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Posted by on Sep 16, 2007 in Health | 0 comments

Creatures: Heart Medicine For Humans

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Maybe your grandmother is like mine; they see the world with ‘other eyes.’

My grandmother would sometimes say upon seeing the glee in her little dog’s eyes when she returned home: Dogs are heart medicine for humans. Other times when her butter yellow canaries would sing and sing just because the sun rose, she would say, Birds are heart medicine for humans. But then, when her kitties would adorn various kitchen cupboards to help her cook by waving their tails like pendulums, she’d say Cats are heart medicine for humans.

I was thinking of this, because a friend who is so ill, has an oncologist who understands the grandmother/ grandfather wisdom… and lets patients lie in big green vinyl recliner chairs wearing their living kitty mufflers, kitty aprons, and kitty head warmers during IV chemo.

Blessed oncologist whose chemo rooms are like a menagerie. When I’ve been there for my own infusions… another story for another time, I have a recurring anemia… the most unusual thing is that the dogs lying against people’s legs or lying quietly in laps, and all the kitties are on a mission; no fighting goes on there, no scouting for mates, no being sidetracked. Each creature, fully present to their person. It must be so: Creatures are medicine for their humans.

We’ve got Mother’s Day, whether every mother is ‘good enough’ or not. Same, Father’s Day. But no Cat Day. No Dog Day. No Bird Day. Some of the very few creatures on earth who will try to uncritically stay with us no matter how weak, how strong, how strange, upset, preoccupied we act, no matter what.

So two stories, each mythic in its own way; they are from two different cultures where many people are still fighting, arguing and hating one another over a war that occurred 67 years ago. But also their two cultures despite all else… have a great unifier: their shared love of cats, large cats called tigers, and smaller tigers called cats.

The first story is a true one that came in a news release from China some time back.

The Tigers In the Temple

Walking fully grown tigers on a leash is all part of a day’s work for a group of Buddhist monks who have taken on the task of protecting the endangered animals by offering them a home within the walls of their temple.

The sanctuary is run by head monk Phusit Khantidharo, who insists all 10 tigers living at the Pha Luang Ba Tua temple in western Kanchanaburi province in Thailand have adopted peaceful Buddhist ways.

“We are a big family here and we live together, not just with the tigers but many animals,” said Phusit, sitting cross-legged on a rock surrounded by five large tigers that take turns to affectionately nuzzle up to their saffron-robed master.

The tigers, with names like Storm, Lightning and Great Sky, live among monkeys, horses, deer, peacocks, geese and wild pigs in a scenic gully where they are free to roam and feed during the day.

Visitors to the remote temple, about 200 kilometers west of Bangkok, are invariably stunned by the sight of the monks frolicking with tigers as if they were ordinary domestic cats.

One monk, who weighed less than half his furry companion, was bold enough to crouch down and mock fight with the big tiger, which gently lunged back with its deadly claws retracted.

The monks have documented the personalities of all the big cats in a booklet with profiles varying from “likes to be a star and loves showing off” to “pretends to be tame and gentle but will bite.”

The first tiger was brought to the temple in 1998 after being injured by a hunter, but died within days.
Soon after, two very ill cubs arrived with large knife wounds in their stomachs. Inexperienced hunters had tried to cut them open and inject them with the preserving agent formalin in a bungled attempt to stuff them for a collector.

Miraculously, they survived, and the temple quickly earned a reputation as a tiger haven.

“When the villagers saw how we tended to the first tigers they brought others. Some were injured by hunters who had a change of heart, others by people who did not want the tiger near their village but also did not want to see it die,” he said.

“The last cub to arrive had no hair as it had only just been born when its mother was killed,” he said, adding that the monks had named the tiny cub Sengtawa (Light of Sun).

Despite the head monk’s assurances that the tigers have chosen the path of non-violence, some devotees living at the temple bear scars that look suspiciously like the work of the big cats, and locals living near the temple say there have been a handful of maulings.

Sitting with his tigers, and three handlers who keep an eye on the beasts just in case they get excited by the visiting strangers, Abbot Phusit conceded that the temple grounds were a less than ideal home for his striped guests.

“We have started building an area in which they can roam, of about 30 rai (4.8 hectares), and eventually we want to send them back to the forest once they are ready to return,” he said.

***
And thus we leave China and the big cats and follow the story line across an ocean and into Japan… another kind of cat altogether is found there in a story about a little boy who loved cats more than anything, and whose parents despaired he would never amount to anything because all he wanted to do is draw cats.

With his brush and ink, he would draw and paint cats all day long… a cat on the road, a cat in the window, a cat playing at the feet of a woman sewing, the boy would stop and take out his rice paper, bamboo brush and black ink, and draw the beautiful spine and tail in one long motion, then the ears, the legs and paws and then the beautiful little face of the cat…

His parents became so distraught by their son drawing and painting cats so single-mindedly, they decided to send him away to a monastery to monks who would teach him the discipline of hard work. The old soothsayer who was consulted agreed, and said this cryptic thing: ‘Let the boy always go to the smallest place while keeping his heart wide open.’

Thus the seer’s words were handed to the boy along with his bindle bag with a rice cake and a vial of water and an extra ragged shirt for the road.

The child walked and walked down the road but as night fell, he took a wrong turn. Instead of heading toward the assigned monastery, he unknowingly turned toward an old abandoned monastery near a small village. That monastery had been abandoned because a demon had taken it over, the monks had fled, and the villagers had been terrorized.

But, rounding a turn in the road the boy saw candles flickering inside the huge monastery built into the side of the mountain. And tired, he made haste to that place and entered the great hall.

Oh could there ever be anything the boy could have found that would be finer? The old walls inside the monastery were as blank as they could be, and the child, though hungry and tired, yet with great joy opened his little pack and began drawing cats… cats and cats and cats, all over the walls of the monastery. He drew black cats and white cats and striped cats and tortoiseshell tom cats, and cats with one white paw and one black paw, and the sweetest faces on every cat.

The child drew and drew, but suddenly there began a fierce banging and a terrible thudding, and the child was terrified and jumped into the nearest closet… his heart was beating him out of his body. Huge Footsteps, then the boy heard some terrible creature roaring and bragging about the latest villagers it had murdered, and then suddenly, a roaring and bellowing and screaming began, the most hideous sounds, and the very ground in the closet shook as a terrible battle raged outside the closet where the child was hidden….until suddenly… silence.

And more silence. And the ticking of the wood in the closet wall. Slowly the boy opened the closet door a crack and bewildered saw in the midst of the ruined hall, a huge beast, part human seeming and part giant rat. It was dead and there was blood everywhere…

The villagers had heard the great screeching, remaining hidden themselves. But then, when the silence came, the headmen climbed up to the monastery and peered in the windows. Seeing the monster dead, gratified them greatly. When they also saw the poor bewildered little boy with his brushes and ink, and when they also saw one other thing, they brought the child down the mountain on their shoulders, proclaiming him a hero who had killed the monster.

But the child protested he had done nothing, that somehow the monster must have died all by himself… until the elders taking him by the hand, walked him back up the mountain and lifted him to peer in the monastery windows to see what the villagers had seen that night after the battle came to silence.

There on the walls in the monastery were all the beautiful cats the child had drawn, their tails curling up and out, their paws and spots and stripes and patterns just as the child had painted them all… except for one thing…

The cats’ mouth were dripping red with the monster’s blood and their eyes were closed in crescents as though in greatest satisfaction. And one, the largest instead of facing left to right as the child had painted her, was now facing right to left.

Thus, the villagers loved the child, and made a place for him in their midst, and told him they had many many cats in the village, and that all their cats very much needed many paintings and drawing made of them. And the child was happy there, drawing cats and cats and cats to his heart’s content, for the child had found his true calling.

A calling to be a great brush and ink artist? Perhaps. But, more so, many believed the child’s calling was to bring life to life by being a humble, magical, and mysterious slayer of monsters.

CODA

Not a hat/tip, but just a hand on the arm to a person who touched me telling the story on TMV about how his cat became lost and never was found and how he still grieved for her. I have thought about his story a great deal, wondering how to reply… I am a slow thinker I’m afraid… and the longer I thought, the more I felt strongly that his cat could not find her way home again because someone took her in, a kind person who has since taken good care of her.

I chose the two stories because one is about holy people taking in creatures with kindness, not being afraid to face the unusual, and loving life no matter its form… and the second story to show how love of creatures can also extend to helping other beings, culture, and beyond as well, even if no one at first realizes the underlying gift. So, the soul who still loves his dear cat so deeply, and the soul who took his kitty in, and the kitty herself, the one who carries medicine for human beings… for all of them.

Nota bene: The version of the boy who drew cats that I’ve spun out here, is based on the core of a brief Japanese legend, published in English in a different form, by Lafcadio Hearn about 1900. ©Copyright C.P. Estés 2007

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