The monastery cat

meditation cat

A buddhist teacher was conducting his evening meditation class. A monastery pet cat was roaming around making noise. The teacher asked a student to tie the cat to a pole outside the room for the dura

tion of the class. Next day, the intelligent student anticipated cat’s disturbance and tied it to the pole before the class began. Few years passed. The cat died. So did the teacher. All the students graduated and moved on. The new students went to the market and bought a cat and tied it to the pole. There is a formal cat tying ceremony before the start of the class. A student is elected for this privilege. Other monasteries too followed this ritual. No one questions.

I understand that cows are valuable for humans. It gives us milk and butter, it is domestic, takes little to maintain, ploughs fields, its dung is used as fuel, and when dead, its skin is useful too. The economic value of the cow was what made it valuable to our ancestors in India. Somewhere down the line, it took on the position of the monastery cat. We started worshipping it. Few years ago, when visiting a south indian temple outside Trichy, I saw a formal daily ceremony where a temple cow is brought out and a priest worships the cow. This ceremony goes on for about 45 min. During this time, if the cow dared to move, the cowherd (who is a paid employee of the temple) beats the cow. The cow is forcefully restrained. At least a hundred devotees come daily to see this cermony. They prostrate in front of the cow. After the ceremony, the cow is packed off to some place where no one cares about it. The cow can’t roam around anywhere. It is sacred.

The only thought going on in cow’s mind, I surmise, is “Why me?”

How many things do we do in our lives out of superstition? We feel compelled to bring culture into everything. We don’t like nature because it is not in our “control”. It doesn’t follow our rules. It is free. And we invent God to tame nature. We invent rituals so Gods become powerful.

We want to master nature. And we invented God for that. But in God, we created another master. What a pyrrhic victory!


(PS: There are different versions of the monastery cat story. Another popular version is about the cat being brought into meditation because a teacher was fond of cat and generations followed without questioning this. Technical treatises were written about the critical role of cats for successful meditation. It took many generations to weed out this ritual.)

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