Many readers will no doubt call The Dalai Lama’s Cat charming, delightful or even touching. Author David Michie’s new book is all those things, but we like it best for its gentle power.
As he tells the story of a stolen kitten rescued from certain death to become a most admired companion of the revered teacher, Michie interweaves the wisdom of Tibetan Buddhism, but he never preaches. The journey of HHC (His Holiness’s Cat) – aka the Snow Lion of Jokhang, aka Mousie-Tung, aka Rinpoche – from self-centeredness to self-awareness is natural, not forced.
We could see a lot of our baby selves in the frightened little Himalayan in her early days, though we’ve led much more privileged lives ourselves. Torn abruptly from her mother, her need for reassurance, physical security and food – lots of food – is understandable. And like all young ones, her perceptions of reality become her reality, with herself as the only reference point that matters. And from there stems much misunderstanding and needless suffering.
But because HHC, like all cats, is a keen observer, she quickly learns by example that her way is rarely the best way. Her baby steps on the road to enlightenment are frequently amusing, but in the end, they are instructive. We wish we were more like her!
Her horror when instinct overwhelms her and she attacks a mouse; her embarrassment when she must acknowledge the results of her gluttony; her chagrin when she begins to see that no one should be judged by appearance; her growing pleasure when she realizes that true happiness comes from serving others – these are all moments any reader can relate to.
(Thanks to the incident with the mouse, we are looking at our toy mice differently. Is this kind of play helping us to develop compassion for all creatures? That chipmunk that taunts us from the patio – how does he feel, seeing our narrowed eyes and lashing tails? As HH would say, we all have choices.)
Chief among HHC’s teachers-by-example, apart from His Holiness himself, of course, are his assistants, Chogyal and Tenzin, the voluble Mrs. Trinci and local restaurateur Franc – who, for too long, sadly, confuses the outward trappings of practice with the inward peace that comes mindfulness and genuine humility. Michie deftly sketches these key figures in HHC’s life; each, often unwittingly, leads HHC to insight.
We especially liked the chapter in which both HHC and two young monks discover that all can redirect their steps onto a better path, no matter how unpromising their beginnings. Truly, we cannot know how our actions today will ultimately affect others.
We also catch through HHC’s eyes glimpses of His Holiness’s busy life, including a parade of celebrities and state leaders from around the world (and HHC is discreet about these encounters), as well as intimate moments shared between HH and HHC (but, again, our feline narrator is discreet).
Nearly every page features the best kind of humor – warm, inclusive and never mocking. As HHC discovers, the proper object of humor is ourselves. From there, compassion grows most surely.
We recommend this book highly. Suitable for older children through adults, it can be read as an entertaining story, but we predict you will find yourself going back from time to time just to reread favorite parts or to remind yourself of a particular instructive moment. Through HHC’s personal journey, we found much encouragement toward right living (we certainly could be more mindful about our Fancy Feast).
Finally: Is this story “true,” as in factual? That’s beside the point. The Dalai Lama’s Cat is what every tale should be – true to universal principles and true to the desire within every living creature to be loved.
Michie is the author of the non-fiction best-sellers Buddhism for Busy People and Hurry Up and Meditate and a number of novels.
We appreciate that Michie this time chose to look through the eyes of cat. Too many people stereotype us as selfish and aloof, instead of taking time to understand us for who we are. By telling the tale from HHC’s perspective, Michie reminds readers that, as His Holiness teaches, every individual – cat or human — seeks to enjoy happiness and avoid suffering.
For those unfamiliar with the Dalai Lama, Buddhism or cats, this book is a splendid introduction. For those already acquainted with these topics, The Dalai Lama’s Cat belongs on your bookshelf with the no-doubt weightier tomes you possess. It is beautiful in its directness and simplicity.
Follow HHC at @DalaiLamasCat or on Facebook, where you can also read more and see photos of other cats (and people, too).