Does a buddha have Molly nature?

That’s our cat Molly. Although she has the up-raised visage of a Madonna or an about-to-be-martyred saint in some 14th century painting, there is nothing angelic or beatific or holy about her. Like all cats, her outlook and bearing accord with this familiar aphorism: Dogs have owners; cats have staff.

Even if she doesn’t seem “spiritual,” however, she is very “contemplative.” Witness the four images below, which show typical behavior. The middle/upper shows Molly beside my meditation cushions, looking out at the earliest incarnation of what eventually became our Japanese balcony garden. I don’t know what she was thinking. Perhaps it was a prayerful, “please let that squirrel show up again this morning.” Presumably it was not a koan-inspired mu, although I suppose it could have been a mew. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist, even if it surely wasn’t original.)

In the middle/lower panel, Molly is staring at my wife’s empty spot in the carport. She gets the whole spatial-temporal thing: If my wife goes out the door, go to that particular window and see if the car is gone; if so, wait in the window until the car appears; then return to the door to say “hello.” Even if she wanders off to do something else, she will usually return to the window to wait (unless my wife has come home in the mean time, of course).

Molly is fascinated by the play of light. In warmer weather, when the sun is at the right angle and reflects off the lake outside our balcony, she will sit and stare at the patterns on the walls from the light filtered through the leaves. Or at night, she will look at the bedroom ceiling as though she is trying to puzzle out the circular reflections from the four shiny knobs on top of a bedside radio. For all I know, there is no “trying to”; instead, “puzzling out” may be precisely what she is doing. In the right-hand panel, I was able to catch her totally fixated on an Op Art print that she had never seen before. She rounded a corner, saw it up against the wall, sat down, and stared for several minutes. Her concentration was so intense that I was able to get the camera and take the picture, without the usual backward twitch of her ears indicating awareness of other goings-on. Total absorption? A neural buzz from the print? We will never know.

And then there is her extraordinary self-contemplation. At least once a week, I will walk past the bathroom door, usually when the room light is turned off, and Molly will be sitting on the counter looking at herself in the large mirror (left-hand panel). If I walk by again a few minutes later, odds are she will still be there. If I walk up behind her, she will usually look at my reflection in the mirror, but then look back at herself. I have experimented, for example by holding my hand above but behind her head. As soon as she sees the reflection of it, she will raise her head up and back, trying to get me to pet her head, but never looking around. No question that she knows where my hand is in relation to herself… as seen in the mirror. In other words, no question that she knows she is looking at herself. Full self-awareness? It is easy to imagine so. And if it is, then what is she experiencing? Is she asking questions about herself? Is she getting answers?…

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