cheshire cat


“`Cheshire Puss, Alice chants. “Come, it’s pleased so far, would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
”That depends a good deal on where you want to get to, Cheshire smiles,
”I don’t much care where”
`Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” chides cat
”…so long as I get somewhere,” urges Alice.
”Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, `if you only walk long enough.’”
“`But I don’t want to go among mad people,” cries Alice.
”Oh, you can’t help that,’ said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”- Lewis Carroll Alice in Wonderland

This statement by the cat, referring to wonderland applies equally to samsara, the wheel of cyclic existence that all beings are trapped in until they reach enlightenment. It doesn’t matter which way you go, because samsara is not a geographical place but a state of mind that is ignorant of how things actually exist, a state of mind tormented by anxiety, fear, depression, worries about the future and the host of other disturbing emotions we are prone to. The only way out of samsara is via the realisation of the true way all things exist, in interdependence.

In his conversations with Alice, the Cat helps her understand the reality of Wonderland. We can all acknowledge the madness all around us in this world, yet we have to work hard to see that this is merely a creation and reflection of the madness within our own minds. I am not suggesting that Lewis Carroll was a Buddhist, only that we can use the Alice books as metaphors for Buddhist philosophy and psychology.

The cat embodies (well without a physical body) the three dharma seals, or characteristics that are always present, impermanence, non-self and nirvanna or the extinction of all suffering. Impermanence is easy to see as the cat appears and disappears at will. Non-self is exemplified by cat’s understanding of interdependence, he  challenges the Queen of Hearts to behead him while all that appears is his head. Finally nirvanna is expressed through the smile lingering even after the face and body has disappeared and suffering extinguished.

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