My partner and I have two farm cats who live with us. There's Finn, a half-deaf albino who is literally afraid of his own shadow. And there's Enso, a gray tabby who struts around the world with an air of superiority.
Finn is an indoor cat. He wants nothing more than to eat, sleep, and snuggle up on the couch with anyone crazy enough to leave their knees open. He meows sadly whenever he is left alone in a room and runs excitedly when we remind him that he can join us in the new location.
Enso is an outdoor cat. During the winter months, when the air is too cold and the ground too icy for his liking, Enso stays indoors.
During this time, he likes to curl up near one of the heaters we use to keep warm. Sometimes I see him staring out the window as if checking to see if the snow has melted.
During the summer months, however, Enso rarely sets foot in the house. He will come long enough to eat and drink water. If he's in a good mood, he'll let us scratch behind his ears for a few minutes. Then we dutifully open the backdoor and his highness sprints out as if escaping from Alcatraz.
This routine has been going on for several years now, and I always laugh when I see Enso walking around the garden or sleeping under one of our fruit trees. But it has not always been so.
To be honest, it hurt me the first few times he asked out. I've had it since it was a year old. During that time I fed him every day and took him to the vet when he was sick. My house isn't very big, but surely there's enough here for a cat?
“Why isn't that enough? I asked, "Why does he have to go out and look for something else?"
My anxiety was compounded by the fact that Enso's brother, Finn, followed me around the house as if he thought I might disappear.
It took me a while to realize that Enso isn't dating because he hates living with us. If so, he wouldn't come inside for meals, he wouldn't follow me around the property when I'm doing chores, and he wouldn't let me scratch behind my ears.
Enso is enjoying his life with my partner and me. But he also loves his life outside of our home. He likes to roll in the dirt, climb trees and walk in the tall grass of our pastures.
If I want to take care of him, I have to accept this external aspect of his personality.
So I make sure he has food and water when he wants it. I give him his flea and tick treatments when he needs them. And when he's in the mood, I scratch his head and rub his belly.
When I think of the divine love the Buddha has for us, I imagine it must be similar to what I have for Enso.
After all, how could the Buddha have given up his wealth, power, and royal position if he didn't have a deep and abiding love for mankind? And how could his compassion for us be real if he depended on us to do exactly what he wants?
This is why the divine love that the Buddha has for humanity is different from the ordinary, selfish love that people practice in their daily lives.
The Buddha does not distribute kindness as a reward. Instead, he gives it away for free to anyone in need.
Yes, it would be better if we were all “indoor cats” who never stray from the Buddhist path or do things we shouldn't. But some of us aren't built that way. Some of us need to know what lies outside the safe and secure walls of Buddhadharma.
That said, when we go on an adventure, we can do so knowing that the temple door is never closed to us and that the Buddha will be waiting on our altar when we return.
He loves us exactly as we are.
Some might say that's a dangerous way to think. They might think that people will have no motivation to follow a moral and righteous path if they receive unconditional love.
But my experience has been the opposite. The more acceptance I get from the Buddha, the more I want to follow his example. The more wisdom I gain from studying Buddhist scriptures, the more I want to learn.
In this way, the Buddha leads us to enlightenment, not with the stick, but with the carrot. And in those moments when we turn away from his light, the bBuddha stands with open arms, waiting to welcome us home.
Namu Amida Butsu