Go bell your Ritual Cat

A mind that is free and anchored in peace requires no conditions to be fulfilled to stay that way. It is only in the absence of inner peace that we insist on following rituals and being superstitious.
Some years ago, I was wedded to numerology. I needed numbers to add up in names before we named a product or service offering in our Firm. If I did not get along well with some of my colleagues, I would add up the numerological value of the alphabets that constituted their names, and often conclude that we were numerologically incompatible. I would not stay in hotel rooms whose numbers added up to 4 or 8! I don’t remember how I got hooked on to this practice. But I followed it religiously for over a decade. The times that I ended up getting only rooms whose numbers added up to 4 or 8, especially while traveling in the US where front office agents at hotels were least interested in meeting my room number preference, I found my stays always going wrong! I would be anxious the moment I entered a room with an incompatible number total and would stay frayed at the edges up until when I eventually checked out.
Then, in 2004, when on a pilgrimage to the holy shrine of Sabarimalai, in Kerala, I was forced to stay there overnight because of inclement weather. While Sabarimalai is sacred and the temple itself is beautiful, the way pilgrims, and the temple’s callous administrators, manage the mountain paths leading to the temple, and its surroundings is pathetic. The hygiene quality is abysmal. Since I had to stay overnight, I got myself a room which turned out to be adding to a total of 8. It was the dirtiest room you will ever find on the planet – unkempt with a stained, stinky toilet (Indian squatting type) attached. Although I was exhausted after the 4 hour road trip to the foothills at Pamba, and further after the gruelling 4 hour climb to the hilltop, I just could not get sleep. My body ached and craved for sleep. But my mind was restless and resented being in a number 8 room – dirty and stinking to boot!
I sent my wife a text message wondering why was I being ‘punished’ despite all my piety!
Pat came her reply: “You are punishing yourself! Think of the number ‘8’ as the sign of infinity, of the Lord himself….you will get sleep instantaneously!”
Her message struck me like a bolt of lightning. I suddenly awakened to the futility of my beliefs. The number 8 was not causing me any agony. My belief that it was unlucky was bringing me grief. I realized that my decade-plus-old practice was coming in between me and an opportunity to be free. I let go! I resolved, in a nano-second, to free myself from the shackles of my belief in my unfounded number 4 and number 8 theory, put my head down, and slept peacefully for 8 (!) hours at a stretch!
That day I feel a part of me awakened forever! Not that I disrespect the science of numerology or intend to impune its practitioners. I have simply realized that I didn’t need it in my Life anymore!

Years later, I read this Zen story of the ‘Ritual Cat’. When a spiritual teacher and his disciples began their evening meditation, the cat who lived in the monastery made such noise that it distracted them. So the teacher ordered that the cat be tied up during the evening practice. Years later, when the teacher died, the cat continued to be tied up during the meditation session. And when the cat eventually died, another cat was brought to the monastery and tied up. Centuries later, learned descendants of the spiritual teacher wrote scholarly treatises about the religious significance of tying up a cat for meditation practice.

This is how, I would imagine, almost all rituals and superstitions have come up! In the garb of tradition they hold us hostage. For the one who truly strives for inner peace, nothing can be a source of distraction. And for the distracted, there can be no inner peace!

Think about this. Which is the ritual cat that’s holding you hostage? Go bell that cat and be free….forever….