Saved by the Dalai Lama
One kittenís tale of redemption.
Published: October 4, 2012
by David Michie
How His Holiness acquired a cat.
I have a defecating bullock to thank for the event that was to change my very young life—and without which, dear reader, you would not be reading this story.
Picture a typical monsoonal afternoon in New Delhi. The Dalai Lama was on his way home from Indira Gandhi Aiport, after a teaching trip to the United States. As his car made its way through the outskirts of the city, traffic was brought to a halt by a bullock that has ambled into the center of the highway, where it proceeds to dump copiously.
Several cars back in the traffic jam, His Holiness was calmly gazing out the window, waiting for the traffic to start up again. As he sat there, his attention was drawn to a drama being played out at the side of the road.
Amid the clamor of pedestrians and bicyclers, food-stall proprietors and beggars, two ragged street children were anxious to bring their day’s trading to an end. Earlier that morning, they had come across a litter of kittens, concealed behind a pile of burlap sacks in a back alley. Scrutinizing their discovery closely, they soon realized that they had fallen upon something of value. For the kittens were no garden-variety alley cats, but clearly felines of a superior kind. The young boys were unfamiliar with the Himalayan breed, but in the kitten’s sapphire eyes, handsome coloring, and lavish coat, they recognized a tradable commodity.
Snatching us from the cozy nest in which our mother had tended us, they thrust my siblings and me into the terrifying commotion of the street. Within moments my two elder sisters, who were much the larger and more developed of us, had been exchanged for rupees—an event of such excitement that in the process I was dropped, landing painfully on the pavement and only narrowly avoiding being killed by a motor scooter.
The boys had much more trouble selling us two smaller, scrawnier kittens. For several hours they trudged the streets, shoving us vigorously at the windows of passing cars. I was much too young to be taken from our mother, and my tiny body was unable to cope. Failing fast for lack of milk and still in pain from my fall, I was barely conscious when the boys sparked the interest of an elderly passerby, who had been thinking about a kitten for his granddaughter.
Gesturing to set us two remaining kittens on the ground, he squatted on his haunches and inspected us closely. My older brother padded across the corrugated dirt at the side of the road, mewing imploringly for milk. When I was prodded from behind to induce some movement, I managed only a single, lurching step forward before collapsing in a mud puddle.
It was exactly this scene that His Holiness witnessed.
And the one that followed.
A sale price agreed on, my brother was handed over to the toothless old man. I, meantime, was left mired in filth while the two boys debated what to do with me, one of them shoving me roughly with his big toe. They decided I was unsaleable, and grabbing a week-old sports page of the India Times that had blown into a nearby gutter, they wrapped me like a piece of rotten meat destined for the nearest rubbish heap.
I began to suffocate inside the newspaper. Every breath became a struggle. Already weak from fatigue and starvation, I felt the flame of life inside me flicker dangerously low. Death seemed inevitable in those final, desperate moments.
Except that His Holiness dispatched his attendant first. Fresh off the plane from America, the Dalai Lama’s attendant happened to have two $1 bills tucked in his robes. He handed these to the boys, who scampered away, speculating with great excitement about how much the dollars would fetch when converted into rupees.
Unwrapped from the death trap of the sports page (“Bangalore Crushes Rajasthan By 9 Wickets” read the headline), I was soon resting comfortably in the back of the Dalai Lama’s car. Moments later, milk had been bought from a street vendor and was being dripped into my mouth, as His Holiness willed life back into my limp form.
I remember none of the details of my rescue, but the story has been recounted so many times that I know it by heart. What I do remember is waking up in a sanctuary of such infinite warmth that for the first time since being wrenched from our burlap nest that morning, I felt that all was well. Looking about to discover the source of my newfound nourishment and safety, I found myself looking directly into the Dalai Lama’s eyes.
How do I describe the first moment of being in the presence of His Holiness?
It is as much a feeling as a thought—a deeply heartwarming and profound understanding that all is well. As I came to realize later, it is as though for the first time you become aware that your own true nature is one of boundless love and compassion. It has been there all along, but the Dalai Lama sees it and reflects it back to you. He perceives your Buddha nature, and this extraordinary revelation often moves people to tears.
In my own case, swaddled in a piece of maroon-colored fleece on a chair in His Holiness’s office, I was also aware of another fact—one of the greatest importance to all cats: I was in the home of a Cat Lover.
David Michie is the bestselling author of Buddhism for Busy People, Hurry Up and Meditate and Enlightenment to Go.