JB and I just finished the puzzle “The death of the historical Buddha” by Hanabusa Itcho. It was actually a pretty complex puzzle. We had it out in the living room where we had continual access to it. It was nice to sit quietly for a few moments everyday and put a piece in here and there.
What was especially awesome about the process was that as I was putting pieces together, especially the part with all the animals coming to gather around Buddha, I began to think about a children’s book I had read a long time ago by Elizabeth Coatsworth called The Cat who went to Heaven. The story is about a poor and starving artist who sends his housekeeper to buy some food and who returns with a cat she found instead. Of course, at first the artist is upset because he is very very hungry, but then he becomes fonder and fonder of the cat, whom he names Good Fortune, as she is very mannered and seems to be quite devoted to a picture of the Buddha. Eventually the temple in town commissions him to paint the death of Buddha with all the animals who come to pay their respects. The artist is given a very heathy amount of money upfront to help him keep his mind at ease while at work on this task. He is chosen after the monks place all the town’s artists’ names in a pile and the wind blows all the papers away except for his.
The artist paints the painting, starting each day with meditation. The cat is attentive and respectful, enormously interested in the work the artist is doing but also knowing when to leave the room when he is in deep concentration so as not to distract. When the artist is finished, the cat seems incredibly disappointed because there is no cat that is painted. There was an old tradition that the arrogance of cats prevented them from bowing before the Buddha. Therefore they were believed to have been barred from going to heaven and therefore were never allowed to be included in depictions of this death scene. The despair of the cat eventually makes the artist’s heart open and he paints a small white cat in the corner of the painting. This enormously pleases the cat who then dies.
When the monks at the temple see the painting they are very happy but then they see the cat and reject the painting. Despondent, the artist returns home, later to discover that there was a miracle that happened that evening. The painting had miraculously changed. The image of the Buddha in the painting has his hand raised in blessing over the cat’s head who had magically moved from the back of the painting to sitting right next to the Buddha himself.
So all the while I was putting this puzzle together, I was thinking about this story and the many miracles and acts of kindness at work in my own life, especially the miracle of story and how it sits deep inside us as a gentle ember, warming us from within without our ever even knowing it.