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The Divine Love of the Buddha

My partner and I have two farm cats who live with us. There is Finn, a half-deaf albino who is literally scared of his own shadow. And there is Enso, a gray tabby who struts through the world with an air of superiority.

Finn is an indoor cat. He wants nothing more than to eat, sleep, and cuddle on the couch with anyone foolish enough to leave their lap open. He meows mournfully whenever he’s left in a room by himself, 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 is too icy for his taste, Enso remains indoors.

During this time, he likes to curl up near one of the space heaters we use to keep warm. Occasionally, I’ll see him staring out the window as if he’s checking to see whether the snow has melted.

During the summer months, however, Enso rarely steps foot in the house. He’ll come in long enough to eat and get a drink of 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 outside as if he’s escaping Alcatraz.

This routine has been going on for several years now, and I always chuckle when I see Enso stalking through the garden or sleeping under one of our fruit trees. But it wasn’t always this way.

If I’m being honest, it hurt my feelings the first few times he asked to be let out. I’ve had him since he was a year old. In that time, I’ve fed him every day and taken him to the vet when he was sick. My home isn’t large by any stretch, but surely there’s enough here to keep a cat occupied?

“Why isn’t this enough?” I would ask, “Why does he have to go outside and search for something else?”

My angst was deepened by the fact that Enso’s brother, Finn, follows me around the house as if he thinks I might disappear.

It took me a while to realize that Enso doesn’t go outside because he hates living with us. If that were the case, he wouldn’t come back inside for meals, he wouldn’t follow me around the property when I do chores, and he wouldn’t let me scratch behind his ears.

Enso enjoys his life with my partner and me. But he also enjoys his life outside our home. He enjoys rolling around in the dirt, climbing trees, and stalking through the tall grass in our back pasture.

If I’m going to care for him, I need to accept that outdoorsy aspect of his personality. 

So I make sure he has food and water when he wants them. I give him his flea and tick treatments when he needs them. And when he is in the mood, I scratch his head and rub his belly.

When I think of the divine love that the Buddha has for us, I imagine it must be similar to what I have for Enso.

After all, how could the Buddha give up his wealth, his power, and his royal station if he didn’t have a deep, abiding love for humanity? And how could his compassion for us be real if it hinged on us doing exactly what he wants?

It couldn’t.

That’s why the divine love that the Buddha has for humanity is different than the ordinary, selfish love that people practice in their daily lives.

The Buddha doesn’t dole out kindness as a reward. Instead, he gives it freely to anyone in need.

Yes, it would be better if we were all “indoor cats” who never strayed from the Buddhist path or did things that we shouldn’t. But some of us aren’t built that way. Some of us need to know what’s outside the safe, secure walls of the Buddhadharma.

That said, when we go on our adventures, we can do so with the knowledge that the door to the temple is never closed to us, and the Buddha will be waiting on our altar when we return.

He loves us exactly as we are.

Some might say that this is a dangerous way of thinking. They might think that people will have no motivation to walk a moral, upright path if they are given unconditional love.

But my experience has been the opposite. The more acceptance I receive from the Buddha, the more I want to follow his example. The more wisdom I gain from studying the 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, thebBuddha stands with open arms, waiting to welcome us home.

Namu Amida Butsu

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The relationship between non-attachment and unconditional love in Buddhism

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