This story is about a spiritual Master who used to roam from place to place. He did not care to have disciples, for he believed that disciples only create problems. In his wanderings, he came to a particular village where people started following him. They wanted to offer him their devotion, but he said, “No, no! I do not want your devotion. I only want to pray and meditate in peace. If you can spare a small hut, then I will be happy to stay here for some time. I want to remain in solitude so that I can pray and meditate. While I am praying and meditating, I shall definitely pray to God to bless you and your village. This much I can offer, but I cannot accept disciples.”
The villagers were so happy that the spiritual Master had agreed to stay with them for some time. They wanted to give him a big house, but he would not hear of it. He said, “Oh no, I want to lead the life of a hermit. For that I need only a small hut.”
The villagers complied with his request. Soon the spiritual Master took up residence in a small hut on the outskirts of the village and immersed himself in prayer and meditation.
One young man from the village remained near the Master day in and day out. He told the Master, “I want to serve you, I want to serve you unconditionally.”
The Master said, “If you can bring me food from time to time, well and good. Otherwise, I will depend on the kindness of the villagers. But I will not go out. I want to remain inside this hut.”
The young man said, “I will look after all your earthly needs. I want to be your disciple. Each day I will eat at my parents’ place and then I will bring food for you. After you have eaten, I will stay here and pray and meditate in your presence for a few hours before going home.”
The spiritual Master accepted the services of this young man, but to the other villagers he said, “Please, please, do not bother me. I have not yet realised God. Once I have realised God, I shall really be able to help you, but now is the time for me to pray and meditate.”
The villagers obeyed the Master and allowed him to live in solitude. Meanwhile, the young man was serving the Master most devotedly and faithfully. One day the spiritual Master had a vision. A luminous figure came to him and said, “I am your Guru. I am now in the Himalayas. You should come to the Himalayas and pray and meditate most seriously.”
Immediately the spiritual Master decided to leave the hut. He said to the young man, “I must go. My call has come. I had a vision of a most luminous being, and I really feel that he is my Guru. He has asked me to go and join him in the Himalayas, so I shall be leaving this place.”
The young man begged and begged the Master not to go, but the Master was determined. When the villagers came to know about the Master’s decision, they also begged him to change his mind, but to no avail. He told them, “I have got the call. I must go.”
Then the young man said, “In your absence I would like to preserve this place, this little hut where you have prayed and meditated for so many hours. Will you allow me?”
“Do whatever you like,” said the Master. “I cannot think of these things right now. I am getting ready for my journey.”
Shortly afterwards, the Master set out for the Himalayas and all the villagers bade him a sad farewell. The young man lovingly preserved the hut. Every evening he would hold a puja there and many people used to come to pray and meditate.
After a long journey, the spiritual Master reached the Himalayas. He found a cave and there he stayed for many years in deep meditation. He did not meet his Guru, but he felt that his Guru was inwardly helping him and guiding him. He was longing for his God-realisation, but although he saw light everywhere and he was full of inner joy, God did not bless him with realisation. After a long time, the figure of his Guru appeared before him once more. This time the Guru said, “Now I would like you to go back to your hermitage.”
After the figure had vanished, the Master said to himself, “I no longer have the hermitage.” Then he remembered the young man. “Oh, perhaps my disciple is still there. He promised that he would preserve it. Anyway, let me go, since the command has come again. After so many years my Guru has appeared before me again, and I must listen to him.”
So the Master left the Himalayas and made his way on foot back to the village. By this time he was quite an old man. At last he arrived at the place, but it was difficult for him to recognise it as the same village, for it was now thriving and very prosperous. He could not understand how the village had improved to such an extent.
The Master went in the direction of his former hut and there he saw a crowd of people. To his astonishment, he saw that some people were holding up cats and announcing a particular price for each one. The spiritual Master could not believe his eyes and ears. People were selling cats! And other people were eagerly buying them! The spiritual Master could not understand this strange behaviour and he wondered why it was happening so close to his former hut. Was this the place to sell cats? As he approached the crowd, he heard people calling out things like, “This one is strong,” “This one is healthy,” “This one will do better meditation.”
The spiritual Master was so puzzled. How could cats practise meditation? It was really a mystery. Then he decided to look for his disciple. Perhaps his disciple could give some kind of explanation. But the disciple was not to be found in the Master’s old hut. The Master came to learn that the disciple now had a very nice house. There he invited the villagers to come to pray and meditate in comfort. He himself was leading a very comfortable and luxurious life.
The Master enquired where the disciple’s house was and went there. As soon as he saw his old Master, the disciple showed him tremendous respect and love. Although this disciple was now rich and prosperous, his sincere devotion came to the fore when he saw his Master standing at his door.
When the Master saw that his disciple was indulging in a life of luxury, he became disgusted. “What are you doing here?” he said.
“Master, forgive me,” pleaded the disciple. “When you left I practised the spiritual life most sincerely for a few years, and then temptation entered into me. I wanted to have worldly possessions. But now that I have seen you again, I will once more start leading a life of prayer and meditation. I do not need this life anymore.”
“Do you know anything about the cats?” asked the Master. “Why are people selling them near my hut? That is a spiritual place, not a market for cats! And why are they saying that the cats will do excellent meditation? How can a cat meditate?”
Now it was the disciple’s turn to look puzzled. He said, “Master, do you not remember? You had a cat. You used to play with the cat. And when you were about to meditate, you used to take a piece of rope and tie the cat to a post inside the hut. Then, when your meditation was over, again you used to play with the cat. I remember it so clearly. Master, I told the villagers that if they also kept a cat, they would have very high meditations. You used to have such high meditations after playing with your cat. I felt that just because you had such affection for your cat, God showed you His boundless Affection through your meditation. Master, I have looked after your cat all these years. I keep it by my side when I meditate and I, too, have had such high meditations! I know it is all because of the cat. I told the villagers my experiences and that is why they all want to keep cats. I saw how high and how deep you used to go in your meditation, and I realised it was all due to your cat.”
At that moment a cat strolled into the room. It was simply enormous. “I am seeing your cat,” said the Master, “but I would like to see my cat once more. Please show it to me.”
“Master, can you not recognise your own cat? I have fed it and taken care of it for so many years,” said the disciple.
The Master was astonished. “This cannot be my cat,” he said. “It is so huge!”
“Master, I assure you, this is your own beloved cat. I have such affection and fondness for it, but if you would like to have it back, I am ready to give it to you here and now. I will get another cat to help me in my meditation.”
The Master said, “You kindly keep the cat. I do not need it. For so many long years I have tried to realise God. Now I see why I have not succeeded. I was so deeply attached to the cat. It is no wonder that I failed! I do not need a cat to enter into my highest meditation. In the Himalayas I had very high meditations. I have learned my lesson. Now I understand why my Guru asked me to come back to this village. I had to free myself from this attachment to my cat. I shall not stay here any longer. I shall return to the Himalayas and this time I am determined to realise God — without any cat, without any bondage, without any attachment.
“Alas, so many years I have wasted because I had this kind of affection and attachment for a cat. Now I know that if you are not attached to anything, you will realise God sooner than if you pay all attention to a cat or dog instead of your own prayer and meditation. You can have pets, but if you are really attached to them, then God-realisation will always remain a far cry.”