Thursday, November 5, 2009

Buddhist Bank Robber's Request for Cat Visitation Denied

My sister sent me this curious story yesterday. Essentially a German bank robber requested that his cat be allowed to visit him in prison because he believes the cat is a reincarnation of his mother. The bank robber, who is said to be Buddhist, told a judge "I know it is mummy. She looks after me just the way she did. I need to see her like other prisoners see their wives and children." My first response was a wild belly laugh. What a great story! And yet, clearly there have also been others who have had similar experiences to this man. Reincarnation is a tricky point of Buddhism for a lot of people. Some have a pollyannaish take on it, and walk around anointing every person, animal, and place as the reincarnation of saint X or buddha y. Others simply strip it off all together, and ignore any Buddhist teachings that speak of reincarnation. Both of these approaches are troubling.

The court's denial of the claim is also interesting.

"While we respect the religious freedom of individuals, the accused has not been able to furnish proof that his deceased mother has been reborn in a cat. Therefore, the request for visiting rights for the feline is rejected."

What "proof" could ever be furnished? Even Tibetan lamas who have demonstrated astounding levels of familiarity and recognition of places and people they never could have physically seen in this life aren't viewed, in rational, concrete terms as having "furnished proof."

How do systems of justice, built upon concrete laws and "reason," effectively address issues of a spiritual nature? Can they?

The journalist's take on the whole thing seems to be of "this is a joke, I want to make people laugh" variety. This is one of the powers, and dangers, of journalism - the ability to pass judgment on a story and then aim your readers towards passing the same judgment.

Even though I question the journalist's approach, I do wonder if this bank robber is simply lonely and wants to see his cat. Or if he feels like messing around with the courts is the only way he can get some control in his life. However, I'm also not willing to dismiss his story as not true.

This is an easy story to make fun of and laugh at. Hell, I though it was funny too! A guy wants his cat to visit him in prison. How can you not laugh? But there are some difficult, somewhat troubling issues behind it which also cause me to pause, and take a breath in the name of remaining open when it comes to stories links to spiritual beliefs.

* The cat in the photo is my mother's cat, who she believes is the reincarnation of a previous family cat. The jury remains out on that one.


Arun said...

It’s fair to say that in the vast majority of Buddhist traditions, individual legal rights do not carry over into the next life. The prisoner’s claim should thus be moot.

Genju said...

Oh... I seriously doubt my mother will come back as a cat. Steven Segal, yes. Cat, no. ;-)

But I got this funny feeling the other day that my new cat is the reincarnation of my dog. Still, it's astounding that people reincarnate in places where they can "prove" they had been there before... the mind bloggles!

spldbch said...

Now I'm pretty sure robbing a bank goes against the teaching of Buddhism!!!

Richard Harrold said...

The other problem with the article is the author's ignorance of what Buddhists "believe." The writer states that Buddhists believe that after death, they come back as an animal. The statement is made that all Buddhists come back as animals. Hmmm, maybe it really is an Animal Planet.

It's another case of a non-Christian belief being relegated to the tier of less-than second-class recognition in the Western world.