Like most people who spend time around cats, the superior attitude of some of my feline friends has often made me wonder who they were in a previous lifetime. Princess Wussik, the inspiration for The Dalai Lama’s Cat, frequently reminded us where we stood in the overall scheme of things. Delighted to find a new flavour of food that met with Her Majesty’s approval, we’d no sooner have stocked up with half a dozen cans of it, than she would sniff at a newly-presented plate of the stuff and stalk away, ears pressed firmly back and tail slashing the message ‘You expect me to eat that?!’
Lying on the runner, as I walked past, taking care not to disturb her, she’d reach out and clip me about the ankle – as if I’d somehow neglected to pay her the homage which was her due. And even though she had wonky legs – just like His Holiness’s Cat – she wouldn’t hesitate to walk into a courtyard full of people with the confident expectation that guests would make way for her, and someone would obligingly pick her up to offer a morsel of whatever food was on offer. I made it my business to ensure that our Princess’s expectations were fully satisfied.
Little Wussik was equally capable of the utmost cuteness. There were many moments when I had no doubt at all we had a very special bond. It’s the kind of bond which most people with pets sense in an innate and heartfelt way. The kind of bond which makes us wonder how on earth this little creature came into our life. Was it just a chance event that saw us bring this particular cat, dog, parrot or other being home? Or was there some other reason?
There are three models to describe reality. One is that your subjective experience of reality is essentially random. The second is that you experience things because a divine power makes or allows you to experience them. The third is that your experience of reality is determined by cause and effect. This third model accords with the Buddhist view of karma. The implications, when it comes to the pets in your life, is that you do not share your life with theirs by chance.
From a Buddhist perspective, we all possess subtle consciousness, and this consciousness has been with us since the beginning of time. (You’ll find blogs describing how subtle consciousness survives death at http://davidmichie.com/life-after-death-the-tibetan-buddhist-view/).
To quote the Dalai Lama: ‘Over the billions of lifetimes that we have experienced since beginningless time, we have known all the living beings again and again. Sometimes they have been parents to us, sometimes friends or mates, sometimes enemies. Without exception, each of them has been even a mother to us again and again, performing the kindnesses of a mother. How can we be indifferent to them?’ (The Dalai Lama, Path to Enlightenment, Snow Lion, page137).
This perspective challenges the usual way we view other beings – human and animal – as mostly strangers, with much smaller circles we regards as friends, acquaintances, and those we find difficult or dislike. Seeing all beings as our mother from a previous lifetime provides the basis of a more compassionate, open-hearted attitude.
Why are some beings closer to us than others? Because our karmic link with them is stronger. Perhaps they were our mother, brother or daughter in our very last lifetime. Or even this lifetime. Far more interesting than the amusing possibility that your cat may have been Marie Antoinette or Queen Elizabeth I, what if she was your partner, husband or best friend?
If you accept the notion of karma, one thing is for sure: the fact that a particular pet is in your life is not by chance. And now that you’re in a position of power, the way you handle it will determine the future nature of your relationships. With compassion and wisdom, you can use this power to the very best effect, benefiting not only the well-being of your animal companions but, in so doing, determining the quality of your own close relationships in the future.
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The gorgeous image of Queen Elizabeth 1st as a cat comes courtesy of: http://www.christinahess.com/index.html