Hindus are united in the belief that human life is actually a cycle – a cycle of birth and death until one attains “Nirvana” or eternal relief. Life on this earth, according to Hindu religion, is all about experiences which lead to the soul’s evolution, until it becomes one with God. And that act of becoming one with God, releases the soul from this cycle – called “Janma-mrityu” (life and death).
Ever since I was a child, I had heard mention about this life, the next one or the one before. Whenever something good happened in my life, I was told that it was the fruit of my actions in my previous life. And when something bad happened, for example, if someone cheated me of money, I was told that I probably owed money in my previous life and was repaying that debt off now. Thus it is, that I am constantly watching my deeds in this life, so that when I am reborn, I am that much closer to attaining Nirvana and hoping to be released from the “Janma-mrityu” cycle.
And as far as I can remember, people in India routinely cursed others who upset them by informing them that they would regress and be born a dog or a cat in their next life for their misdeeds in this one! Stands to reason that I inferred from those remarks that Hindus consider humans as the highest form of life, closer to God than any other being. For a very long time, I have accepted this edict, because it was inculcated in me as a very young child.
That was until we got Subbu, our cat. I am now forced to re-evaluate my assumptions. As I watch his life fly by, day after peaceful day, starting with early morning hugs, caresses, kisses and eternally full food bowl, I am starting to wonder: are humans really the superior beings? Are human closer to God than animals? Are we, indeed, born as humans in this life because of our past good deeds? Or could it be that we are born as humans in this life because we have committed sins in our past lives? Had I been good, and kind and compassionate and loving and grateful, should I not have been born as someone as peaceful, as serene and as happy as my cat?
I think Subbu’s life. more than mine, resembles that of the revered Indian sadhu (ascetic), whose meditations bring him close to God.
I’ll demonstrate with a run-down of his typical day:
5:00 am: It is wake-up time. If the ones who are fortunate enough to serve Subbu aren’t awake, no problem, he is happy to go the extra mile to wake them up so they can finish up their chores of taking care of him, before heading out to work to earn money to feed Subbu. He does that by crouching low by the side of the bed and pouncing on their toes jutting from under the bed cover. He does this repeatedly, all the while making mewing sounds until they wake up. Then he promptly flops on their feet and does a few somersaults to show them that he loves them. Because he looks so sweet when he flops on his back, Subbu’s owners forget to scold him for waking them up at an unearthly hour, in this fashion, and he gets a belly rub, many strokes and lots of kisses instead.
5:10 am: Stroking and petting done. It is time to refill Subbu’s food bowl which has been licked clean during the night. Subbu doesn’t mind having to lead them to his food bowl. He does this by walking a few steps, sitting down facing the direction he wants to lead them, and looking back at them, with his unblinking stare and eyes speaking volumes. As they follow, he’ll walk a few more steps and repeat performance, until he leads them to his empty bowl. Then, an indignant meow will let them know that while they have been remiss in letting his bowl get empty, he’ll forgive them if they refill promptly.
8:00 am: Time to see off the guy who goes out each morning to bring home the moolah! That’s the least Subbu can do. He does this by running down the stairs to the door to say bye and then running up the stairs and racing to the deck to wave goodbye from upstairs.
8:30 am: What is this other person doing? Shouldn’t she be petting Subbu, rather than being stuck in front of that screen? Oh well, Subbu drapes himself on his favorite black chair (the one that attracts the most fur) and looks bored. He spends the next hour or so, staring unblinkingly at the back of her head while he meditates on how wonderful his life is.
9:30 am: Time for a nap. Subbu retires upstairs to the master bedroom. The comforter is a dark red one so it is a perfect foil for an utterly indolent, beautifully soft, gorgeously gray and white fur ball. Subbu settles down for a nap, so his owner can come by and admire his killer looks and take pictures.
9:40 am: Subbu is now on his back, hind paws airborne, fore paws covering his eyes, pink little tongue sticking out, flesh reposing in utter stillness. Life is good.
4:00 pm: Wake up, stretch on the wall, fling oneself on human toes for more petting.
5:00 pm: Time to go out! Run down the stairs and mew loudly by the door until it is opened. Peek out, watch out for dogs, and run outside into the wilderness. Ah! the freedom to chase bugs, climb trees, watch birds and root around nature!
6:00 pm: Here is a strange human who’s walking towards Subbu. Subbu promptly does his “damsel in distress” act! Runs towards the stranger, flings himself at her toes and rolls on his back, all the while watching the human’s reaction out of the corner of his eyes. Predictably, she coos, ooohs and aaahs, stoops down to rub his belly and exclaims loudly about the cute cat! With one more feather in his hat, Subbu gets up, dusts himself off and walks away, tail in the air to resume his wilderness foray, while cruelly leaving behind a damsel in the throes of Subbu love!
9:00 pm: Subbu’s owners are being pests, scouring the neighborhood for him, calling his name loudly and disturbing the peace. Subbu comes bounding out the darkness, his beautiful eyes gleaming and promptly flops at their feet to indicate that he has no plans to go back inside.
9:30 pm: Back home. Its time to play. Subbu races up and down the stairs, pushing the torn cloth mouse and trying to get the lazy owners to work up a sweat. He tries valiantly for about 15 minutes and then gives up and runs up and down on his own, chasing many imaginary mice.
10:00 pm: Time to grab the foot of the master bed before those humans can come by and stretch out in Subbu’s space.
Life, as I said, is good. Peace, happiness, contentment, love, acceptance – complete acceptance of every situation that life throws at Subbu, and so Nirvana cannot be far away.
Now you tell me, my dear reader: is the cat’s life not one of complete surrender to God’s will? Is it not a life filled with positive emotions of love, (universal love, remember the demonstration of love for the stranger who happened to cross his path?), acceptance and peace?
Doesn’t it seem as though a cat is closer to God than man is?