The Cat and the Krait


It is very difficult with our ordinary mind, and Torei makes this point, which is covered with this grease and slimy and sticky attachment to be able to see things clearly and to act clearly. As an example, this is a personal experience I had which quite impressed me. I lived in India for some years and at one time, well over a year, on the outskirts of Old Delhi and there was a place called Cavalry Line. There were stables, fields all around, but there weren’t any horses anymore but there were still the stables and next door there was a big nature reserve on which no shooting was allowed, so it was semi-wild. There were cats there and they wouldn’t come in the house but they would sometimes show up for food occasionally when the tenant of the house was well-disposed to them. Well, we had a mum – she would never come in but she’d show up for food, and mum had two little kittens. We didn’t know where she’d had them but we saw them staggering along. One was called Ginger, not that he was ginger but there was an incident which gave him the nickname Ginger. Well, a wild cat, I suppose mum was off momentarily, seized him and was taking him away and one of the people saw him and shouted and he was heavy I suppose and the wild cat dropped him and he fell on the ground. The neck infected and he was paralysed for quite a bit but one of the sergeants took a fancy to him and pity on him and we got the wounds dressed and then he couldn’t move. He was just in a box and they used to feed him with a fountain pen filler and he survived. Then he became, to some extent, pro-human and he would come into the house sometimes. On one occasion he came up the steps and he was carrying a krait which is highly venomous – not a big snake and not aggressive but it’s highly venomous. Well, there was a certain excitement among the people. You can recognise these poisonous snakes because they advertise themselves by their brilliant colours: ‘Keep off, you can see I’m dangerous!’. When you first go to India and see a snake you think ‘Gah, there’s a snake! Look there’ but people who are experienced, who have lived in India, when they see a snake they think ‘Where’s the other one?’ because snakes are very often in pairs. So, I suppose when he (Ginger) brought the krait in he thought he was going to have a bit of fun before the kill, do cat and mouse, so to speak, with this krait, without the other one coming up behind. The snake put up a very inferior performance on the smooth. The trouble was the cat was jumping around and we could snatch up a bamboo to kill the snake with but the problem was to kill the snake without hurting the cat. They were so mixed up, and then the cat momentarily jumped back and we clobbered the snake and killed him. The cat was furious. The snake was taken to the rubbish bin and the cat followed and was trying to play with it and the snake wouldn’t move. The cat wouldn’t come in for his meal that night; he was so angry.

To some extent, Torei says, the three passions get mixed up, the smears get mixed up with the impulses towards the volte and it’s difficult to see what to do, and by this meditation things will become calm and clear and then the line of action on what one should do becomes clear. Otherwise there are so many thoughts: ‘Oh well, this is human nature, you know. You can’t change human nature!’ Well, you do change human nature, don’t you? We always hope that we will be able to reduce war, and, as a matter of fact, we have reduced a certain amount. For instance, the north of England is no longer fighting the south of England quite so vigorously as in the Wars of the Roses. ‘Oh well, yes, yes, but there are other things’… It goes on endlessly, but in meditation the snake and the cat become separate and then we can see and he (Torei) says the three smears: you can whack them.

Well, I’ll just read the last little bit from the translation. He talks a lot about reincarnation and how if we are aggressive we are born in the demon worlds and how if we are spiteful and vindictive we are born in such and such a world and if we are obstinately dull we are born as animals and so on. In those days they recognised quite clearly the importance of these doctrines in controlling human behaviour. Great stress is laid in all the Eastern doctrines on this point for the ordinary man. The Chinese Confucian was quite often a sceptic but he always performed the public rituals and house rituals with great reverence. What he was worshipping were the principles of justice, fellow feeling and good order – we translate it now as ‘rites’ or ‘rituals’ but it meant ‘good order’. He recognised that the ordinary man will not be able to worship these abstractions so he worships a god who watches and who punishes evil and rewards good and so the superior man performs the rituals with great devotion so that the other people, the ordinary people see these things and their behaviour is controlled in the same way.

© Trevor Leggett

Titles in this series are:

Part 1: The Spur is addressed to a samurai who has faith

Part 2: The doctrine that everything is transient

Part 3: The facing inward of the Buddhas

Part 4: Keep up the right line of the meditation

Part 5: You practise with courage and sincerity

Part 6: The Cat and the Krait

Part 7: The Confucian and Bertrand Russell

Part 8: Picture of Bodhidharma

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