Never give the cat a home in your life

A hundred year-old saint was about to die. The villagers asked him for a final teaching. He replied:

“Never give the cat a home in your life.”

And the saint died. And everyone was puzzled.

When news of the saint’s final teaching reached an old man in the village, he laughed and told everyone:

” ‘Never give the cat a home in your life‘ sounds puzzling because you guys don’t know the story of this saint’s life. Let me explain what happened.”

The saint was a renunciant in his youth. He had abandoned everything except two loin cloths. When he wandered to the village, the villagers were glad to welcome him. They wanted to have a renunciant staying nearby because it was considered a blessing. So they housed him in a small hut just outside the village.

Everything was fine except the rats in the hut. The rats were eating up the loin cloths. When the saint told the villagers about it, they quickly said:

“Oh, don’t worry, we’ll get you a cat. The cat will get rid of the rats for you.”

And so the saint had a cat, and indeed the cat got rid of the rats. Except now the saint had the problem of getting milk to feed the cat.

When the saint told the villagers about it, they quickly said:

“Oh, don’t worry, we’ll get you a cow. The cow will produce milk that you can feed the cat with.”

And so the saint had a cow which could produce milk to feed the cat. Except now the saint had the problem of getting grass to feed the cow. The only grass patch available was far away from the hut.

When the saint told the villagers about it, they quickly said:

“Oh, don’t worry, there’s a widow in the village. We’ll get her to grow grass beside your hut. She can grow wheat and other fruits too, and she can also take care of you should you fall ill.”

The widow agreed to the villagers’ proposal very quickly. She was glad to serve the saint, especially since the saint was a young man and she was now a woman alone.

She started taking care of everything, and indeed everything grew. The grass, the wheat, the fruits, the love… And soon, even the stomach of the widow grew. Children appeared in the hut one after another. The saint had to get a proper job and to bring the kids to school…

And one day he thought, “Shit, isn’t all these what I tried to leave behind? I renounced the world, and now the world is back again! It’s amazing how things grow when you give them a home in your life!”



The tears of Lady Li

When Lady Li heard that she was to be married to Marquis Xian of the Jing state, she yelled that she didn’t want to get married and cried till her clothes were all wet every single day.

When she had, after some time, settled into the palace of Jing, slept in soft beds and tasted grand exotic feasts, she realized how silly it was to cry on all those days before her wedding.

(adapted from Goh Beng Choo’s translation of Tsai Chih Chung’s adaptation of Zhuangzi’s story)

Samsara of craving

Yayati, a hundred-year old king, was ripe enough to die. Yet the fire of his craving was not extinguished. He was dying but clinging on for more.

And so Yayati cried to Death:

“Oh, spare me another hundred years. All my desires are still unfulfilled. I was simply preparing and preparing. I have not enjoyed my life.

“Now that I have conquered the whole world, now that I have all the riches, the most beautiful women, now that everything is ready — I was just thinking to relax and enjoy.

“Spare me just one hundred years more so that I can live to my heart’s content.”

Death laughed and said:

“Yes, I can spare you a hundred years more, but I will have to take one of your sons instead. You have to ask them.”

And so Yayati summoned all his sons. And he asked them.

The eldest, a man of eighty himself, looked down and away from his father’s eyes. He was not ready to say yes. He had lived only eighty years; and if his father was not contented with a hundred, how could he be with only eighty?

The second eldest, seventy-five years old, looked down and said nothing too. He was unwilling. And so it was with the third, the fourth, the fifth… Until the youngest, a boy of eight, finally stood up and said yes.

Death was surprised, and questioned the boy:

“Your other brothers — one is eighty, one is seventy-five, one is seventy, sixty, sixty-five, fifty — these people are not ready to go and you are the youngest, you have not lived at all. Why are you ready to go?”

The young boy replied:

“If my father could not live in a hundred years, if my eldest brother could not live in eighty years, if my other brothers… nobody has been able to live, then the whole project is nonsense. I don’t want to waste time. If I have to die, it is better to die now. Why wait for many more years? If these people have not been able to manage, it is absolutely certain it is unmanageable. Let my father try a hundred years more.”

Death agreed and took the boy away.


After a hundred years, Death returned and the situation was the same.

Yayati was dying but clinging on for more:

“I know that I should now be ready, but nothing is fulfilled yet.

“I may have all my riches and beautiful women, but I havn’t lived a fulfilled life. Because nothing is fulfilled, nothing is fulfilled yet –

“A new desire has arisen and I want more! I want to live at least one time more, a hundred years more, just spare me one time more…”

(adapted from Osho’s adaptation of a story in Dhammapada)

‘Small Year’ and ‘Big Year’

(adapted from Zhuangzi)

It is said that Peng Zu lived for 800 years and was the longest-living man around.

But there is this little worm called Ephemera which is born at dawn and dead at dusk. It has no idea how long a day is.

And there is this insect called Cicada which is born in spring and dies in summer. It has no idea what the four seasons are.

Yet there lived in the southern sea a huge ‘Ling’ turtle whose lifespan 500 years is but a spring and another 500 years an autumn.

In prehistoric times, there was a tree named ‘Chun’ to which 8000 years was but a spring and another 8000 years an autumn.

The Ephemera and Cicada can be called ‘Small Year’ while the Ling turtle and Chun tree can be called ‘Big Year’. The ‘Small Year’ will never understand the experience of the ‘Big Year’.


Our thoughts are limited by the things we know, by the experiences we have.

For how many white swans must we see before we can say they are all white? Yet a single black swan can prove us wrong.

What’s the colour of crows? What’s the colour of shadows? The ‘Small Year’ will never understand the experience of the ‘Big Year’.

And so shall we remain open to the possibility of things we don’t know, with neither blind belief nor blind disbelief.

Noble silence

Four monks decided together to meditate without speaking. By nightfall, the candle flickered and died.

The first monk said, “Oh no, the candle is out.”

The second monk said, “I thought we are not supposed to talk?”

The third monk said, “Why must you two break the silence!”

The fourth monk said, “I’m the only one who didn’t speak.”


One is distracted by the world. One is worried about rules. One is angry with others. One is proud of himself.

Such are the obstacles.


The parts we play

During a war, a military physician was disillusioned about what was going on – watching repeatedly the injured soldiers he had healed sent out to fight.

They almost always returned injured again. Or dead.

Finally he quit. Climbed a mountain and spent his time meditating with a monk. One day, while pondering the great matter of life and death, an insight into reality penetrated him. The simplicity made him laugh. And so he left the mountain, went back to the battlefront, and did his best saving the dying soldiers once more.

His reappearance puzzled his friends and they asked him why he was back. He simply said:

Because I’m a doctor.”

Sai Wong loses a horse (塞翁失马 焉知非福)

Once upon a time, in a village at the northern frontier of China, there was a man well-versed in fortune-telling. His name was Sai Wong.

One day his horse ran away, and his neighbours came offering their sympathy.

“Who really knows if it’s bad luck,” Sai Wong said.

A few weeks later the horse returned, and brought with it several other wild horses. The neighbours came rejoicing.

“Who really knows if it’s good luck,” Sai Wong said.

The next day Sai Wong’s son rode one of the wild horses out to play but was thrown off and broke his leg. Again, the neighbours came offering their sympathy.

“Who really knows if it’s bad luck,” Sai Wong said.

Not long after, the northern frontier was invaded and many soldiers died. Conscription officers came drafting young men of the village into the army. As Sai Wong’s son had a broken leg, he was exempted. The neighbours congratulated him on how well things had turned out.

“Who really knows,” Sai Wong said.

(adapted from the book Huainanzi, 淮南子)