Oh good, you’re finally here, though you’ve taken your time about it, if you don’t mind my saying so! You see, dear reader, I have a message for you. Not an everyday message and certainly not one from an ordinary person. What’s more, it concerns your deepest, personal happiness.
There’s really no need to turn around to see who may be standing behind you or, indeed, to either side. This message really is for you.
It’s not everyone in the world who gets to read these words—only a very tiny minority of humans ever will. Nor should you believe that it’s some kind of chance event that finds you reading them at this particular moment in your life. Only those of you with very specific karma will ever discover what I’m about to say—readers with a particular connection to me.
Or should I say us.
You see, I am the Dalai Lama’s Cat, and the message I have for you comes from none other than His Holiness.
How can I make such a preposterous claim? Have I taken complete leave of my senses? 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. Others prefer the news to swoop unheralded from the sky like an angry magpie in nesting season: by the time you realize what’s about to happen, it already has.
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. I still spend part of each day on his first-floor windowsill, a vantage point from which I can maintain maximum surveillance with minimum effort, just as I spend some time most days in the office of His Holiness’s executive assistants. And then there is my regular stroll a short distance away to the congenial surroundings and delectable enticements of the Himalaya Book Café.
Even so, when His Holiness isn’t here life is not the same. 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.
If you haven’t experienced this before, it is like being awakened to a dimension of yourself that has been there all this time, flowing like an underground river although until now it has gone undetected. 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. I’ve seen important men in dark suits cry just because he touched them on the arm. Leaders of the world’s great religions line up to meet him and then rejoin the line to be introduced to him a second time. I’ve watched people in wheelchairs weep tears of joy when he went four deep into a crowd to take their hand. 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. If either of his executive assistants—young Chogyal, the roly-poly monk who helps him with monastic matters, or Tenzin, the seasoned diplomat who helps him in secular business—presents him with a request involving travel, he will look up and say something like, “Two days in New Delhi at the end of next week.”
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 have to go tomorrow, my little Snow Lion,” he said, looking deep into my blue eyes as he used his favorite term of endearment. It’s one that delights me, as the Tibetans consider snow lions to be celestial beings, symbolizing beauty, fearlessness, and cheerfulness. “Seven weeks is longer than I am usually away. 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.
“What a nice, pink mouth,” His Holiness said, smiling. “I am glad to see your teeth and gums in good condition.”
Moving closer, I affectionately head-butted him.
“Oh, you make me laugh!” he said. We remained there, forehead to forehead, as he ran his fingers down my neck. “I am going away for some time, but your happiness should not depend on me being here. You can still be very happy.”
With his fingertips he massaged the back of my ears, just the way I like.
“Perhaps you think happiness comes from being with me or from the food you are given down at the café.” His Holiness had no illusions about why I was such an eager patron of the Himalaya Book Café. “But over the next seven weeks, try to discover for yourself the true cause of happiness. 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 will tell you the true causes of happiness,” he whispered in my ear. “A special message just for you—and for those with whom you have a karmic connection.”
I began to purr, and soon my purring rose to the steady, throaty volume of a miniature outboard motor. “Yes, my little Snow Lion,” the Dalai Lama said. “I would like you to investigate the art of purring.”
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