Book review: The Dalai Lama’s cat

Book coverI have just finished reading The Dalai Lama’s cat by David Michie. Although the front cover explicitly says this is a novel, it’s not a novel in the conventional sense, not least because its narrator is a cat, but also because the ‘plot’ is rather light (cat abandoned, cat rescued, cat learns some Buddhist lessons) and the incidents and events within the story are really vehicles for introducing key Buddhist messages.

It’s really easy to read, and particularly enjoyable in you love cats. If you know nothing about Buddhism it’s a very enjoyable and easy way to pick up the key principles of this way of being. It’s also a book that you could read again and again and pick up more of the subtle messages.

The author has written other books on Buddhism, as well as thriller novels apparently, and I don’t know if he’s ever met the Dalai Lama or how much about Dharamsala, where it’s set, is true, but in a way that doesn’t really matter as these are just the backdrop for the insights into Buddhism.

I know only a little about Buddhism so this book helped increase my knowledge about it. I must say though, that on a personal level, it was disappointing to read that although compassion and love for all beings is one of the most important aspects of ‘being’ for a Buddhist (“Although Buddhists value highly such virtues as loving kindness, humanity, patience and giving, perhaps they value wisdom and compassion most of all. … The compassionate desire to cause no harm to all beings including animals, plants, and the world in general.” The Buddhist Society), this doesn’t extend to food, as the Dalai Lama himself is not a vegetarian. In the book this is explained away for health reasons, so I decided to check up on this and it  appears to be correct. On reading more about this issue it seems many Buddhists are not vegetarian, some from lack of plant food available where they live, which I suppose I do understand and sympathise with. However, I cannot connect the key message of the book, and Buddhism, which is that the most effective way to achieve happiness and reduce suffering is by focusing on the happiness of others, with the concept of eating a once-living creature who no longer has a chance of happiness.

However, all that is more my personal reaction to Buddhism rather than to the book, and suppose it confirms why I find it difficult to see any religion or spiritual path as being suitable for me. It doesn’t really detract from the book itself, which I would recommend for a pleasurable way to learn about Buddhism, and a lot easier than dry academic text books!

If you really like cats HHC (the narrator of the book), has a Facebook page.

2 thoughts on “Book review: The Dalai Lama’s cat

  1. Not knowing a whole lot about Buddhism – despite having been involved with many Buddhist friends and their circle over the years – I too am a bit puzzled by the meat-eating question. I thought the concept of karma would deter one from eating another living being … but I’m sure I haven’t grasped the principle.
    I attended a talk by the Dalai Lama in London in the early 90s. I must say I was mostly impressed by the skills of his interpreter, who sat alongside him onstage calmly (how else?) rendering complex philosophy – not to mention the Dalai Lama’s terrible jokes! – into comprehensible English. (Prize quip: Audience member question: “How do we solve the problem of global over-population?” DL: “More monks and nuns.”)

    • That’s a great reply from him! I thought about going to his talk in Scotland a few years ago when it coincided with a holiday of mine up there but it had sold out in a day. How nice that you have heard him talk.

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