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My Cat and the Schwarzenegger Factor

My cat, absorbed in the pleasure of warm sunshine on the window ledge, is an illustration of how all humans and animals are equal in our fundamental pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain. If we take an honest look at ourselves, all our daily activities are directed towards these. There is nothing wrong in wanting pleasure and avoiding pain but the problem is that we’re not very good at achieving these goals. Even when we do find a degree of happiness, we are great at screwing it up and turning the party into a great, big flop.


It is written that when the Buddha attained enlightenment, he remained for a long time without saying anything. It is said that his hesitation in spreading the good new was due to a thought which went something like, “I have discovered the profound truth of existence and you will never be able to understand”. Fortunately, the Buddha was persuaded by the great beings, to reveal his knowledge. And the Buddha said, “Life is utterly miserable and it is one’s own doing”. HEY JUST A MINUTE, we’d indignantly reply. Change the politicians, give me a great paid job, a beautiful, healthy family and a house by the seaside and I’ll show you whether life is miserable or not. In my younger days, I was on the road where I once stayed with the owner of a Norwegian shipping line, who with his beautiful wife, had built a dream house on a quiet beach on the Greek island of Crete. His wife died just before the house was completed and he was very, very lonely. It then struck me that my beliefs weren’t so different from my Norwegian friend – the dream of the perfect partner, a great job, a wonderful home and unsullied happiness in this life. The sad situation of my friend make me reflect on what the Lamas had taught me: “The objects and situations we rely upon for happiness are unreliable because they do not last. Death and impermanence rule the world”.


Happy situations are inseparable from unhappiness because externally, they depend upon the gathering of causes and conditions that cannot last forever. When this “source” of our happiness cease, we feel deeply the “party’s over” type of sadness. Internally, our conventional sense of happiness is suffering because our mind clings to the object of pleasure and the pleasant experience itself, with extreme stickiness. We are not aware that this disturbing quality of stickiness quickly builds up into an irrational emotion that refuses to accept that we cannot remain in the embrace of our lover forever. It does not want to separate from the object of happiness and therefore, starts to eat away at our present happiness. At the beach, we lie in the sunshine, like the cat and think the warmth is bliss. The heat soon becomes a bit too much and we enter the water and think the coolness is bliss. The cold becomes uncomfortable and we go back onto the sand and think the warmth is bliss, so we yo-yo through life this way. Our storerooms, garages and address books are full of discarded possessions & people we were convinced would make us happy. They did not work out because our expectations were simply wrong.


WELL THEN – what would give us happiness without the sticky danger we talked about before? The “me first, my convenience, my happiness” viewpoint is common but a powerful source of misery that lurks in our un-observant minds. It creates impossible demands, false expectations and inevitable crushed hopes. Since this approach doesn’t work, why use it? Turn the equation around – focus on others. Focus on their wellbeing and their happiness.Act to make this possible for them. When they are sick or fretful due to fear and hardship, let the Schwarzenegger factor that dwells in you, kick in. The what? Just as it is our natural responsibility to climb over high walls and brave the flames to lead our present loved ones to safety, it is also our natural responsibility to rescue every living being from suffering. This thought is the Schwarzenegger Factor = the courage born of compassion = bodhicitta. Hollywood has run out of plots where the hero rescues the lady in distress or the Sheriff saves the township. Nowadays, heroes and heroines rescue the entire world from the baddies, braving flames and explosions. Where does this altruism come from? It arises when one’s mind deeply wishes a better world for everyone, that has the capacity to care for others, sees the extent of suffering in the world – and then acts on it. We too become the heroes for others if we can overcome with the flames of our own anger, neutralise the sucking-corrosiveness of attachment and the evil of our me-first, self-cherishing. We can start with little things – a kind word, a small act of giving, a moment of restraint when an angry outburst would have been the norm. Try it – it works wonders for the recipient and for you, a quiet sense of renewed strength and happiness, though not planned for, is experienced. A happiness that didn’t “come from” an external object but from one’s own mind that decided to care and to act. That can be called up at any time. Happiness on-call. The Schwarzenegger factor – bodhicitta – in all of us, awaits its chance to deliver happiness to others…. and in so doing, brings happiness to ourselves.

~ Extracts from “The Purpose of Life” by Ven Thubten Gyatso (formerly Dr Adrian Feldman, a physician)