Did or does the Dalai Lama have a cat?

This is a straightforward question but it is difficult to find a straightforward answer. In searching for an answer, Google immediately takes you to a well-known and successful book by David Michie, The Dalai Lama’s Cat. It describes Buddhist philosophy through the eyes of a cat adopted by the Dalai Lama.

But the book, it seems to me, is fiction. If I’m correct, the book does not confirm that the Dalai Lama has a cat or had a cat.

So, I went in further search of evidence that the Dalai Lama lived with a cat or continues to do so. And I bumped into the beautiful photographs of a man who befriended the Dalai Lama and his name is Raghu Rai. Rai took many photographs of his holiness and in 2014 Rai decided to collate the hundreds of photographs which he had taken and turn them into a book. It was a project that took 40 years.

Dalai Lama and tabby cat
Dalai Lama and tabby cat. Photo: Raghu Rai.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

And these candid photographs include a single B&W photograph of the Dalai Lama with a cat. This is a sweet-looking tabby cat with a collar and an ornament or a bell on the collar. The photograph was taken with film as opposed to digitally. This gives it a certain quality with grain. Back in the day all photographs were taken with film and often black-and-white film. This must have been a 35mm camera.

However, it seems that the photographer took at least two and perhaps several photographs of the Dalai Lama with this tabby cat. One of which was in colour. It is possible that Rai decides to take two photographs of the same subject one after the other, one in black and white and one in colour.

Another photo of the Dalai Lama and cat this time in color
Another photo of the Dalai Lama and cat this time in color. Photo: Raghu Rai.

And Rai states in relation to the photograph:

“He loves to play with animals. I was waiting for him one day when he suddenly showed up with a cat.”

How do you interpret that sentence? I think it is vital because it seems to me that it is the only sentence on the Internet which tells us whether he had at that time a domestic cat companion or not.

My interpretation is that he did not live with a cat at that time reading between the lines because he says that “he suddenly showed up with a cat”. This strongly implies that it was an unusual occurrence. Being unusual also strongly implies that he did not live with a cat. Perhaps there is a barrier to a Buddhist having a domestic cat companion because of the philosophy of reincarnation. Is a pet a reincarnated person? If a person believes that it is difficult to live with a pet.

The cat may have been living within his home or the compound in Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, in the far north of India not far from the Tibetan border. He is exiled as you probably know from Tibet because of the invasion of his country by the Chinese who believe that Tibet is part of China. Their behaviour is reminiscent of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

My conclusion, therefore, is that the Dalai Lama loves animals and cats but does not live with a cat but occasionally interacts with a cat that might live near or around his home. This might be incorrect and if somebody can correct me, I would be most welcome. For example, it may be the case that the Dalai Lama has a cat now but not then. At this time, I could not find any evidence that the Dalai Lama lives with a cat now as at 2022.

The flag marks the spot where he lives.

As a postscript I would like to briefly mention the film Seven Years in Tibet starring Brad Pitt and directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud. Brad Pitt plays an Austrian mountaineer and SS officer Heinrich Harrer. He finds his way to Tibet and the holy city of Lhasa where, ultimately, he befriends the Dalai Lama when he was a boy. Heinrich Harrer had a son but had never met him and it seems that he related to the Dalai Lama as his son and taught him all he knew. His Holiness was very inquisitive and intelligent. He stayed seven years and then went back home to Austria. This was during the Second World War and when the war ended, he could return. They stayed friends for the remainder of Harrer’s life. Wikipedia has a page on Heinrich Harrer. He was a remarkable man actually who achieved a lot in his life. The Dalai Lama is also a remarkable man, full of wisdom, intelligence and gentleness. The film portrays this thread of gentleness that runs through the Tibetan people.

Below are some pages about cat lovers.

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