A great saint was dying and he said to his successor, a young man, “Remember one thing: never allow a cat in your life,” and he died. A big crowd had gathered to listen to the last statement of this great saint… and what a sentence! “Never allow a cat in your life.” The successor said, “My god, why should I allow a cat in my life in the first place? And this is the whole religion?” But an old man — who was also a disciple, but was not chosen as a successor because he was too old; he was himself going to die within a year or two — said, “You don’t know, there is a long story behind it. He has just given you the punch line.”
He said, “Then I must know the whole story.”
The story was that when the saint renounced his wife and children and his home and went into the Himalayas, he lived near a small village. Otherwise, from where will you get your food? But the villagers were happy that they had a saint of their own, so they made a small bamboo cottage for him.
The Indian monks used, in place of underwear, just a long strip of cloth called langot. It is a “mini” — mini-est — because just a long strip… they wrap it around themselves. They were allowed to have only two langotis. But a trouble arose: some rats came into the house and they started chewing on the langot. The man was in a great difficulty; he had only two langotis and soon they would be gone. So he asked the villagers, “What to do? because my sect does not allow a saint to have more than two langotis. That’s the only possession allowed.”
They said, “Why don’t you take a cat from the village? She will kill the rats.” It was a perfectly rational solution. So the villagers gave him a good cat, and the cat killed the rats. But the problem was, now he had to beg for his food and the cat also needed something to eat, because the rats were finished. So he had to beg for some milk for the cat.
The villagers said, “This is a small village… the best thing for us is that you have a cow. The whole village can contribute some money and purchase a beautiful cow, and in that way you will become very independent. You can have enough milk for yourself and for your cat.”
It looked right, so a beautiful cow was brought in. Now the problem was that the cow needed grass. So every day he had to go to the village to beg for the grass. People said, “This does not look right. A great saint asking for grass? In fact no saint has ever asked for grass; it is not conventional.”
He said, “But what to do? My cow, my cat…”
So they said, “A simple solution: we are villagers, we don’t know much about your philosophy. One woman has become a widow; her husband has died, and she has nobody. So we will persuade her. She will be really happy to serve a saint and then you don’t have to come every day. We will clear some ground by the side of your hut so she can grow grass, she can grow wheat… and she will take care of you in sickness, in illness.”
The idea was right — it was always right. It was not much effort to persuade the woman; she was alone and the saint was young… there was a possibility, a hope. So she immediately agreed. She started taking care, and you know how things grow….
Basho says, “The grass grows by itself.” In fact many things grow by themselves. So grass started growing, they fell in love… the woman was beautiful, the saint was young. What more is needed? They worked in the field, they started growing wheat and they started growing grass. The cat was very happy and the cow was very happy, everything was perfect. But then the ultimate — children came in, and then he thought, “My god, that’s what I had left behind! I have renounced the world — this is the whole world again! It grew so slowly that I was not aware until the children came.”
Now, just because of the cat the whole world came in. The old man said, “That was the punch line. He told you, `Remember not to allow a cat,’ because behind the cat the whole world comes in. He was talking about his own life story, how he again became engaged in the same world — taking children to the school… and people started laughing at him: `What kind of saint are you? You are keeping a woman! You have fallen down from your greatness.’
“But what to do now? Once you have fallen, you have fallen; it is very difficult to rise again. He thought many times to renounce again, but he thought — what is the point? Those rats are everywhere. Again the same story will start. It is better to be silent.”
Cat in your Life – Philosophical Stories