Category Archives: Cats

Religion v. Science

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I have never understood the notion that religion/spirituality and science are incompatible or, according to some, antithetical. It came up recently as I read this article by Cristof Koch in The Scientific American, “How does meditation actually work?

Why do some people deny incontrovertible scientific evidence because it appear, on its face, to disagree with religious teachings? Look at what happened to Copernicus and Galileo for asserting that the sun, and not the earth, sat at the center of our solar system. Or consider people who firmly assert, even in 2013, that the earth is only about 6,000 years old. Some very religious people view scientists as heathens or devils.

On the other hand, why are some scientists obsessed with disproving religious dogma and waving it around as if it were definitive proof that there is no higher power, no gods? Is the wonder of their discoveries not satisfaction enough, that they need to tear down the beliefs and faith of others? Some scientists view the religious as delusional simpletons.

Neither the religious nor the scientific is correct in their views of one another. Their views contain tiny kernels of truth leavened with a ton of animosity and distrust. Some proponents of science criticize the faithful for believing in things they cannot see, yet scientists do the same thing, don’t they? No one can actually see an atom; many scientific discoveries are based on mathematics rather than tangible truths. But that doesn’t mean they’re not right on the mark. Likewise, proponents of religion undermine themselves by perpetuating dogma that has no basis even in their own scripture (for instance, the Roman Catholic belief in the Immaculate Conception of Mary).

One of the things I cherish about His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, is his view that science and spiritual practice are compatible. He is a great spiritual figure with a sizable scientific curiosity. My understanding is that he considers science capable of explaining and, in some cases, proving what has been accepted for centuries among spiritual practitioners – for instance, that meditation is physically, mentally, and emotionally beneficial. I think I may also assert that he believes that some natural phenomena are too immense to be grasped simply through science, that there is something bigger at work, profounder, and perhaps ultimately imponderable.

Many people of my generation learned their science and religion more or less simultaneously. I struggled as a child to reconcile the things I learned in science class with what I was reading in The Bible. Was the world created in 6 days or did it start to form 4.5 billion years ago? Did we all descend from Adam and Eve or from apes? Who was a young child to believe?

I’m much older now and still have not “solved” the conundrum. My own adult views are neither exclusively scientific nor religious. Some religious teachings are, to my mind, evidently symbolic, yet there are other things in The Bible that I believe could be possible, even if they defy scientific verification. The existence of life as we know is, as far as I’m concerned, too improbable to have occurred without some kind of cosmic guidance. Do I believe there is an omnipotent being looking and dressing like Gandalf the White who created life instantaneously out of the void? No. But I also think the odds are way, way, way too long that beings as advanced and intelligent and capable and wondrous as humans, whales, and cats could have come to be all on their own. It simply defies logic, I think. It also makes me feel enormously uncomfortable to consider that, if one little thing a billion years ago had occurred slightly differently, none of us would be here.

I’m comfortable with being labeled a scientific religious, or a religious scientist. Actually, I’m most comfortable not being labeled at all. I simply wish to be, to both understand and believe, to both prove beyond a shadow of a doubt and to accept on faith. I’m complex that way.

Why not spend a little time at the Dharma Beginner page on Facebook, where a whole herd of people interested in mindfulness, meditation, spiritual growth, healthy living, and acting compassionately like to gather? And follow us on Twitter @dharmabeginner.

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For a Dear Departed Friend

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I lost a very dear friend recently. He was a tremendous comfort to me in a time of deep sorrow. His companionship, willingness to show and receive affection, warmth, and mischievously twinkling eyes buoyed my spirits innumerable times. I will miss him terribly. This blog post his about him.

I first met him at the Elmsford Animal Shelter in 2008. My daughter asked if I would take her to play with the cats. Just a month before, I had had to put down my cat, Dakota, after a prolonged illness. I received Dakota when she was just 6 weeks old and had lived with her for over 17 years. At the end, I held Dakota in my arms while the vet administered the dosage that relieved her pain and suffering and concluded this lifetime for her. Left alone with Dakota, I literally wailed and howled with my own pain and hurt. When I finally departed, carrying my heart-breakingly light pet carrier, the waiting room was packed with humans and their animal companions. Who knows what they thought my wailing and howling was—some poor, distressed animal, scared out of its mind, probably. Indeed, it was. I was.

I was not interested in getting a new cat, not for a long time anyway, and I told my daughter this. But I agreed to bring her, because I thought it was darling that she wanted to spend a Saturday afternoon showing affection to these poor animals in the shelter. We spent about two hours at the shelter, peering into cages, reading biographical statements about the adoptable critters, and occasionally asking for one to be removed so we could hold it. Among the darling animals we cuddled that day was a middle-aged blind cat, absolutely adorable and affectionate. Another was a juvenile tabby mix with splayed legs, sweetness personified. So like my daughter to be drawn to shower love on cats with physical problems (she’s very much like her mom in that regard).

As I was beginning to feel the urge to leave, I stopped before a large cage with three cats inside. As I read the laminated feline bios hanging from the cage door, an orange tabby paw stretched out between the bars and knocked all but one of the laminated cards out of my hand. The remaining card was for a cat the shelter had named Angel Buff. I looked up into the eyes of the owner of the offending paw, and what eyes they were. Golden. Not yellow. Golden. I’d never seen eyes that color before. I looked down at the card, and back at the cat, and once again at the card. It had been Angel Buff’s paw. I stared at him, he stared at me. Neither of us said a word until I asked a shelter volunteer to take him out of the cage.

To paraphrase J.K. Rowling, “The cat chooses the human.” This cat literally reached out and grabbed me. I accepted him from the volunteer and he immediately curled up in my arms, against my chest, purring like a jackhammer, closing his eyes. I didn’t know then that this would become a routine, this curling up on my chest, this immediate contentedness, this going to sleep almost uncomfortably close to my neck. But I knew I liked it. A lot. I didn’t want to let him go, even when I needed my hands to complete the paperwork.

Cat, medical and adoption forms, carrying box, food samples—everything came home with us, except the name. Cats deserve a good name, one with personality, one they can wear proudly. Angel Buff became Deuteronomy. But, like every pet I’ve ever had, he was never called by his full name. We called our new companion Dude, for short, and it fit him like a glove. “Dude, get off the dining room table.” “Dude, what have you been doing all day?” “Dude, stop clawing the carpet.” “Are you hungry, Dude?”

Dude was a mix of Siamese and domestic shorthair. He had the coloring of an orange tabby, but his body and head were pure Siamese. Small round head with overlarge ears and big round eyes. His whiskers protruded at odd angles, a bit like Salvador Dali’s moustache. Large, powerful hind legs and a short, thick tail. When he tried to saunter, as felines will do, he waddled instead. It was endearing.

Dude loved affection, craved having his ears rubbed, and eventually learned to enjoy exposing his belly for a prolonged scratching. He was curious, mischievous, naughty, adorable, hilarious, sensitive, and devoted nearly to the point of dog-hood (a point of embarrassment in the feline community, I’m sure).

Dude healed the raw place in my heart left behind by Dakota’s passing. Unsought, unbidden, he pawed his way into my life and took over. He insinuated himself into my heart, much the way he would insinuate himself between me and my body pillow every night at bedtime.

He was with us for too short a time, by a wide margin. He was but 9 years old when he passed from this life. I don’t know how or why he died, but he was peaceful and unruffled when I found him, so much so that I thought he was merely asleep at first. We shared a home for just three-and-a-half years, during which we shared a lifetime of love.

I am sad with loss at his death, but the memory of his life fills me with happiness and gratitude, turning tears of pain into tears of joy. He was a good boy, a good friend, a good being.

In this brief life, he amassed a wealth of positive karma as he tended to me and my family. I believe that a precious human birth and the possibility of enlightenment await him in his next life. I hope I get to meet him again soon.

Hey, Dude. See ya later. I love you.