The importance of the cat in meditation

By Paulo Coelho

Having recently written a book about madness, I was forced to wonder how many things we do are imposed on us by necessity, or by the absurd. Why wear a tie? Why do clocks run “clockwise”? If we live in a decimal system, why does the day have 24 hours of 60 minutes?

The fact is, many of the rules we obey nowadays have no real foundation. Nevertheless, if we wish to act differently, we are considered “crazy” or “immature”.

Meanwhile, society continues to create some systems which, in the fullness of time, lose their reason for existence, but continue to impose their rules. An interesting Japanese story illustrates what I mean by this:

A great Zen Buddhist master, who was in charge of the Mayu Kagi monastery, had a cat which was his true passion in life. So, during meditation classes, he kept the cat by his side – in order to make the most of his company.

One morning, the master – who was already quite old – passed away. His most adept disciple took his place.

– What shall we do with the cat? – asked the other monks.

As a tribute to the memory of their old instructor, the new master decided to allow the cat to continue attending the Zen-Buddhist classes.

Some disciples from the neighboring monasteries, traveling through those parts, discovered that, in one of the region’s most renowned temples, a cat took part in the meditation sessions. The story began to spread.

Many years passed. The cat died, but the students at the monastery were so used to its presence, they soon found another cat. Meanwhile, the other temples began introducing cats in their meditation sessions: they believed the cat was truly responsible for the fame and excellence of Mayu Kagi’s teaching, and in doing so forgot that the old master was a fine instructor.

A generation passed, and technical treatises began to appear about the importance of the cat in Zen meditation. A university professor developed a thesis – which was accepted by the academic community – that felines have the ability to increase human concentration, and eliminate negative energy.

And so, for a whole century, the cat was considered an essential part of Zen-Buddhist studies in that region.

Until a master appeared who was allergic to animal hair, and decided to remove the cat from his daily exercises with the students.

There was a fierce negative reaction – but the master insisted. Since he was an excellent instructor, the students continued to make the same scholarly progress, in spite of the absence of the cat.

Little by little, the monasteries – always in search of new ideas, and already tired of having to feed so many cats – began eliminating the animals from the classes. In twenty years time, new revolutionary theories began to appear – with very convincing titles such as “The Importance of Meditating Without a Cat”, or “Balancing the Zen Universe by Will Power Alone, Without the Help of Animals”.

Another century passed, and the cat withdrew completely from the meditation rituals in that region. But two hundred years were necessary for everything to return to normal – because during all this time, no one asked why the cat was there.

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Comments

  1. Salem yah says:

    Bueno….supongo que siempre seré la inmadura, y la loca (ambas) pero debo decir que al menos no soy quien sigue algo sin saber el porque (gatos solo por ser borregos?) , aunque lo padecí mucho tiempo, nunca tuve feliz a mi mamá por mi forma de ser. nunca estuvo de acuerdo ella lo consideraba rebeldía, yo tenia que cambiar ese “salvajismo” porque ser sumisa, obediente, no tener carácter fuerte era lo acostumbrado, porque era lo “correcto”, y era difícil porque me empeñaba en satisfacer cada una de las imposiciones de mi familia (madre) y por agradar a la gente, y mi naturaleza me exigía ir por otros caminos y no lo hacía por no ser señalada aún eso significara mi propio sufrimiento.
    hoy después de seis meses de descubrir tus libros mi amado Paulo, poco a poco he ido liberándome de las ataduras, de los miedos y las culpas, de la rigidez de cumplir con las imposiciones, las reglas, la imagen, y los prejuicios, creo que eso me has dado… gracias por tu maravilloso presente.
    Espero con ansia tu siguiente libro. Dios te bendiga siempre. Salem.

  2. Salem yah says:

    Bueno….supongo que siempre seré la inmadura, y la loca (ambas) pero debo decir que al menos no soy quien sigue algo sin saber el porque (gatos solo por ser borregos?) , aunque lo padecí mucho tiempo, nunca tuve feliz a mi mamá por mi forma de ser. nunca estuvo de acuerdo ella lo consideraba rebeldía, yo tenia que cambiar ese “salvajismo” porque ser sumisa, obediente, no tener carácter fuerte era lo acostumbrado, porque era lo “correcto”, y era difícil porque me empeñaba en satisfacer cada una de las imposiciones de mi familia (madre) y por agradar a la gente, y mi naturaleza me exigía ir por otros caminos y no lo hacía por no ser señalada aún eso significara mi propio sufrimiento.
    hoy después de seis meses de descubrir tus libros mi amado Paulo, poco a poco he ido liberándome de las ataduras, de los miedos y las culpas, de la rigidez de cumplir con las imposiciones, las reglas, la imagen, y los prejuicios, creo que eso me has dado… gracias por tu maravilloso presente.
    Espero con ansia tu siguiente libro. Dios te bendiga siempre. Salem.

  3. [...] in the fullness of time, lose their reason for existence, but continue to impose their rules. An interesting Japanese story illustrates what I [...]

  4. wanbliska says:

    That’s really funny. I laughed a lot.
    And surely I would have chosen a dog instead. Even if it’s more complicated to see meditate.

  5. Fulya says:

    Animals can be great teachers indeed, on the road which leads us to ourselves… If you want to be touched by the beautiful harmony between man and animals check:

    http://www.ashesandsnow.org/en/flash-popup.php

    and click on explore

    Have a wonderful journey!
    Loves
    F

  6. Monika says:

    The way you see it depends on the view of the watcher and not of scientific knowledge!

    Have you ever felt the relaxing effect of a cat sitting on your lap, stroking it and hearing and feeling the softly vibrations of its purr?
    If not, it is the same thing like looking to the stars with no sense for its magic. Reducing the cat to an useless accessory with the disadvantage of being fed is similar to reduce universe to a merely vast, cold an empty space.

    No other animal has such a relaxing effect on the mind like cats – regardless whether they are democrats or republicans.

  7. Nicole says:

    Grin, I have heard a similar story a while back and I always question stuff that seems ridiculous to me.
    In some places you have to be careful to do so or you offend people.

    Try to talk sense to a strict Muslim during Ramadan and a searing 55 Celsius out there that not being allowed to drink water is not healthy to you….
    Good Luck…..

    Anyhow, I wish more people would use their common sense instead of walking in the footsteps of their sometimes brainless leaders or follow some “rules” that they don’t understand.

  8. Tania says:

    I think pets give great comfort to people ,a loyal friend indeed ,but not every one likes the same thing ,that cat was special indeed it taught a valuable lesson to the monks .See even animals can be our greatest teachers .I for one like cats ,I have one and have noticed it change every now and then ,shape shifters if you look close enough .Blessings Tania

  9. Joël says:

    We need the courrage to break the normal
    routines. Meditation is not a technique most
    of the people are thinking that we need a
    instruction manual for a good meditation.
    We have to find out what the the best is for
    us. Everybody is different

  10. Agnieszka says:

    Change…
    yes, we’re so afraid of change.
    We forget that what’s brings us joy is life full of surprises, full of miracles, full of music, full of love.
    The sunshine, the smile, the rainbow, the journey of our life.
    Why don’t get a little crazy and…change things…go where no one dares to, feel the rhythm of the beating heart dancing to the music of love?
    Kiss the butterfly, feel like nobody could and …be free!!!
    Life won’t wait, the music may stop, just catch the wave… and feel the ocean breeze in your eyes.
    This moment…is the moment of your life.

    love
    Agnieszka