After publishing Buddhism for Busy People in 2004 and subsequent non-fiction books, I sometimes found myself talking to people who were voracious readers, and had a keen interest in the subjects I wrote about. They hadn’t read my books – and they didn’t plan to. The reason wasn’t personal, and was quite simple: they didn’t read non-fiction. They never went near the Self Help shelves of a bookstore. And they weren’t about to start now.
Among these people were journalists, accountants and other professionals. The nature of their various jobs had the same net effect: having to deal with enormous volumes of non-fiction as part of their working life meant that when it came to the weekend, or going on holiday, the last thing they wanted to do was read yet more non-fiction.
Novels, stories, entertainment, however, was another matter entirely: bring it on!
This got me thinking about how to weave key themes and messages into a fictional format. When I heard that the Dalai Lama once had a cat, being a pet lover myself, I immediately though of what an amazing life the cat must have. If only it could talk.
What if it could talk? Or even … write a book? That was the start of The Dalai Lama’s Cat series. One thing I hadn’t counted on was how engaged readers would become in the life of His Holiness’s Cat – or HHC, to give her official title. Because the simple fact is that characters and stories engage us at an emotional level, which most non-fiction books do not. Novels can speak not only to our minds, but also to our hearts.
This is relevant because perhaps the one word that sets Tibetan Buddhism apart from all other traditions is ‘bodhichitta.’ This is often loosely translated as meaning ‘loving kindness,’ but it actually derives from two words. ‘Bodhi’ means awakened, or enlightened. ‘Chitta’ means mind … but critically, also can be translated as ‘heart.’ Bodhichitta is the mind of enlightenment. But it is also the heart of enlightenment – and the main motivation of Tibetan Buddhists is to attain enlightenment in order to help all other living beings attain the same state.
Among the unexpected joys I have felt, writing this series, has been to discover how much little HHC, Snow Lion, or Rinpoche – she is a cat of many names – and the cast of characters around her, have engaged reader’s hearts as well as minds. This is important because both our compassion as well as our wisdom are necessary if we are to live truly purposeful lives.
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