Adapted from a traditional Japanese Story by Bertie
Read by Natasha
Produced by Bertie
Ninja cat drawing by Shutterstock
Long ago, in Japan, there was a boy who was training to be a monk. He lived in the small temple at the end of the village. Every morning, at quarter to four, he woke up to the sound of a bell rung by the old priest. His first task of the day was to sit with the priest and chant the poem known as Zazen Wasan:
All living beings come from Buddhas.
Just as it is with ice and water
There is no ice without water
There are no Buddhas without living beings
The chanting was followed by a lesson called Sansen. After a bowl of rice for breakfast, the boy set to work cleaning or gardening. When he was not working, he was either studying the wise words known as sutras, or sitting with his legs in the lotus position, and with his back aching so much that he felt he would die of pain. While he was sitting still for hours on end, it was ever so tempting to nod off – but if he did so even for a moment, the old priest would wrap him on the head with a wooden spoon.The day was long and hard.
Often, the old priest would have business to attend to, and he would leave the boy to continue his cleaning and digging and studying and meditating by himself. But the priest was not gone for long before the boy’s attention began to wonder. It was always the same. He would open his wooden box, find a pen, dip it in ink and do what he really loved to do, which was to draw cats.
Sitting cats; prowling cats; stretching cats; yawning cats; cats up trees, cats curled up on mats; cats arching their backs with their hairs on end; cats rubbing their sides against trees; black cats, white cats; ginger cats; tabby cats – every type of cat, he drew them all, but always and only cats.
When the priest came back and saw the boy’s work he sometimes sighed, sometimes scolded, sometimes punished him. Many times he warned him, that if he was to be a monk, he could not go on like this, drawing cats. Eventually he despaired of him altogether.
“You might one day be an artist,” he said, “But you will never be a monk. Be off with you! Go and seek your fortune where you will. But just heed this one piece of advice from me: when you go to sleep, always make sure you are in a place that is both small and safe.”
The boy packed his mat, and his pen and ink, and went on his way. He walked all day until he came to another temple, one that was far larger and more famous than the one he had come from. He decided to seek shelter for the night inside this temple. He pushed open the gate and walked into the courtyard. It was still and empty. He entered the shrine where the only sign of life was a lamp that had been left burning.
There were many screens around the temple, and he thought to himself.
“How much nicer they would look if they were decorated with pictures of cats!”
And having thought about cats, it was a short step to drawing them. By the time he had finished his work, every single screen in the temple bore a picture of at least one cat.
“There, that’s a big improvement,” he said to himself, and then, with a stretch and a yawn, he decided it was time to get some sleep. He remembered the advice of the old priest – sleep somewhere small and safe – and he chose a cosy broom cupboard for his night’s rest. He curled up inside it, and soon was fast asleep.
It must have been around midnight when he heard a ferocious commotion. It began with loud sniffing and scratching noises, which was followed by the most terrible screeching and screaming, and the sounds of screens and statues and bowls being knocked over. The boy stayed huddled up in his broom cupboard, certain that he was having a nightmare.
In the morning, he crept out into the shrine. There, a strange and terrible sight greeted his eyes. The floor was covered with the dead body of an enormous rat – the size of a horse it was. This goblin rat was the reason that he had found the temple deserted. It had scared away the monks. And now it had met its just fate. But how?
The boy picked up a screen that had been knocked over during the fight. His work from the night before was no longer visible on it. And so it was with every screen. His drawings had vanished. But now, instead, real live cats were to be found in every corner of the temple. He recognised those cats. They were the very same ones that he had drawn from his imagination.
He thought to himself, “The pen is indeed mightier than the sword,” and he went on his way.
The boy grew up to become a famous artists. And all his life he made a very good living by selling his drawings of cats.
And that was the story of the boy who loved to draw cats, read by me, Natasha, and adapted by Bertie for Storynory.com.
And if you are interested in the Zen Buddhism in this story, Betie can recommend another tale from Japan. It’s called The Samurai and the Tea Master and you can also find it on Storynory.com.