remind me of the trip by visualizing the number of sleeps—that is, nights—he will be away. And on the final evening before his departure, he always makes sure we have some quality time alone together, just the two of us.
In these few minutes we commune in the profound way possible only between cats and their human companions. Which brings me back to the message His Holiness asked me to pass on to you. He brought it up the evening before his departure on a seven-week teaching trip to the United States and Europe—the longest time we had ever been apart.
As twilight fell over Kangra Valley, he pushed back from his desk, walked over to where I was resting on the sill, and kneeled beside me. I know you like me to be here, but there are other beings who need me, too. I got up from where I was resting and, placing my paws out in front of me, had a good, long stretch before yawning widely. We remained there, forehead to forehead, as he ran his fingers down my neck.
You can still be very happy. When I get back, you can tell me what you have found. Gently and with deep affection, the Dalai Lama took me in his arms and stood facing the open window and the view down Kangra Valley. It was a magnificent sight: the verdant, winding valley, the rolling evergreen forests. In the distance, the icy summits of the Himalayas gleamed in the late afternoon sunshine. The gentle breeze wafting through the window was redolent of pine, rhododendron, and oak; the air stirred with enchantment.
I began to purr, and soon my purring rose to the steady, throaty volume of a miniature outboard motor. Have you ever marveled, dear reader, at how the most apparently trivial decision can sometimes lead to the most life-changing events? You make what you believe to be a humdrum, everyday kind of choice, and it has outcomes as dramatic as they are unforeseen. It is, however, a longer way home, so I knew it would take me ten minutes rather than the usual five to get back to Namgyal.
So when I reached the front door, instead of turning right, I headed left. I continued on my way, somewhat wobbly, as my hind legs have been weak since I was a kitten. It was as I was preparing to turn left again that I first became aware of danger. About 20 yards away, on the main street, I spotted a pair of the largest and most ferocious looking dogs I had ever seen. Strangers to the district, they were a menacing presence as they stood with nostrils flared and long fur rippling in the late afternoon breeze. In the exact moment I was wondering if they had seen me, they saw me and instantly gave chase.
Instinct kicking in, I made a sharp right and scrambled as fast as my uncertain limbs would take me. Heart pounding and hair standing on end, I raced desperately in search of refuge. For those few adrenaline-charged moments I felt capable of going anywhere and doing anything, be it scrambling up the tallest tree or squeezing through the narrowest gap. But there was no escape route, no safe ground. In an absolute panic, with nowhere else to turn, I darted into a spice shop, thinking that I might find some place to climb to safety or at least be able to throw the dogs off my scent.
The tiny shop was lined with wooden chests on which brass bowls of spices were carefully laid out. Several matronly women, who were grinding powder in pestles on their laps, let out cries of shock as I ran past their ankles, followed by bellows of outrage as the dogs, high on bloodlust, bounded after me. I heard a crash of metal on concrete as bowls tumbled. Clouds of spices exploded into the air. Racing to the back of the store, I looked for a shelf to jump up on but found only a firmly closed door.
However, there was a gap between two chests that was just wide enough for me to claw my way through. Behind it, in place of a wall, there was only a torn plastic sheet, and beyond that, a deserted lane. Shoving their great heads into the gap between the chests, the dogs launched into a frenzy of yapping.
The Dalai Lama's Cat and the Art of Purring by David Michie | Penguin Random House Canada
Terrified, I quickly scanned the gutter: it came to a dead end. The only way out would be to go back to the road.
From inside the spice store came plaintive yelping as the angry women apprehended the two thugs. With my usually lustrous white coat dusted with spices of every color, I scampered along the gutter to the road and ran as fast as my frail legs would take me. But the road was on an incline, slight but punishing.
Even though I was straining every sinew of my being, my efforts were to little avail. Struggling to get as far away from the dogs as I could, I searched for somewhere, anywhere, that offered protection. But I saw only shop windows, concrete walls, and impenetrable steel gates.
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Behind me the commotion of barking continued, now accompanied by the angry yelling of the women from the spice shop. I turned to see them shoving the dogs out of the shop, slapping them on the flanks. Wild-eyed and with tongues hanging out, the two slavering beasts pawed the pavement outside, while I continued struggling uphill, hoping the steady stream of pedestrians and cars would conceal my whereabouts.
Within moments the two beasts had caught my scent and resumed the chase. Their ferocious growling filled me with pure fear.
The Art of Purring
It would take hardly any time for the two beasts to catch up. Reaching a property surrounded by high white walls, I spotted a wooden trellis climbing one wall, next to a black iron gate. Never before would I have even considered what I did next, but what choice did I have? With only seconds before the dogs would be upon me, I leapt onto the trellis and began scrambling up it as fast as my fluffy gray legs would let me. With great lurches I dragged myself up, paw by paw. I had just reached the top when the beasts closed in. Amid a frenzy of barking, they hurled themselves against the trellis.
There was a crash of wood as the lattice cracked, and the top half swung away from the wall. Standing on top of the wall, I looked down at their bared teeth and trembled at their blood-curdling snarls. It was like looking directly into the faces of beings from the hell realms. Narrated with warmth, wit and wisdom, this book captured my heart and my mind. Like the first book, this is a wonderful introduction to Buddhist principles in an easily accessible way. The narration is sweet, poignant and at times, funny.
The lessons presented in the book are profound, but the manner in which they are conveyed is subtle and entertaining, which, I believe, actually integrates them on a deeper level than merely reading about them would suggest. The only thing I missed in this book is a stronger presence of the Dalai Lama.
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It has a strip of fun cat fabric in pink and grey. Some of the cats wear glasses or tiaras!