A little lesson from Zen Master Sprout to go along with The Misleading Mind and Karuna Cayton’s Third Step: What’s going on? Over the few months, Volvo (on the left) has been suffering the boisterous bouncing of Sprout. He takes great delight in pouncing her off the rocking chair, sofa, zafus at every opportunity, taking advantage that she is clawless and he is fully loaded. For a while, we worked hard at intervening, insofar as one can intervene with a lightning fast kitten who has perfected the surgical strike. Even when we caught him and applied an appropriate reprimand, there was neither remorse nor reflection, making rehabilitation unlikely. Shame and blame were not effective on the monster and we decided that Volvo (who was at least losing her pudginess from the running around) was going to have to handle it on her own.
The middle sections of Cayton’s book deals with the destructive emotions – he also calls them “disturbing emotions.” Attachment, aversion, and ignorance are covered rather well. I particularly like his work up of “ignorance” which causes all kinds of… well… confusion when we try to understand it. Confusion, doubt, fogginess, uncertainty, illogical thinking, blind faith, forgetfulness, and absence of introspection are some of the ways we manifest ignorance. In fact, this little list helped me track my reactions to the caterwauling when Volvo and Sprout were duking it out over something or the other. I had no idea if leaving this up to animal nature was the right thing to do. I think at some level my contemplation and intention in letting them sort it out was based on the eternal koan: does a cat had Buddha nature? I was hoping they did because animal nature was not proving tolerable.
In the section on blame versus accountability, Cayton makes some clear points about the difference between the two concepts and the litmus test of that difference. Blame leads to unskillful action; accountability leads to skillful ones. In my rather simple terms, blame says “everything conspired so I couldn’t do better.” Accountability says, “I can do better. Period.”
I watched the two cats leap to the windowsill together and held my breath. They sat there for a long time enjoying the breeze and the swooping starlings. Sprout turned to Volvo and she made it clear that whatever he was telegraphing was not on. No howls, snarls, or shrieks. Just a clawless paw suspended in the space between them.
“You can do better. Period.”