Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Sights & Insights

This past week has brought some interesting sights and insights. Four days a week on my way to work, I pass, twice a day, the same farms and observe who is where, doing what. The first farm I pass has a few cows, the second one has sheep and the third has horses with one donkey. On occasion, the fourth farm often has two bulls grazing peacefully. They usually disappear after a couple of weeks, as do the sheep, only to be replaced by new bulls and sheep. I wish them all well as I drive by and try to just enjoy the sight, but within that sight of course is no bull, no sheep. They are both a commodity and once they are "ripe" for harvesting, off to the abattoir they go.
Last evening while out for a coffee with my husband, we passed an empty livestock truck. A huge well maintained Volvo truck pulling the empty trailer. I felt bad and wished that the driver could find some other work. Today at work, I received a phone call from a poultry processor looking for a motor. But this time, remembering the words of my teacher, I realized that this person was also my teacher, a "Buddha". I could be with this caller without resentment, angst or judgement.
Maybe some of you have seen the YouTube video, Nora the Cat playing the piano. I recently viewed it and was watching this cat paw the keys of the piano, while in the background a piano lesson was being taught. The cat would carefully paw a key or two, lay her head down close to the keys, come up for a bit, change paws, strike some more notes. I have three cats of my own and they do not seem that interested in anything other than eating, sleeping, and staring intently at the bird feeders (mind you I do not own a piano either). Curiousity about this cat, Nora, and what compelled her to "play" with the piano got me thinking about animals, specifically how they might also be evolving just as we humans are.
Sheepishly (no pun intended), I off-handed mentioned this to my meditation teacher, Sister Tinh Quang. To my delight, she responded with the most thought provoking letter which I have attached below. I hope you enjoy reading it and that it brings a smile to your face as it did mine.

Hi, Q. Prasad.

Yes, I believe animals are evolving just like us. Some, I believe, are bodhisattvas; you've heard of animals that save people's lives, or help a child with a handicap, or help adults with emotional problems. They certainly are more forgiving than humans, and love unconditionally. A sheltie I knew, Delamantha's Desiderata (you can google her or go to, was owned by a woman I know who became a buddhist nun. When the dog was dying, at Gaden Choling Tibetan Temple, chanting was done by the monks and nuns to help her become a human in her next life. Her ashes were scattered at Dharamsala.

When I watch cats, I think ... they practice Zen better than most people. Eat when hungry, sleep when tired, and play often. I believe that all animals, except humans, have this ability to be in the moment. The ability that humans have is to have a deep understanding of the Dharma i.e. impermanence, conditioned existence, and karma. Unfortunately, they don't often know how to practice it; to bring it into the moment.

If your thinking came about as a result of watching Nora, when I was watching her I could only think that she was enjoying what she was doing. I can't help but think that animals can appreciate music. Nora loves the sound of the piano, and responds to the other people playing. Animals can appreciate beauty. Baboons have been observed going to the edge of a cliff in Africa every evening to sit and watch the sunset. I knew a Sheltie who always ran to sit beside the stereo whenever Beethoven's 5th Concerto was being played, and leaned in toward the speakers. He'd start to run from wherever he was before the previous piece of music was over, as he knew the 5th was next. Koko, the signing gorilla, was able to make up new words. For example, when she saw a duck for the first time, she was asked what it was and she signed, "water bird."

We've been so homocentric for so long, that we think that we are a higher life form. We are a different life form. My dogs could do things that I could never do, as can my cat. I can do things they can't do. Does that make me "higher?" It only makes me different.

Don't worry, I won't let you be a cat lady. Did I tell you that I know a Japanese Bobtail looking for a new home?

Sister Tinh Quang

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Thành Kính said...

I have thought for a long time that cats know how to be cats, cockroaches know how to be cockroaches, mushrooms know how to be mushrooms, trees know how to be trees. But humans need to learn to be humans (or at least not inhuman)...