Habits and Monastery Cats

What kinds of habits do you own to?  Don’t you find life is muchly governed by habits, predilections, assumptions and preconceived ideas?

It occurred to me that when drinking tea I always leave the last millilitres at the bottom of the cup, and I wondered why, when a coffee cup usually gets drained.  The answer was obvious when I thought about it.  My early tea drinking experiences were from teapots, when the bottom mouthful was always full of off-putting tea leaves.  Now, well into the twenty first century, tea bags protect us from tea leaves so they no longer populate the last mils: one can drain the cup.  But, one doesn’t.  Well … this one doesn’t.  He’s developed a sacred, irrational habit.

It is said that habits are hard to break.  Get rid of the ‘h’ and you’ve still got ‘abit’.  Get rid of the ‘a’ and the ‘bit’ is still there.  Get rid of the ‘b’ and … what?  You’ve still got ‘it’! 

Don’t think there are any easy solutions.  I bring problems, not solutions.

Breaking habits take commitment and discipline, of course, but even before that – awareness.  You have to recognise a habit before you can can it.  Be aware that it even exists.  Then you have to desire change.  Only then the application of commitment and discipline and determination and all those habit-busting things.

No.  No easy solutions. But here’s a story (maybe apocryphal, maybe not) that illustrates the problem, and the ridiculousness of some habits.  And the need for awareness; and may even have something to say about religious practices and traditions.
And the sacred habits of tea drinking.

Once upon a time there was a monastery in Tibet. The monks in the monastery meditated from dawn to dusk. One day it so happened that a cat wandered into the monastery and disturbed the monks. The head monk instructed that the cat be caught and tied to the banyan tree until dusk. He also ruled that every day, to avoid interruption during meditation, the cat be tied to the banyan tree. So it became a daily practice, a tradition in the monastery.  To catch the cat and tie it to the banyan tree before the day’s ceremonies commenced. The cat remained tied to the banyan tree as long as the monks meditated.
The tradition continued.
One day the head monk died. As per tradition the next senior-most monk was chosen to succeed him, and all other traditions, including the banyan tree custom, were continued.
One day the cat died. The whole monastery plunged into panic. A committee was formed to find a solution and it was unanimously decided that a cat be bought immediately from the nearby market and tied to the tree before starting the meditation the next day.

In time, the tree also died, and was replaced.

The tradition is followed in the monastery even today, and, centuries later, learned descendants of the spiritual teachers have written scholarly treatises about the religious significance of tying up cats for meditation ceremonies.

Monks and their habits, eh?

Ken F

2 thoughts on “Habits and Monastery Cats

  1. Dear Ken,
    Well done, yes we have to be careful we don’t hold on too a tradition too sacredly but rather make it our tradition to hold on to the sacred.
    Yours sharon
    Ps sorry the ‘bot’ got in the way of our martariki roll on summer!


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