Hello, my name is Freddie. I am a cat.
I live in a house with another cat called Gemma and two humans, John, and Mary.
I am about 3 years old though I can’t remember how old I am exactly because they took me away from my mum when I was very young, and my dad had already left home. My mum used to whisper to me gently how many days old I was when I woke up each morning. This was just after she told me she loved me and that I must be brave at all times and always try my best. I love my mum and I miss her every day.
I can’t really remember which day is which as I live in the present moment. This book isn’t really a diary, because diaries have days and dates – I read this in a book – and I will enter all my entries as ‘Today’. Buddhists believe we should all live in the moment – I read that in a book too, I read a lot – and so I must be a Buddhist cat, but I am not sure how I prove that to anyone. Perhaps if I leave all my chapter headings as ‘Today’ then when they discover this book after I pass on someone else will determine that a Buddhist cat wrote this book? Otherwise, I am not sure what to do. Do I have to obtain a certificate or pass an exam? I’m not sure. I can’t find any books which tell me this information and I’ve looked hard.
Luckily there’s a library next door that allows cats to use the facilities, though I’m not sure whether the library realises this yet. I can even use their photocopier to produce pictures of my rear end, which confuses them no little amount, and then they call in the repairman because they reckon there’s a fault with the copier, rather than a cat with a sense of mischief lurking outside the window. To gain entry, rather than use the sliding doors at the front which I can only operate with a great deal of effort, there’s always an open window on the top floor and I can squeeze in there during the day when it’s open. I have to leave by 5pm before the slim lady librarian with the severe eyebrows, blue hair, and clothes covered in dog hairs closes it for the night.
Anyway, I will stop moaning – as Gemma calls it, she’s mean but more of that many times later – I can sense you’re wondering how did this Buddhist cat get into this state? How did I get to the pinnacle I operate at today? Well, you’ve come to the right place for an explanation, clever reader, how did you know?
Actually, to be fair, there’s not that much to it…
As I said, they took me from my mum when I was little more than a kitten and gave me to an older lady ‘for company’. This person was poor and fed me a paltry amount each day. She lived in one room, and I was never let outside to gain the social skills required to get along with trees, streets, and those large moving objects that weigh more than I do, and which would squash me flat if I ever went too close to them. I was a sickly kitten and caught cat flu, which I don’t remember hunting but caught anyway. The lady took me to a vet, and I needed some medicine. The lady couldn’t afford to pay and threw me at the vet, who caught me and paid for the medicine himself before handing me over very gently to a cat shelter.
Well, you can probably guess the rest. John saw me at the shelter and felt a Buddhist cat would fit the bill perfectly and so took me to adorn his house. He had obtained another cat, a female cat called Gemma, a few weeks earlier from the same shelter.
I should tell you a little about Gemma, but not too much because I don’t want to stop you reading. As I have explained I am a Buddhist cat or I believe I am, so you should imagine that a cloned version of me, a cloned version who wasn’t Buddhist but who was honest in their beliefs about other cats, wrote the following description. I don’t want you to say, he’s exaggerating, cats aren’t like that, no cat could be so nasty, revolting, appalling, unfriendly, hideous, sneering, anti-social, villainous, and nasty again – all at the same time. Just a little about Gemma. She’s a tyrant, she really is. She treats me with complete and utter contempt – me, the kindest, neatest, friendliest, softest cat you could ever wish to meet. Me, whose paws are always at 10-to-2 and pressed together, touching each other, with no manspread, as my mum taught me. I miss my mum. Gemma is contemptuous of me; she says I am fraternising with the enemy when I purr if John or Mary strokes me. Or if I jump on their laps to find a nice place to sleep for 16 hours or even 16 minutes.
Gemma had some kittens when she was younger, and they took them away from her. Her previous family used to live in a house, but when they moved to an apartment block, this place didn’t allow pets, not even cats, so they got rid of Gemma. She felt rejected and has taken that hard by the looks of it, but it’s not my fault, but she treats me like it is. I was rejected too; we have that in common. We could talk about our common experiences, but we don’t.
We have both experienced suffering, which as I’m sure the reader knows is one of the four Noble Truths (satya) of Buddhism, but truth is probably not the most accurate translation of the word ‘satya’. It would be better to say reality or real thing, so we are dealing with realities here, which the Buddha finally understood on the night of his awakening. The realities relate to suffering, the cause of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the path to the cessation of suffering. When I say path, it’s not like the path from the front door to the garden gate, it’s longer than that, and the reason it’s longer is that it’s not just any old path, it’s the noble eightfold path – yes eightfold with lots of rights along the way: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.
Right view and right intention relate to wisdom, right speech, right action, and right livelihood relate to conduct, and the last three, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration, relate to meditation or my emotional state. Now, if I understand this correctly, these eight items are not stages, meaning I move from one to another, but they are all dependent on each other and define a complete way of living all at the same time. This is difficult for me to grasp but as long as these eight items are in keeping with things then I will get closer to the cessation of suffering. By Buddhist practice, we develop these eight items until we establish them as ‘right’. This is a gradual process, beginning with generosity, moving to good conduct, and ending in meditation. Basically, I try to treat all animate and inanimate objects with respect and kindness and then think about what I’ve done before I fall asleep, trying to pinpoint where I could have been more respectful or nicer.
I think I am a resilient cat, but I know I lack experience in life. When John brought me back from the cat shelter, I was in the human world and it was bright, noisy, and full of people saying, ‘What a lovely cat, what’s his name?’. I came back on the public transit system in a cat carrier, and I felt claustrophobic. I yowled the total time because I lacked experience about what to do. I yowl when I’m upset, and then when I am upset about my reaction, I yowl some more. I yowled a lot in those first few hours. But at least I didn’t poo myself in public. My mum would have been proud of me. I hope she still is. I wonder whether I could find her one day. I know orphan humans can look for their actual parents and I will have to investigate whether felines can too.
When John brought me to the house where I live now, he let me out of the cat carrier and I couldn’t believe there were places to run to, other rooms and there was an outside through the windows. They even let me go out of the front door, into the outside world, and I miaowed with happiness as I scampered down the wet front steps into the long green stuff they call a lawn. An uncut, unmowed lawn. A lawn that came up almost to my shoulders and made my fur wet, very wet, and I don’t like my fur to get wet. I didn’t know what wet was until I frolicked in the lawn. After four small steps, after just four steps of happiness, four steps of blessed relief of joy, of contentment, of pleasure, all my legs were wet, and my tummy was too. I gave off my distress miaow, a long mmmmmmmmmmmiiiiiiiiiiiiaaaaaaaaaaaaaaoooooooooooowwwwwwwwwwwww and I lifted my front-right paw and my back-left paw, so they were almost clear of the wet lawn, which was clinging on to my precious black and white fur like it owned it and wanted it for its own purposes. I wasn’t very good at balancing like this as I had no experience of balancing like this and I thought I would overbalance, but John came to the rescue, placing me in a large towel that absorbed the water, or most of it, and I started purring as he carried me back into the house. I was thrilled and then I glanced across and saw another cat. This was the first time I saw Gemma, and she gave me her sneer when she bunches her eyebrows together, narrows her eyes, and gives me a nasty stare.
Actually, I now appreciate that Gemma has six degrees of sneering. The higher the sneer level, the more bunching, narrowing, and nastiness there is.
Sneer Level 1 means ‘Ignorant Cat’ and means I am being ignorant. She reckons I should understand something, and I don’t. She goes on the Internet every night and reads a lot on there, as well as answering emails and responding to queries from other animals in her ‘Agony Aunt’ column for an online pet magazine on ‘The Dark Web’ which is why she accesses it at night when it’s dark, I presume.
Sneer Level 2 means ‘Stupid Cat’ and means I am being stupid. Such as when I jump to catch a fly and land in the water bowl, splashing the contents on the floor and wall, and drawing attention to myself.
Sneer Level 3 means ‘Ignorant and Stupid Cat’ and means I am being ignorant and stupid. Two things at once, two for the price of one. An example of this would be when I sat on the floor and tried to climb up the continental quilt on the main bed using my claws. As I climbed, more of the quilt came towards me at a quick pace, so I climbed more frantically, which only resulted in me being buried under the quilt on the floor which hadn’t been hoovered. I got into trouble. It was a stupid idea, because I weighed more than the quilt, and I was ignorant because I didn’t understand what gravity was, but I do now. Gravity is cunning and sneaks up on you when you’re least expecting it, especially on fences.
Sneer Level 4 means ‘Fraternising with the Enemy’ and means I am receiving attention from anything other than another cat. This was the first level of sneer I received from Gemma when John wrapped me up in a warm towel after the grass had attacked me with water and soaked my lower half.
Sneer Level 5 means ‘Quisling’ and means I am collaborating with the enemy, such as sleeping on a lap or talking to a crow in the garden. It was Winston Churchill who first used the name Quisling to mean collaborator in his public address following the Nazi invasion of Norway in 1940. In his speech on June 12, 1941, addressed to Allied Delegates, Churchill stated that “A vile race of Quislings—to use a new word which will carry the scorn of mankind down the centuries—is hired to fawn upon the conqueror, to collaborate in his designs, and to enforce his rule upon their fellow countrymen, while grovelling low themselves. Such is the plight of once-glorious Europe, and such are the atrocities against which we are in arms.”
Sneer Level 6 means ‘An Enemy of Cat Kind’ and means I am fraternising and collaborating with the enemy at the same time. This would involve me sleeping on a lap and purring, showing my enjoyment, or running towards John or Mary when they call my name, which Gemma considers a heinous crime worthy of a dog. She even says that I have the soul of a dog. I asked her whether she thought there was such a thing as the Transmigration of Souls, like I did. She laughed at me and said in that case I was eating some of my dead ancestors in my food. Cats are obligate carnivores and need meat for certain vitamins and nutrients and I suppose that could be what they mean by soul food.
Gemma’s most awful stare she reserves for the humans. This is when her eyebrows bunch tight together, her eyes are at their narrowest, and her stare is at its nastiest. This means ‘if you were smaller, I would eat you’. Her top lip even curls a little. The humans don’t realise the significance of the facial distortion and reckon Gemma has indigestion, which she would get if she ate smaller versions of the humans, as they are very dirty creatures that only wash properly once a day. More of this in time.
I am in the towel and purring, because this is good attention, not like bad attention when someone throws you across a room at a vet when they can’t afford the vet’s bill. I glance at Gemma and receive what I later appreciate is a Sneer Level 4, and I have mixed emotions. I do what I always do in these situations and sleep on it. It is a short sleep, only for about 8 hours, in a lovely, soft, snuggly bed that is round, like me when I sleep. What a coincidence. My bed is in a different room from Gemma’s. Her bed is round like mine, but she sleeps with her paws tucked under her, like a loaf of bread. She says this is in protest, but never tells me what she’s protesting about. She sleeps during the day mostly, though I notice she curls up in a ball when she thinks no one is around, with the humans ‘at work’ and me in the library playing with the photocopier and reading any books I find lying around.