The process of attaining enlightenment is already complicated enough without throwing cats into the mix (please don’t throw your cat). People all across the globe remove themselves from society, secreting themselves away in monasteries in an attempt to achieve the almost impossible dream of enlightenment. Most of those people are not cat owners and for good reason. Cats, as lovable and cuddly as they can be, are clearly out to keep everyone in the cycle of Saṃsāra: rebirth and suffering for eternity.

I call this “The Garfield Effect” where man and cat are forever trapped in suffering and possibly eating lasagna.

This comic is actually more about my brother than it is about me, he has long made his allegiance to the canine species known to both his family and our cat. There’s something about felines that just strikes a very strange and angry chord with him, perhaps it is the poop or perhaps it is something deeper. Science may never have the answers.

Buddhism’s thoughts on reincarnation, rebirth, and the cycle of suffering known as Saṃsāra have their roots in Hinduism, not unlike Christianity’s roots to Judaism. The idea that all life possesses spirit and that this spirit is reborn after each death is not unknown to us here the West, but it is often understood incorrectly. Many people have a positive view of reincarnation, seeing it as a good thing, a continuance of the existence they know and love, a way of escaping death not unlike the Christian afterlife. To Buddhism, this could not be further from the case. To achieve Nirvana, (the spiritual state, not the band, you can acquire that at your local music store) is to remove oneself from this cycle of rebirth, to realize that the cycle is not a gift, but a curse of sorts that keeps us tied to a wheel of suffering for eternity. Life, in this view, is a kind of Hell unto itself.

It’s hard to imagine for those of us that grew up with the Christian concept of everlasting life, that this could be the case. You hear people talk about reincarnation sometimes and there’s typically a positive note in the voices of those discussing it. There’s also a lot of people talking about karma as if it were this immediate thing, that by doing good deeds, one is rewarded instantaneously for their actions, but the religions from which the concept stems see it very differently. Karma is not simply the acquisition of reward for good deeds but rather the power of cause and effect from the actions in one’s current as well as past lives. Karma is not fate, it is far more complicated than this one blog post can really convey, unfortunately, especially given its role in different sects and religions.

There are different views on just how the process of reincarnation works, especially with regard to animals, as they largely act on instinct. There are those that say that instinctual animals can only go forward, up the hierarchy of creatures through each death and rebirth, from bacteria to snail to fish to mammal or whatever. There is also a school of thought that says all creatures possess some ability for choice and that, because of this, they may be reduced in the next life.

Either way, cats are probably screwed. Either they’re pooping on floors or scratching at the door at 3am for food, causing rage and holding their owners back from achieving enlightenment, or they’re holding themselves back by mooching off of people and torturing other animals before they eat them.

Things don’t look great for the little guys.

I guess at the very least, we will always have each other. Human and feline, eternal companions in Saṃsāra and lasagna.

Just like Garfield.

(this blog post is just a fraction (and a simplification at that) of what Buddhist and Hindu thought have to say on Saṃsāra and reincarnation and doesn’t really get into it very well and for that, I apologize.)

I also wanted to make it clear that I actually really love my cat, as weird as she is.