I’ve developed a tendency to choose audiobooks that have silly titles, like my most recent pick The Dalai Lama’s Cat by David Michie. It’s precisely because it has a silly title that I singled this out one. I’d never heard of David Michie, although he seems quite famous, and I’d never heard of the book either.
The Dalai Lama’s Cat serves as a gentle introduction into Buddhism, as delivered by ‘Snow Lion’, the Dalai Lama’s Cat. If you like the idea of being talked to by a cat about the philosophical underpinnings of happiness, then this book is definitely for you. If you think this sounds either pompous or ludicrous (or both), you’re right, it is. But don’t completely write it off.
The strange, hushed voice of author David Michie, combined with the fact that he was pretending to be a cat writing a book, almost made me abandon this immediately. But for some inexplicable reason (shall we call it fate?), I didn’t and I’m glad I stuck with it.
What you get with this book is a series of endearing characters, including the Dalai Lama himself, who are either in need of guidance or are guiding those in need. Chapter by chapter, Snow Lion and other characters continue their voyage of self-improvement with help from the local lamas they encounter, by accident or by design. As the reader/ listener, we bear witness to their personal development and consequently, we also learn about the requisite tools to achieve greater happiness in the modern world.
For all my initial thoughts of I’m-not-quite-sure-if-Michie-is-just-taking-the-piss, this book does deliver moments of wisdom. Like this pearl: ‘Most people think that their only option is to change their circumstances. But these are not the true causes of their unhappiness. It has more to do with the way they think about their circumstances’. This resonates with psychologists’ current thinking which states that your circumstances (like how much money you have) accounts for only 10% of your happiness. (50% is genetic makeup and 40% is intentional action. If this idea grabs you, check out the article Happy Pie).
Similarly: ‘this is another reason we should behave with love and compassion toward all living beings. We never know in what circumstances we will meet up with them again. Sometimes even in this same lifetime’. This is a much more articulate way of saying ‘what comes around goes around’, which any reasonably functioning adult will attest to. I appreciated being reminded of this.
So all in all, if you take this audiobook for what it is – a quirky way to transmit central Buddhist teachings, coupled with useful instruction on how to be a better person – you can have fun with it. Equally fun is playing episodes of this really loudly through the kitchen stereo; it’s guaranteed to annoy other family members, irrespective of age or religious tendencies. But that’s unlikely to win you any karmic points, and you certainly won’t be a better person for it.
[Fun fact: Did you know that the Dalai Lama has his own Twitter feed?]