Monday, May 13, 2013


The Story of the Mystical Cat
Food for Thought 

The military is steeped in tradition.

There are many customs, traditions and rituals.

I remember, there was a custom in the army, in the artillery, where they do not light more than two cigarettes with a single matchstick.

In the navy, we do not clink glasses while drinking or making a toast.

If we asked the reason for a certain custom which we found meaningless, our seniors would admonish us: This is the Naval Tradition”  

Even in our day to day life, in the name of tradition, we unquestioningly follow traditions and customs and perform all types of religious, social and superstitious rituals without understanding the spirit behind the ritual.
ritual is an action performed purely for symbolic value.
In many cases there is no logic or rational explanation for the ritual. 
This apocryphal story from ancient wisdom “ The Mystical Cat ” illustrates how customs, traditions and rituals begin.

The story also tells you how due to repeated repetition over the years these customs and rituals are gradually established and become a part of culture. 

And then, once established, customs, traditions and rituals are blindly followed for years and years, despite the fact that, in most cases, these customs and traditions have lost their significance and the rituals have outlived their utility and meaning.
An Ancient Wisdom Teaching Story

A seeker joined a monastery to learn meditation and the art of living. 

Every evening all students and disciples assembled in the large meditation hall for a discourse by the Spiritual Guru followed by group meditation.

Just before the meditation session commenced the disciples would catch a cat, tie it up and place the tied up cat on the lap of the Spiritual Guru. 

The Guru would then start caressing the cat and begin the discourse and meditation session. 

After the meditation session was over, the cat would be untied and set free.

This was the established daily ritual.

The Guru would start the meditation session only after the tied up cat was placed on his lap and he was extremely particular about this.

Once when the cat could not be found, the Guru refused to start the meditation session and demanded that the cat be placed on his lap.

So the meditation session was delayed and all the seekers launched a desperate hunt for the cat.

The searched for hours till they found the cat.

The cat was duly tied up and placed on the Guru’s lap and only then did he start his discourse-cum-meditation session.

The seeker was quite perplexed at the mystery of the tied up cat. He could not understand the significance of this ritual and how it was connected to meditation. 

The seeker wondered: What is the significance of the tied up cat placed on the Guru's lap and what is its correlation with meditation?” 

He asked around but no one knew the answer till someone told him to ask a wise old man who lived in a cave up the hills.

So our curious seeker trudged up the hills to meet the wise old man and ask him the significance of this time-honoured ritual.

“It is like this,” the wise old man said:

“one evening, many years ago, when the then Spiritual Guru and his disciples began their evening meditation, a cat that lived in the monastery made so much noise that it distracted them and disturbed their meditation practice. 

So the Guru ordered that the cat be tied up during the evening discourse-cum-meditation practice. 

This practice of tying up the cat before meditation practice continued, so much so that even after the teacher died, the next Guru continued this tradition and a cat continued to be tied up during the meditation session.

When the cat died, another cat was brought to the monastery to be tied up during the evening meditation session.

And when that cat died too, they brought another cat to be tied up during meditation practice, and then as cats kept dying, they kept replacing the dead cats with new cats, and the practice of tying up a cat during meditation continued.

With the passage of time this has become such an established ritual that now no one can dare to question it. So it has become a custom, tradition and established ritual to tie up a cat during the meditation session.” 

Years later, the ritual of tying up the cat during the meditation session continued and continued.

Our seeker, who by then had become the Spiritual Guru, wrote a scholarly treatise about the significance of tying up a cat for meditation practice.

I wonder why we accept customs and traditions without understanding their significance?

Just like a blind man lead by others, why do we blindly follow rituals without examining the meaning, logic and significance of that ritual using our own intelligence and judgement?

Why do we follow customs traditions and rituals that are obsolete and have lost their significance and outlived their utility?

If you see any ritual, custom or tradition being blindly followed and for which there seems to be no rational or logical explanation, remember this story of the Mystical Cat, and stop blindly following superstition which has become meaningless in the modern world of today.

Dear Reader - do you follow any rituals which are meaningless in the modern world of today?

Copyright © Vikram Karve 2013
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About Vikram Karve

A creative person with a zest for life, Vikram Karve is a retired Naval Officer turned full time writer and blogger. Educated at IIT Delhi, IIT (BHU) Varanasi, The Lawrence School Lovedale and Bishops School Pune, Vikram has published two books: COCKTAIL a collection of fiction short stories about relationships (2011) and APPETITE FOR A STROLL a book of Foodie Adventures (2008) and is currently working on his novel and a book of vignettes and an anthology of short fiction. An avid blogger, he has written a number of fiction short stories and creative non-fiction articles on a variety of topics including food, travel, philosophy, academics, technology, management, health, pet parenting, teaching stories and self help in magazines and published a large number of professional  and academic research papers in journals and edited in-house journals and magazines for many years, before the advent of blogging. Vikram has taught at a University as a Professor for 15 years and now teaches as a visiting faculty and devotes most of his time to creative writing and blogging. Vikram Karve lives in Pune India with his family and muse - his pet dog Sherry with whom he takes long walks thinking creative thoughts.

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