The Tao of the Cat
My small friend sitting on the windowsill understands the primal, natural ways of the world. She leaps into the air, ethereal as sunlight, and connects to the energy of the sky. She relaxes her body so profoundly that she becomes heavy to lift, rooted to the energy of the earth. She is loving yet independent, wiry yet soft, ferocious yet friendly.
A cat is the ultimate Taoist.
Put simply, Taoism (pronounced Dow-ism) is a philosophy that believes there is a universal energy to the world. The Tao (pronounced Dow) is the energy that encompasses, permeates, and governs the entire universe. This energy flows through all living creatures. If we block this flow of energy, we suffer from physical, emotional, and spiritual malaise. Taoism is a philosophy that can be compatible with most religions and spiritual beliefs. Many Christians and Buddhists are also Taoists.
It is impossible to explain Taoism in a paragraph--or in a million words. Lao Tzu, the philosophy's most revered sage, admonished more than two thousand years ago:The Tao that can be told Is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named Is not the eternal name.
In fact, reading the pale shadow of meaning that words can convey is the source of some amusement to people who are deeply connected to this powerful philosophy. The best way to learn about Taoism is to experience it and to live it--and to study with a teacher who understands its ways. Cats are exceptional teachers and can help us to find the healthy, healing light of the Tao.
The precepts of Taoism, with their focus on natural balance, healthy life, and gentle respect for all creatures, can help us become better friends and guardians of our cats. Learning from our animal companions and then using that knowledge to help our fellow creatures: That's a perfect example of living in the Tao.The Equality of All Things:Lessons from the Cat
Lao Tzu wrote: Anyone who doesn't respect a teacher or cherish a student may be clever, but has gone astray.Cats as Teachers
Westerners usually dismiss the possibility of learning profound life lessons from a "pet." Our philosophical tradition dictates that we are of a higher level of being than the animals around us. We train animals, we house them, we may even love them, but we never think of them as being our peers.
Taoist tradition is very different. According to Taoism, all things are a part of the universal energy flow. Therefore, all things are equal. A king is not better than a pauper. An adult is not better than a child. A human is not better than a cat.
The Book of Chuang Tzu, one of the basic writings of Taoism, tells us, "To have a human form is a joyful thing. But in the universe of possible forms, there are others just as good."
When Chen Fuyin, a Chinese master of qigong (a form of meditative exercise), visited Oregon, I went to hear him speak since I practice qigong.
He told the following story about the Taoist principle of equality:
An archer was shooting in the woods when he lost an arrow. He was an enlightened man and said to himself, "It does not matter that I have lost my arrow, because whoever finds the arrow will be a person from my province. Because we both come from the same province, it is just the same for the other man to have the arrow as it is for me to have it."
Later, the archer told this story to Confucius. "You are right as far as you went," said Confucius, "but it doesn't matter what province the man who finds the arrow comes from. You are both humans, and it is just the same for any other human to have the arrow as it is for you to have it."
The sage Lao Tzu heard the story and corrected Confucius. "You are right as far as you went, too," Lao Tzu told Confucius. "But it doesn't matter if the arrow was found by a man or by another creature. We are all creatures, and it is just the same for any animal to have the arrow as it is for the archer to have it."
Your relationship with your animal companion will be transformed when you adopt the Taoist perspective of animals as our equals. This viewpoint requires you to respect and honor your cat. It underlines the preciousness of her health and her very being.
When our human friends grow and develop from the events that happen in their lives, we learn those lessons with them. When we have a human friend with an extraordinary skill, we are pleased and proud when that friend teaches us her craft. If we consider our animal companions to be our equals, we can learn life lessons from them in a similar fashion.
In the Taoist view of the world, teachers aren't necessarily human. So open your heart to what your cat can teach you. You may be in for some delightful surprises.
Excerpted from The Tao of Meow by Deborah Wood. Copyright © 1999 by Deborah Wood. Excerpted by permission of Dell, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.