Pothong

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A while back, a cat entered the temple’s rear gate in one early Saturday morning with difficulty breathing. This was told to me because I wasn’t there at that time. The vet clinic in Fairfield jumped right into action after realizing the gravity of the situation. The monk who took the cat there couldn’t speak English well and later asked me to help him translate. When we both arrived at the vet, an X-Ray showed he had inhaled a poisonous substance which burned its way through the top halves of his lungs. “They’re both punctured.” Said the sadden vet doctor. “He’s been breathing through oxygen tubes. So don’t be afraid when you see it sticking out of his mouth.” The cat’s name was Pothong, “Golden Lotus” in Pali. The doctor treated him to her best ability, but the mucus from the dissolving lungs were building up and he needed urgent ICU at Ryde Animal Hospital. The worst was yet to come as it was a hot summer weekend and our options were limited. Pothong needed an ambulance with an oxygen tank and our old van wouldn’t cut it. It was too steamy and we didn’t have air conditioning. The closest ambulance was to arrive at 4pm all the way from Palm Beach. While we were on the telephone trying to find alternative transport for Pothong, a dog came into the clinic bleeding from the mouth. His owners in tears screaming for the doctor’s attention. The doc told us she might need to clear the room Pothong was in, there was nothing we could do for the cat but wait for transport, so I made a split second decision to have Pothong moved to the back room so the dog could come in and be looked at. As the doctor went to pick up the dying cat, the liquid mucus from his lungs moved up and fill his breathing pathway. His mouth began gasping, body twitching in spasm as he was being choked to death.

Right then, the imagery of another sentient-being suffering beyond all comprehension burned into my mind. That was the flash I saw in this morning’s meditation. A recorded mental movie carrying with it the feelings of helplessness, pain and sorrow. I blamed myself for weeks after Pothong died. For I was the one telling the doctor to move him. I truly felt responsible for his death.

Sitting watching the observer of this sad story… I remember one of Tara Brach’s stories about a man of similar situation. She asked him “What would it take for you to forgive yourself?” His answer was only pure hellish self-punishment would uplift his guilt for causing another being to die. Knowing that it wasn’t really my fault, I didn’t have to go down that route. Instead I just kept watching to see who owned these feelings of pain and sadness.

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