Could there be a greater honour than having the Dalai Lama’s Cat herself contribute the Foreword to my book, The Astral Traveler’s Handbook & Other Tales? If there is, dear reader, I have yet to be told about it. Below, fresh from the Himalayas, the musings of the world’s most realised feline, His Holiness’s Cat!
FOREWORD BY THE DALAI LAMA’S CAT
The idea came about one gorgeous Himalayan morning. I was sitting in my favorite spot—the first-floor windowsill of the Dalai Lama’s meeting room. It is here that I like to spend my days basking in the sunshine, keeping an eye on the courtyard below, while eavesdropping on all the intriguing goings-on within.
That particular morning, His Holiness’s visitor was one of the most influential movie directors in Hollywood. Being a cat of great discretion, dear reader, I’m afraid I can’t possibly tell you who he was. But I am willing to give you a few tiny hints.
If you have ever felt your compassion aroused by an extraterrestrial being, perhaps, or marveled at a theme park filled with dinosaurs, or been enthralled by adventures involving ancient civilizations, it is just possible that you may be able to guess the identity of this person. You know, the fellow with the beard and glasses. Yes, him!
For a while I’d been in that delightful semi-sleep state, dream- ing and softly purring while the conversation inside wafted over me. The two men had been talking about the power of language to transport us to places we could never otherwise go, the visitor noting that certain words and phrases were especially evocative. Which was when I heard him say, “The four most magical words in the English language.”
At once, my whiskers tingled. We Tibetan Buddhists are keen on magical words and the famous director was evidently about to reveal some special incantation. Four words which, in the mind of the listener, would change all that followed.
In the very next moment, however, I guessed exactly what he was about to say. The four words came to me, without even having to think. That was because I heard them night and day, chanted with great devotion by monks and Western visitors alike: Om mani padme hum.
The mantra was an evocation of love and compassion. When repeated, with deepening understanding and conviction, those four words could most certainly be said to have a magical effect, even if not an immediate one.
As I caught the scent of Himalayan pine, wafting on a pristine breeze from the ice-capped mountains, I thought how lucky I was to know such things, and to be a cat of such very deep wisdom.
The conversational pause inside the room seemed to go on forever. On the brink of revealing the invocation of magical power, the director evidently knew how to draw out the suspense. Even though I knew exactly what he was about to reveal, I still wanted him to reveal it!
Which was when he came out with something utterly unexpected. Four words, quite frankly, I would never have even guessed.
“Once upon a time,” said he.
Lifting my head, I turned to look at him directly. Had the man taken leave of his senses?!
“Once upon a time?” repeated His Holiness.
It was only when the Dalai Lama said it, in that gentle, melodious voice of his, that I realized. Ah! Four words in the English language. I supposed that was different.
“There are equivalents in many other languages,” continued the visitor, to my further disgruntlement. “The Germans have ‘es war einmal,’ and the French ‘Il était une fois.’ You find it in many cultures going back in time, like Chinese and even Sanskrit.”
Oh really? This was the first I’d heard of it.
“And why are these words magical?” asked His Holiness. Exactly what I was wondering. Why indeed?
“Because we learn them as children at the beginning of magical tales. We associate them with opening our imagination to limitless possibilities. As adults, those four words give us permission to suspend our judgment, to let go of ordinary convention. To become child-like again.”
His Holiness was sitting up in his chair. And I have to say, dear reader, that I, too, raised myself up from the windowsill and turned around, so intrigued was I by what the director was saying.
“When we are child-like,” the Dalai Lama observed, “we become more open.”
His visitor was nodding. “We learn in different ways.”
“Right brain,” agreed the other. “The level of creativity and intuition.”
“In Tibetan Buddhism—” His Holiness leaned forward in his chair “—this is considered most important.”
“It’s also,” ventured the visitor, “the reason I like to ask: why does it stop?”
“Stop?” queried the Dalai Lama.
“When we grow up. There are no more tales of enchantment. No more “Once upon a time” stories. But it seems to me that, as adults, we need these more than ever!”
I liked what the visitor was saying so much that I hopped off the sill, padded across a finely woven, ornate, Indian rug, and approached where he was sitting.
It seemed that the Dalai Lama liked it too. He was smiling in agreement. “Spiritual teachers in all traditions use stories to convey insights. Deeper wisdom. Stories can do things that debate and logic cannot. They can touch mind, and also—” he lifted his right hand to his chest “—heart.”
“The power of parables,” concurred his visitor.
His Holiness ventured further. “And the time of day we tell such stories is also important. They can have a big impact if we hear them just before going to sleep. By focusing the mind on positive things, we can transform sleep, which is a neutral activity, into something very useful.”
“Making a virtue of a necessity?” suggested the director. “Exactly!” he beamed.
When he speaks, the Dalai Lama often uses just a few words to convey meaning that can be understood on many different levels. From other conversations I’d overhead in the past, I knew that the “something very useful”, he mentioned, by which people could transform their sleep, was an important and fascinating subject.
His Holiness’s expression changed, lines appearing on his fore- head. “These days, before people go to sleep, there’s too much of this.” He mimicked someone keying words into a mobile device. “Great agitation. So I agree, there is a great need for bedtime sto- ries.” He gestured his visitor in acknowledgement. “Especially for grown-ups!” he added.
Both men laughed.
I chose this moment to hop up onto the visitor’s lap, taking him by surprise.
“How delightful!” He took in my charcoal face, big blue eyes and luxuriant, cream-colored coat—the markings of we, Himalayan cats.
“I didn’t know you had a cat?” The director was not the first visitor to have made such an observation. And as I’ve noted before, why should the Dalai Lama not have a cat—if “having a cat” is an accurate description of the relationship.
I circled on his lap, trying to decide exactly where I would position myself. As I did, His Holiness said, “As you can see, she is not a creature of fiction.”
The visitor glanced in the direction from which I’d come, realizing that I must have been sitting nearby all along. As I settled onto his knees, he said, “I am sure she must hear many enchanting tales, sitting on the windowsill.”
“Oh yes,” agreed the Dalai Lama. “She could share some wonderful stories.”
In the days that followed, whether dozing on the sill, or being pampered downstairs in the kitchen by the executive chef, Mrs. Trinci, I would sometimes recollect that conversation: Once upon a time. Transform sleep into something useful.
And it was true, I thought—I did hear many fascinating tales. Some were stories of mystical yogis and monks in the Himalayas. Others involved middle-aged women or inquiring young men in the West. The most precious of these stories, just like the fables of old, contained some transformative insight, some life-affirming wisdom, that touched not only the mind, but also the heart.
But where to start?
If I have learned anything living with His Holiness, dear reader, it is the simple truth that if you need help with something, anything, the first step is to ask. Whether it is a lip-smacking serving of Mrs. Trinci’s finest diced chicken liver, or the inspiration of the Buddhas when embarking on some new creative project, we are surrounded by beings whose only wish is to see us happy and fulfilled and, most especially, to help us offer happiness and fulfillment to others. Sometimes these beings may be seen. Sometimes unseen. In my own case, I only need to be in the same room as the Dalai Lama and I am touched by his benevolent inspiration.
Mulling over the matter of bedtime stories, for a period of quite some weeks after that visit by the Hollywood director, a curious thing happened. Perched on the end of His Holiness’s bed as he lifted a text to read before lights out, he would look down towards me, and perhaps reach out to deliver a reassuring stroke. And as he did, without any effort on my own part, a memory would surface of a visitor who had come to share a particular story, one that would occupy my imagination as I went to sleep that night, and would be perfect to include in a collection of tales for grown-ups.
Why those stories arose at that particular time, and whether or not they were a product of the Buddha’s inspiration is something I will leave to you to decide. Soon you will be as familiar with the people and their stories as I am, dear reader, because they are the stories you now hold in your hands.
So, if you will allow me a suggestion, instead of going to bed with your mobile device tonight, why not leave that source of agitation in another room, and take this book with you instead? Along, perhaps, with a throat-warming mug of cocoa or lemon tea? Summon your fur babies to join you, so they can tune in too, and leave yourself plenty of time—I feel sure that once you have embarked on one of the nugget-sized tales shared on the following pages, you will not want to leave it until you have read it all the way through.
At which point, without entirely leaving the world of each story behind you, bid goodnight to your loved ones, turn out the light, and allow your imagination to remain in the place and time evoked by the tale.
All that remains, dear reader, is for me to offer you the following Tibetan Buddhist blessing: may you have good sleep, auspicious dreams, and may you taste the true nature of reality.
Om mani padme hum!
(Photo credit: The gorgeous cat pic at the top of this post is courtesy of Mikhail Vasilyev, from unsplash.com).
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