Bodhicatva

The Dalai Lamas CatThe Dalai Lama’s Cat, by David Michie, was published in 2012. It is a work of fiction.

Visitors are often surprised to find that the Dalai Lama has a cat. But why should His Holiness not have a cat, asks the cat.

The cat, who has many names, was among a litter of kittens found in a New Delhi alley by two young boys. The boys sold off the kittens, one by one. The smallest kitten was too weak to sell, so they decided to suffocate it. This was witnessed by the Dalai Lama, who was stuck in traffic. He sent his attendant to buy the kitten for two American dollars. (His Holiness was returning from a trip to America, and had no rupees with him.)

The cat moves in with the Dalai Lama. Having been born in an alley, she doesn’t know how unusual her situation is. To her, His Holiness is just someone who gets the temperature of her milk just right.

Seeing how much care and thought His Holiness puts into writing his books, the cat decides to write a book of her own.

At first, the cat thinks that every human wakes up at 3 a.m. and spends five hours meditating. Then, with the help of the Dalai Lama’s assistants, the cat begins to understand that not everyone spends their days meeting with world leaders and celebrities.

In her book, the cat is discrete enough to not reveal the names of celebrity guests. She does drop the occasional hint, however. For instance, one guest is referred to as an absolutely fabulous actress who has appeared on British television.

Sometimes, the cat will name names, like when the teacher Thich Nhat Hanh or the Queen of Bhutan pay a visit.

The assistants, Chogyal and Tenzin, call the cat HHC – His Holiness’ Cat. One day, HHC finds her way to a space under the building, where she finds, and tries to kill, a mouse. She wants to bring the mouse to the Dalai Lama, but he is busy in the temple, so she presents her gift to the assistants. To her surprise, the assistants care for the mouse and do their best to treat its wounds. Then the cat remembers His Holiness’ teaching, and understands that all sentient life is sacred – even the life of a mouse.

Chogyal and Tenzin decide it’s time for the cat to have a new name, but “His Holiness’ Mouser” doesn’t sound right. The Dalai Lama’s driver suggests simply, “Mouser”, but with his strong accent, it sounds like “Mousie”. No, say the assistants, it has to be something more – either something Mousie or Mousie something. The driver suggests “Mousie-Tung”.

All three men laugh. Then Tenzin says, “Compassion is all very well. But do you think His Holiness should be sharing his quarters with Mousie-Tung?” They continue laughing.

For the cat, her new name is a grim reminder of a folly of her youth, when she let instincts take over, when she forgot to see life from the mouse’s point of view. Fortunately, the mouse survived. The Dalai Lama urged the cat to learn from her mistake, and to move on.

Mousie loves life at Jokhang, as the temple complex is called. Although cats spend their days dozing, she writes, they like their humans to be busy, and Jokhang is very busy. The cat provides us with a tour of the complex. She provides an eyewitness account of events and activities in and around Jokhang.

The Dalai Lama names the cat “little Snow Lion”. Mrs. Trinci, the flamboyant cook, names the cat “The Most Beautiful Creature That Ever Lived”. To Franc, owner of Café Franc, she is “Rinpoche”.

The Snow Lion of Jokhang finds that fame brings some benefits among the shops and restaurants in the area. At Café Franc, she is a celebrity. Having a celebrity in the café brings in customers, so Rinpoche is always fed well there. She is also fed well by Mrs. Trinci at Jokhang. She is well fed at a lot of places. The cat admits to being a glutton.

HHC, the cat of many names, continues to live, love, and learn at Jokhang as she grows from kitten to cat.

The Dalai Lama’s Cat is an introduction to the principles of Tibetan Buddhism. Through observations and personal experience, the cat learns of karma, mindfulness, Dharma, and the Sutras. Like the story of the gift of the mouse, the various stories are often told with a touch of humor, and always contain a lesson. Franc, who wears the symbols of Buddhism, learns what it means to actually be a Buddhist. Mrs. Trinci, a Catholic, learns why the Buddhists she works for have never tried to convert her. Chogyal’s teenage daughter, who believes in a vegetarian lifestyle but has an iron deficiency, learns that vegetarianism is not a binary principle. There are many such stories in this book.

As with any book written from a nonhuman perspective, the cat seemed a little too human at times. For instance, would a cat recognize that a car is a Fiat Punto? Would it even care? But that’s really the only nit I have to pick with The Dalai Lama’s Cat. Hey, I read a novel written by a cat, so what do I know?

I thoroughly enjoyed The Dalai Lama’s Cat. It’s a quick read, and I had fun reading it. It’s a wonderful book.

  • A book from a nonhuman perspective

Morning Message

I decided, on a whim, to walk up the hill this morning and ride Link light rail all the way to work. I dropped a book off at the Capitol Hill Library and saw a mysterious typewriter in some bushes.

A half-block from Capitol Hill Station, I received a text message. “Link light rail is temporarily interrupted due to an emergency at Angle Lake Station. Updates will be provided as information become available.”

I wondered what kind of emergency at the southernmost station could shut down the whole system. I crossed Broadway and went to the stop for the 10 bus to Downtown.

I had no reason to check OneBusAway. The 10 or the 43 would be by shortly, and there was no benefit in knowing when. Still, it was something to pass the time.

When I unlocked my phone, I saw that a second alert had come in, one minute after the first. “Link light rail has resumed normal operation and service at all stations.”

That was very odd.

I crossed Broadway again, entered Capitol Hill Station, and had just enough time to post a photo of that typewriter before the train arrived.

I’ve been noticing that more and more people have figured out that our light rail trains have an exterior button to open the doors, but haven’t yet figured out the the button works only when it’s lit up. Once the doors close, and the train’s brakes are released, you can pound on the button as many times as you want, but the doors won’t open and the train is still going to leave the station.

Admiration

Dreams From My FatherDreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, by Barack Obama, was originally published in 1995, when the author was campaigning for a position in the Illinois Senate. It was republished in 2004, when Senator Obama had won the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate. The copy I borrowed from the library is the 2004 edition.

I originally intended a very different book,” is the first sentence of the introduction. Barack Obama was elected as the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. He was approached by publishers to write about this experience. He took on the task with “a frightening confidence”, naively believing that he had something original to say about the state of race relations.

As he considered his book, he thought about his family and his personal experiences, and decided to include those in his essay. As he began to write, those thoughts about his family took over, and the book became more personal.

Whatever the label that attaches to this book – autobiography, memoir, family history, or something else – what I’ve tried to do is write an honest account of a particular province of my life.”

Part One begins with a phone call from Nairobi, Kenya. Barack “Barry” Obama was 21 years old, and living in New York City. The call was from his Aunt Jane. She was calling to inform him that his father – a man he didn’t know – had been killed in a car accident.

Through the anecdotes of his maternal grandparents, Barry learned of his parents’ life together. His mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, and his father, Barack Obama (Sr.), were married in 1960, when their marriage was still a felony in the majority of the states in the USA. His father left when Barry was still a toddler.

Barry would see his father once more, briefly, in Hawaii, when Barry was a child.

This part of the book covers the early influences in Barry Obama’s life: the stories told to him of his African father, his growing up with his Indonesian step-father, his grandparents, his mother, and his sister Maya.

He writes of his childhood in Djakarta and Honolulu.

Barry learned about power and privilege in Djakarta, and it influenced the course of his life. His mother taught him to value education, tolerance, and justice. His mother, a white woman, taught her son to be proud of being black.

Barack Obama writes with frankness about the low point in his life, when questions of race and bigotry weighed him down. Desperation lead him to alcohol and other drugs. His school grades suffered. His mother saved him, gave him encouragement, and he went to college in Los Angeles.

“Strange how a single conversation can change you.” That conversation, over coffee, with a fellow Occidental College student named Regina, about Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, about his African name, and her life in Chicago, would eventually lead Barry Obama to a life of activism. It would take him a long time to realize the conversation’s importance, however.

Part One ends with Barry deciding he preferred to be called Barack, transferring to Columbia University, and moving to New York City, where he learned of his father’s death.

Part Two begins with Barack Obama deciding to become a community organizer. It wasn’t easy to find work in that field. He went into a successful corporate career for a while. Then he resigned. Then a job offer from a community organizing group moved him to Chicago.

Barack’s new career didn’t start off well. He met resistance from elected officials, church leaders, black people, white people, the rich, the unemployed, and the Chicago winter. But he listened, learned, and persisted, and gradually achieved some success.

Barack’s sister Auma came from Germany to visit him in Chicago, and he learned of their father’s unfortunate life in Kenya. The Old Man was someone Auma barely knew.

Barack became acquainted with his brother Roy, during a too-brief visit to Washington D.C. Roy knew The Old Man all too well.

The book traces the triumphs, defeats, and unfinished business of Barack Obama’s community work.

Part Two ends with Barack Obama finding a church to join, where he learned the importance of the word Hope, and him receiving an acceptance letter from Harvard Law School.

Part Three covers Barack Obama’s first visit to Kenya.

With Auma as his guide and translator, Barack met family members for the first time – aunts, cousins, and brothers. He toured the country, learning of Kenya, its people and its history. He learned of his family’s history. And he learned about The Old Man – the father he never knew.

He heard the story of his parents’ brief marriage from the other side of the family.

The book ends with an epilogue, six years after that first trip to Kenya. Barack Obama graduated from Harvard Law School. He returned to Kenya one more time, with his fiancée, a “daughter of the South Side”, a woman named Michelle. The epilogue ends with the wedding of Barack and Michelle Obama.

When I started reading Dreams from My Father, I was, at first, frustrated by the lack of times lines in the story. (When did this happen? How long did they live there? And so on.) Then I remembered the introduction, and realized that whatever this book is, it is not an autobiography. It is, instead, an examination of the multitude of influences that shape a life. It is an amazing book.

Barack Obama writes with a clarity that is insightful and intelligent. He displays a constant quest for knowledge and understanding. He is always questioning and always examining. Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance is full of wonderful passages on just about every one of its 442 pages.

  • A book written by someone you admire

Gaming 2

Today, Phillip and I drove up to Joe and Laurie’s house, in Everett, for another session of vampire role playing.

Brian treated us to a sampling of blueberry ale, and a full glass if we wished. Normally, we are not an alcohol group. I liked the ale, and had a full glass.

I forgot to ask, but I wonder if the blueberry ale was in any way connected to the Smurf discussion later in the day.

Kelly has dropped out of the game, for an understandable and happy reason. Kathi took a turn at being the Game Master. It was Joe, Laurie, Daniel, Brian, Phillip, and me playing vampires in Bellevue today.

I’m not as into this game as I have been with previous games. I’ve made that opinion public long before this post. But I’ve also promised to give this game a chance, and will continue playing.

The best part of today’s game, for me, was when our team met a trio of rival vampires in an alley. One was armed with a club, one had a handgun, and one had a shotgun aimed at us.

My character, a motorcycle gang member named Spider Smith, has a high skill rating in firearms. So I chose to dive behind a dumpster while shooting at the guy with the shotgun, action movie style. These were two actions, each requiring a three-dice roll.

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Triple-Botch

My dodging action roll gave me two successes. My shooting roll gave me three ones – a triple botch. (A botch roll is worse than an unsuccessful one.)

Since, it turned out, I had rolled out of turn, Game Master Kathi gave me the option of re-rolling. I chose to stick with my triple-botch, over the protests of my fellow players. For one thing, it was my roll, even out of turn, so I thought it was fair that I accept the consequences. More importantly, though, I’d never seen a triple-botch before, and I was curious to see what would happen.

Spider Smith successfully dove behind the dumpster, dodging the shotgun blast, and landed without injury. In mid-dive, he fired his revolver, which not only failed to fire, but fell apart in his hands, with pieces of gun littering the alley. (It makes one wonder about Spider’s skill as a motorcycle mechanic.)

Spider hid behind the dumpster, in shame, for the rest of the fight. Afterwards, he bought a new gun at a nearby pawn shop.

Two People In The Peloponnese

Last night, we watched the final part of the Before trilogy. I didn’t write about it last night, and I’m not sure what to write about it now. I’m stunned. Before Midnight was excellent. I loved it. It’s just that it wasn’t what I was expecting. That’s a good thing – it’s a continuation, not a rehash. I’m just not sure how I feel about how things turned out.

Before Midnight starts in an airport. Jesse is sending his son home to his mother (Jesse’s ex-wife). Jesse is over-controlling his son, making sure his understands about the flight transfer, and telling him to let the airline personnel take him to the proper gate.

The airport is in Greece. Céline is waiting by the car outside. Jesse gets in, and drives them back to the writer’s house, where they have been guests, while their twin nine-year-old girls sleep in the back seat.

Over dinner, couples of various ages talk about love and marriage. We learn that one couple has arranged to watch the girls, and have paid for a hotel room, as a gift, so that Céline and Jesse can have some time alone.

It’s nine years after Jesse and Céline took that walk in Paris, in Before Sunset, and eighteen years after Jesse persuaded Céline to get off the train in Vienna, in Before Sunrise. This time, there is no time constraint, no train to catch, no plane to catch. Céline and Jesse are together. They have all the time in the world.

Jesse is a successful author, working on his next book, which, for a change, will not be about two people meeting at random every nine years. Céline is deciding on her next career move, having taken time off to raise twin girls.

Like the previous two films, Before Midnight features those wonderful, long take, conversations. The drive from the airport, for instance, consists of a static camera mounted to the hood of the car, while Jesse and Céline talk. It’s filmed up close, so we don’t get to see much of the Peloponnese scenery. It’s just them talking. Once again, it’s the acting skills of Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy that carry this film, and make it wonderful.

But, Before Midnight is not like the previous two films. The awkwardness of two people getting to know each other has given way to an established couple who know each other all too well. Those conversations have turned from discovery to debate.

There are many surprises in Before Midnight.

This is an amazing trilogy. All three films are masterpieces.

Gaming

On a miserable, drizzly afternoon, Phillip and I walked over to the corner store, bought ingredients for dinner, continued walking to Top Pot for lattes to go, and then walked home and played a game of Pandemic.

Pandemic is a cooperative board game. Either everybody wins or everybody loses. The goal is to find cures for four pandemic diseases before time runs out.

Each player is assigned a specific role, with specific abilities. Phillip drew the Scientist, with the ability to share knowledge. I drew the Medic, with the ability to treat diseases.

We’d eradicated two diseases, and had found the cure for a third. I drew the last two player cards, however, and the game would be over at the end of Phillip’s turn. We were going to lose, but we agreed to play it out.

Then, in a research station in Istanbul, Phillip acquired five blue cards. The fourth disease had been cured. We won the game.

We both enjoy cooperative games, and Pandemic is a lot of fun.