When the guru sat down to worship each evening, the ashram cat would get in the way and distract the worshippers. So he ordered that the cat be tied during evening worship.
After the guru died, the cat continued to be tied during evening worship. And when the cat expired, another cat was brought to the ashram so that it could be duly tied during evening worship.
Centuries later, learned treatises were written by the guru’s scholarly disciples on the liturgical significance of tying up a cat while worship is performed.
Source: Anthony de Mello, The Song of the Bird ,
(Image; Reprint edition, 1984) page 63.
Another rendition by Elizabeth Gilbert
The Indians around here tell a cautionary fable about a great saint who was always surrounded in his Ashram by loyal devotees. For hours a day, the saint and his followers would meditate on God. The only problem was that the saint had a young cat, an annoying creature, who used to walk through the temple meowing and purring and bothering everyone during meditation. So the saint, in all his practical wisdom, commanded that the cat be tied to a pole outside for a few hours a day, only during meditation, so as to not disturb anyone. This became a habit – tying the cat to the pole and then meditating on God – but as years passed, the habit hardened into religious ritual. Nobody could meditate unless the cat was tied to the pole first. Then one day the cat died. The saint’s followers were panic-stricken. It was a major religious crisis – how could they meditate now, without a cat to tie to a pole? How would they reach God? In their minds, the cat had become the means.
Source: Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love
(Riverhead Books, 2007) page 227
Be careful not to get too obsessed with the repetition of religious ritual just for its own sake. It can happen that we get so caught up on the externals that we lose sight of the essentials. Religion and tradition can give us false security and complacency. It may be useful to remember that it is not the tying of the cat to the pole that has ever brought anyone to transcendence, but only the constant desire of an individual seeker to experience the eternal compassion of the divine. Flexibility is just as essential for divinity as is discipline.
The story of the guru’s cat is an encouragement and an invitation to review what we do habitually and to ask: Why do we do what we do? Why do we say what we say? Why do we use what we use? Is what we’re doing still appropriate and beneficial today? Is what we’re doing on a daily basis still achieving what it was originally intended to do? Or is it perhaps becoming a distraction, clutter, confusion … another guru’s cat?