Friday, 24 June 2016

Book review #1: The Dalai Lama's Cat

Consider your brain a sponge, and words the water you absorb in order to expand. We all read for different reasons, whether to learn or escape or simply to pass the time. But whatever the reason, books have the potential to affect us, even change us, by influencing our knowledge base, inspiring new ideas and persuading us to different opinions.This is why I have chosen to include book reviews as part of this blog as a new book is in itself a new experience with the potential to surprise. As an experiment I asked friends and family to make me a list of 50+ of their favourite books. In came all sorts of genres from fantasy to spiritual, humour to political. All are welcome as a challenge because I only read action thrillers with the occasional chick lit thrown in for good measure. And by thrillers I mean one author. Who only brings out one or two books a year. So for about 50 weeks a year I have nothing to read. This particular author of mine writes books so fast-paced I have tended to find anything else slow and boring in comparison. Or perhaps I haven't tried hard enough. So on with my own personal experiment. Can I broaden my horizons, open my eyes to different writing styles and maybe even learn to like something I never thought to seek out let alone enjoy? if the first book's anything to go by, then next 49 will be a treat! First up was The Dalai Lama's Cat series by David Michie and I completely fell in love with it. Think Buddhism through the eyes of everyone's favourite moggy. (I can see your raising your eyebrows, stick with me here). You may not think you have much in common with a cat, yet the one who narrates this novel is personable and flawed just like the rest of us. The cat in question shares her home with His Holiness and as such is most often in contact with Buddhist monks whose spirituality seems almost unattainable, but as well with the local people of the town who have their own - more ordinary - struggles for peace and happiness.
The first book is mostly a series of overheard conversations or incidents, each of which leads our narrator to learn a Buddhist principle or see how that idea may be put into practice in normal life. There was the unhappy millionaire to show us how we think about our circumstances influences our mood far more than the circumstances themselves, and the furballs (remember this is a cat) to show us how we can sometimes focus on ourselves so much it can make us sick.
The following two novels - The Power of Meow and The Art of Purring - continue the tales of the goings on in the temple complex and local cafe, with the residents and our feline narrator discovering the importance of living in the present and the benefits of mediation, and how to find true happiness through focusing less on ourselves and more on the happiness of others.
These books are in no way seeking to convert anyone to Buddhism as that is not the nature of the religion or the author, but instead offer us a very accessible, almost conversational and often humourous approach to introducing ideas and practices anyone could try out that might just make us more mindful both of those around us and of own own behavioural and thought patterns. There are no promises, no rules, but if a cat can give it a go, surely we can too?

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