Tying the Cat to the Bed and Missing The Essential


This post is based on a traditional Zen Story.

There was a Zen Master who used to invite his disciples to his house in order to meditate. The meditation was very soulful but unfortunately the Master owned a cat who used to come in and disturb the meditation. Therefore, before each meditation, the Master would tie up the cat to his bed; this would enable the master and his disciples to meditate in peace downstairs. After the Master’s passing, his students still used to come to the house to meditate and tie up the cat to the bed.

Now one seeker had to travel to another country and he didn’t return for another 5 years time. When he returned he was shocked to see that there were many more people coming to the Master’s house. However, they didn’t come to meditate, they only came to tie up cats to the bed. Even in such a short time the real purpose of the Master’s house had been forgotten. The seekers were concentrating only on the trivial ritual of tying up a cat to the bed; they had forgotten the essential part of coming to his house which was meditation.

This story is a humorous exaggeration of how we can forget the essence of things and concentrate on unimportant external actions.

It also shows how habit can be a limiting factor; just because we have always tied up a cat to the bed, we continue to do it. Because everyone else does it and we have been doing it for a long time we think it must be the right thing to do. But, of course, it would be much better to find the cat a better home and enable greater dedication to meditation.

We have many bad habits that we do not seek to change; often we are blind to our own faults. Sometimes we need to look at life from a fresh perspective. What does this habit actually achieve? Does it help me to experience inner peace and real joy? If we can evaluate our habits and life we can resolve to get rid of the habits that are hindering our progress.

It also shows that we can easily misunderstand other people. The master tied up the cat merely as a solution to the temporary problem of his cat disturbing the meditation. It doesn’t mean that the Master believed in tying up cats. But, later people start to say – O the Master tied up cats, therefore if we tie up cats we will become like the Master. Spirituality requires common sense; we have to use our discrimination to discover the essential path to truth. It is important not to get distracted by external events and outer experiences.

These Zen stories have been passed down through many generations. In most cases it is impossible to discover the real source. They are universal stories which can be used by any seeker for a fresh perspective on life. They combine wisdom in a fresh and original way.

Picture by: Kedar, Sri Chinmoy Centre Galleries

9 thoughts on “Tying the Cat to the Bed and Missing The Essential”

  1. Great article! It’s so important for us to remain aware of the intent behind any ritual or spiritual practice. To do anything just because it is “how it was always done” or because “our spiritual teacher told us to” is, as this story so wonderfully demonstrates, just plain silly.


  2. This simple story has such significance. We all have to be vigilant and constantly examine our actions to make sure we’re doing the right things for the right reasons. Sadly the state of orthodox religions today is basically a larger scale version of this story.

  3. Tejvan,

    It’s amazing how a stereotypical behavior transforms habit that lack purpose. In our life, we accept rituals and events without trying to understand the gist of the event. It’s a herd mentality that pervades our society and such a poor state of thinking.

    You’ve a great blog. I’ve just subscribed.


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