Life and Death are but an illusion.
Happy and Sad are just a state of mind.
Love and Compassion alleviates the suffering
Of All sentient Beings – those who have been
our Mothers and our Fathers.
To recognize the interconnectedness of all beings
Is to know peace! ~ a Buddhist Homage.
One of the most significant celebrations in the Buddhist tradition happens every May on the night of the first full moon in May when people celebrate the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha. It is known as Buddha Day or Buddha’s Birthday and this year it is May 27th.
Buddha Day celebrates the days that Siddhartha Gautama sat under the bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya, India over 2500 years ago and attained enlightenment, when he became The Awakened One. On the third day of sitting, Gautama awoke and saw the world for what it was, realized the process to end our suffering (which is so simple but not easy), and began sharing it with others. Well, not immediately because he believed that what he realized was so simple no one would believe him. But he eventually started turning the Wheel of Dharma to teach us how to free ourselves and awaken just like he did.
My cat is dying. He was diagnosed with lymphoma, intestinal cancer, and he is 18 years old. A cat who decided to adopt us when he followed my husband and Sam Dog (who also passed over the Rainbow Bridge) home on a bright Texas morning. A compassionate woman socialized him when he was a kitten living in a pile of bricks with his mother and siblings. We saw her feeding them and petting them the first 6 months of his life. On that sunny Texas morning he followed Sam Dog into the house and never looked back.
But now he is dying. Buddha said there is no escaping old age, sickness, and death…death is certain, the time of it is not.
All these years his karma was never to be sick, unlike Jack the Yogi Cat. His illness came on suddenly, within the last month, teaching me once again that life can change in an instant. Our lives can change for better or worse in the next moment. How can we sit with the suffering of others if we do not know how to sit with our own?
He had his first chemo treatment last week. Some of you might wonder why I would put an 18 year old cat through chemo but I have an excellent vet and discussed all the options with her. Sox is a fighter, he is still strong, and I will not put an animal down merely because their treatment is an inconvenience. Last year my Jack the Yogi Cat died from complications of diabetes at the age of 17 and I gave him insulin shots every day for 10 years; towards the end it was twice a day. Sox is not very active now and his life is spent in the kitchen on a bath mat and towels as Jack did at his end.
His reaction to the first chemo treatment was not good, but he is better now and I will make him as comfortable as I can. I give him prednisone every day and that is how I know he is having a good day, if he fights me. Just like any other cancer patient he will have good days and bad days. If he begins to suffer or no longer has quality of life, then we will make our decision. But for now, he is comfortable and eating.
I shed many tears last week and also examined my own spirituality. I read an elephant journal post on how a Buddhist deals with the death of a animal companion. I am “officially” Buddhist because I took the Five Precepts, one of them being “no killing.” I read about a rimpoche who fed his cat by hand (which I have done) and took his cat to the litter box (which I have done), but I will not allow an animal to suffer. Everything is about intention. My karma is my karma.
There are no absolutes even though religions try to make us believe there are. Buddha told us to question everything including his teachings. Every situation is different. I asked myself about Sox’s euthanasia…do I want to end his suffering or mine? My suffering is watching him deteriorate as I watched my Jackie. My suffering is my attachment to wanting his life not to change even though I know it must. I will always do what I think is best for my animal companions.
Sox is once again teaching me about impermanence and of course, compassion every day. But also about joy. I am grateful for the joy and laughter he brought to our lives. I am grateful that we are in position to afford chemo therapy for a cat. These remembrances of joy and gratitude have eased my suffering about my dying animal friend. If I should be in the situation that my cat is in now, depending on the circumstances, I would probably forego chemo for myself. I want to end my days in India, just burn my body on Ma Ganga, light the candles for me and send me on my way. Hari Om, Jai Ma.
I will know when it is time. And when that time comes I will take his ashes along with those of Sam Dog and Jack the Yogi Cat and bury them together under our statue of St. Francis of Assisi (or St. Frankie as we like to call him, the patron saint of animals) who wears a Hindu mala around his neck. They will be in view of a large Buddha head that the eastern sun shines on and also near a verdigris sculpture representing Native American spirituality. Many roads lead to the top of the mountain.
There is still that 1% Lutheran in me who believes that Sam Dog and Jack the Yogi Cat will run to greet Sox when he crosses the Rainbow Bridge. It is a beautiful picture in my mind anyway, and it is a reincarnation story.
A cat in this life, a buddha in the next.
“Do no harm.
Work toward the benefit of all.
Maintain a pure outlook on all things.
All beings are potential Buddhas, all sounds are sacred as Mantra, all thoughts as clear as wisdom, and all phenomena as whole and full as the Buddha field…
OM MANI PADME HUM
All of the Buddha’s teachings are contained within this mantra.”