The importance of the cat in meditation

By Paulo Coelho

A great Zen master, in charge of the monastery of Mayu Kagi, owned a cat, who was the real love of his life. During meditation classes, he always kept the cat by his side, in order to enjoy its company as much as possible.
One morning, the master, who was already quite old, was found dead. The oldest disciple took his place.
‘What shall we do with the cat?’ asked the other monks.
In homage to the memory of his former teacher, the new master decided to allow the cat to continue attending the classes on Zen Buddhism.
Some disciples from neighbouring monasteries, who travelled widely in the region, discovered that, in one of the most famous temples in the area, a cat took part in the meditations. The story began to spread.
Many years passed. The cat died, but the students at the monastery were so used to its presence that they acquired another cat. Meanwhile, the other temples began introducing cats into their meditation classes; they believed that the cat was the one actually responsible for Mayu Kagi’s fame and for the quality of his teaching, forgetting what an excellent teacher the former master had been.
A generation passed, and technical treatises on the importance of the cat in Zen meditation began to be published. A university professor developed a thesis, accepted by the academic community, that the cat had the ability to increase human concentration and to eliminate negative energy.
And thus, for a century, the cat was considered to be an essential part of the study of Zen Buddhism in that region.
Then a master arrived who was allergic to cat hair, and he decided to remove the cat from his daily practices with the students.
Everyone protested, but the master insisted. Since he was a gifted teacher, the students continued to make progress, despite the cat’s absence.
Gradually, monasteries – always in search of new ideas and weary of having to feed so many cats – began to remove cats from the classroom. Over the next twenty years, revolutionary new theses were written, bearing persuasive titles like ‘The importance of meditating without a cat’ or ‘Balancing the Zen universe by the power of one’s mind alone and without the aid of animals’.
Another century passed, and the cat vanished completely from the Zen meditation ritual in that region. But it took two hundred years for everything to return to normal, and all because, during that time, no one thought to ask why the cat was there.
A writer who learned of this story centuries later, wrote in his diary:
‘And how many of us, in our own lives, ever dare to ask: why do I behave in such and such a way? In what we do, how far are we too using futile ‘cats’ that we do not have the courage to get rid of because we were told that the ‘cats’ were important in keeping everything running smoothly?’

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  2. I love how stories can not only motivate but also help others understand metitation. The idea of it being something such as “A Cat” for one is something everyone can relate to and it draws in the attention because it seems to not matter any to meditation. I love hearing these stories filled with analogies. I look forward to reading more.

  3. […] The importance of the cat in meditation By Paulo Coelho A great Zen master, in charge of the monastery of Mayu Kagi,… […]

  4. Hasan says:

    The importance of asking questions in learning!

  5. Yo!

    What do you think about love? >:)

  6. i know my cat…
    but i don’t know how to get rid of it

  7. marie says:

    one reason it took me so long to ask why the”CAT” was because I was taught if i asked i was being disobiedient and if i asked, then i wouldn’t be considered a true believer.

    well, me being the ME that I AM. decided to ask; and i learned ask and you shall receive. :D

  8. aditya says:


    Just recetly i read a quote which will go very well with this ( and other similar stories about traditions) it was by G B Shaw ( I think ! )

    “Before u remove a fence young man, first find out why it was put there” let me add, if one is not able to find out the reason behind the traditions, one needs to put in a little more effort in finding out before deciding about their continuance or otherwise.
    good day warriors !!


  9. Ineshka says:

    Hi Mr.Coelho,

    It was great of you to have published this story in your blog. I thought it was a wonderful and inspiring story when I first read it in your book “Like a Flowing River”.

    As fLUXman mentions above, Lord Buddha did get rid of all the cats in a religion and in the society during that time. I am a Buddhist myself and one of the best teachings of Buddha is where he says that just because he says something, we are not to blindly believe, we are supposed to analyse the theory in our minds and we should inquire and learn from others and if we think that this is right, we should follow it and never to follow something blindly. This I thought was a wonderful teaching from a wonderful person.

    Take care,

  10. Yajna says:

    Dearest Paulo,

    This is a lovely story. I really enjoyed reading it. You know, now a days, there are so many people that just follow things simply for the reason that other people are doing it. Its like they’ve become sheep that just follow without thinking to themselves why they are doing things, and if they really do feel they want to. I try not to do that. I’ve very much a person who thinks for herself, and makes her own decisions based on her beliefs and her truth.. And i’m proud to say that. I hope that people start to think more for themselves and do things to make themselves happy :)
    i hope that people will start to act more out of love, than out of fear.. And i hope you have a good day paulo and friends. :)

    Thank you for being.

  11. fLUXman says:

    dear paulo bo0om,
    well I,d like to add,

    the oldest known civilization from the indus valley migrated north and south, this is the story of the people who migrated south,

    let me also express my belief that all us humans have evovled to what we are because some of our ancestors in the last global warming cycle had migrated to the hills, and during their travels some have discovered magic mushrooms whic they promptly consumed and bo0om here we are.

    well these black, red, dark people as we now are called by the whites,
    had fortunately migrated into penensulas like India , Africa, South America etc,
    they bred like rats in tropical weather zones and have multiplied faster.
    they have developed the oldest known civilazations. In India Gautama the buddha literally destroyed all the cats in hinduism.that was the golden age. then came ideas from the cold west and now i feel we are being led around too many cats.