THE KNEE OF LISTENING
The Life and Understanding of Franklin Jones
Copyright 1971 By Franklin Jones All rights reserved
The passage to the Guru
Nina and I left California sometime in the last weeks of June, 1964. My mood was one of intense excitement and expectation. There was no doubt at all in me that I was about to begin the ultimate adventure of my life. I was willing to make any sacrifice and to go any here in the world in order to abandon myself to the sources of our highest good.
The trip itself was a comedy of frustrations. We traveled in an old Chevrolet station wagon that seemed to explode on schedule every hundred miles. It was loaded to the windows with the belongings we felt necessary for life in New York. There were boxes of books, blankets and sleeping bags, various clothing, pots and pans. And three necessary cats.
Up until this time I hadn’t been entirely without teachers. I had learned from many people and environments. Now I was seeking a teacher who could lead me into a whole new cheer of experience and knowledge . I was in pursuit of the Guru, a master of the very Self of the universe. But I had also known a Guru of a certain kind for nearly two years. I had even lived with him. He was my cat, Robert.
If a man is sensitive to the movements everywhere within and without him, every kind of object or creature becomes a communication. He cannot help but receive the teaching, under any circumstances, if he is a real listener. Indeed, even the most inert objects know the same bliss of unqualified existence that is the root of our own consciousness.
My own way of life had been an absolute devotion to this way of listening, so that I had never before required a Guru to teach me in the formal and traditional manner. In fact I didn’t even know what a “Guru” was until these last days. And even if I had heard of such persons or matters before I would have considered them impossibilities, like Christ.
Thus, my experience throughout life progressed freely and profoundly, always generating new forms of clarity and awakening. As a result, I was fully capable of finding teacher in the most oddball sources, and I could give myself to be taught by such sources just as consciously and even formally as any monastic disciple in the “ashram” of a Swami founded in the ancient Scriptures and rules.
For nearly two years, then, I had been very attentive to my tomcat, Robert. At the end of my year at Stanford I went to say good-bye to two old friends, Cynthia and Vito, with whom I had shared many hours of drug adventure and conversations about art and literature. Their cat had just given up a litter of kittens, and they were making the usual attempt to pawn them off to their friends.
I told them I was going back to New York for the summer and didn’t really know when I would be able to provide a home for a cat. But when I looked at the litter of kittens I saw a little one with huge eyes, a dark one with long hair that sat in deep calm and watched me. I fell in love with him immediately, and Nina and I pleaded with our friends to keep him for us.
The long summer passed as I have told you. And by the time we found our house in the redwood forest the following September we had entirely forgotten that we owned a cat. But one day Cynthia and Vito arrived with Robert. We were absolutely happy to have him, and so grateful and surprised that our friends had kept him for us all that time. I named him Robert purely out of humor. He was such a strong animal presence, with an economy and grace that made our idiot brand of human living seem so unconscious and confused. I gave him a human name just to remind myself of the difference in him .
Robert was quite a large cat now. He had matured beautifully, and all of his instincts were wild. He seemed perfectly placed in himself. We decided that he should have a lady cat for his consort, and so we were happy when some other friends in Big Sur offered the pick of their new litter.
The Big Sur litter contained only a pair of orange tiger cats, both females, with twin markings. We took them both. And we brought them home to Robert so that he could enjoy his ladies in the wild.
Robert and his ladies always lived completely independent of us. He left food for them, but they came and went at will. Their manner of living was so pure and intelligent, so direct an enjoyment, with such effortless capability for survival, that Nina and I soon became enamored of them. We watched them constantly in the sheer pleasure of seeing life lived as an instinctive perfection. Their solutions to the hour by hour confrontations that humanity tends to by-pass or escape were an example to us of unproblematic existence.
When we left our home the redwoods and moved on to the beach at Tunitas, our cats were just drawing into their maturity. We were wondering if Robert would choose only one of the lady cats for his consort, and if this would create problems with the remaining one. But we were not surprised when both of the lady cats began to swell up in obvious pregnancy.
At the time this seemed to me a perfectly moral solution to Robert’s domestic situation. He seemed to love and tend them both completely and without conflict, so that he appeared to me a master of domestic peace, even a model of sanity and strength to human householders, who always seem unable to solve the problems created by their traditional and conceptual monogamy.
One evening I heard Robert and the lady cats hissing and growling in the yard. I went out and found the three of them surrounding a fourth. It was a young gray male who had somehow wandered into Robert’s territory. The three cats stood almost motionless in a circle about the fourth, and their primitive signals continued for what must have been several hours, even while Nina and I passed to sleep.
In the morning all was quiet. Robert and the ladies were lying in various parts of the house asleep. I went outside to enjoy the morning sea, and I came upon the place where they had surrounded the stranger the evening before. I made an awesome discovery. In the center of the circle where they had stood there was a perimeter of gray hairs, and in the center were stains of blood and fragments of the inner parts of the dead animal. The cats had apparently cannibalized the intruder.
I showed the place to Nina, and we were really astonished. But our cats came out gentle in the morning, showing no signs of the sacrifice in signals of guilt or anger or lust. They seemed to us an ancient triangle of righteousness. And their justice confounded all our reasons, so that we could only admire them as beings who seemed to enjoy the free consciousness of higher laws that all humanity had long ago forgot.
But something had occurred in the mutual life of our cats that they were about to solve according to their peculiar laws. The ladies were fully pregnant now, and they had begun to keep a distance from one another. That evening Robert remained in the house with only one of the ladies. The other had disappeared.
For several days we looked everywhere for the second lady cat. But finally we decided that she must have wandered away or been killed somewhere on the highway above. We even supposed that Robert may have chosen the one and banished the other to her own survival. We had no idea that he had only found a way to create his domain in two entirely separate realms.
For a full year Robert remained with his single consort. Her kittens were born and grown. Robert would leave at sunrise and pass over into tie hills, but every evening at sunset I would hear him calling as he descended the rise behind the house. He would return to eat and sleep with us and his lady until the following morning.
We assumed that this was merely the pattern of his wildness, and that he must have spent his days wandering and hunting. His consort always remained behind in the area of the house, and he would often bring her a bird, a rabbit or a mouse to eat. Or she would capture some small animal just at sunset and offer it to him when he returned home.
After a year of this we had settled fully into the cycle of the lives of our cats and never expected to see the other lady cat again. But one day I noticed something a little strange about the lady who remained at home. Her hair seemed somehow furled and matted in an unusual way. At first I only noticed this and simply accepted it as the result of her climbing about in the woods. But the next day I examined her more closely, for she had also acquired some kind of new intensity. Her paws stretched open and she constantly touched my feet, insisting on my attention.
When I picked her up I saw that it could not be Robert’s domestic bride. Her hair was wild and full, and its ends were bleached by weather. Her exposed nose and the pads of her feet were also bleached by water and air and sunlight, and they were all freckled by spots that I knew did not belong to the lady who remained behind. And even the edges of her eyelids were pink and white. Her eyes were wild as only those could be that had lived and survived in wilderness.
It was obviously the long lost lady cat. When Nina came home we looked her over together. And we welcomed Robert in the evening. He preened her and loved her, and we began to understand the intelligence of his way of life. When the two ladies had first become pregnant, Robert must have led one into the wild. And afterwards he divided his time between them, tending one in the wilderness by day and returning to the other at night. Again we marveled at this justice, this untroubled, thoughtful and inexplicably kind order of their survival.
When we awoke the next morning Robert and his wild lady had come bearing gifts. Sitting in the top of a storage basket surrounded by soft cloths were four wide-eyed baby cats, two dark and two orange, with long soft hair. They were four of the most beautiful and fresh creatures I have ever seen. Nina and I laughed joyfully at them. Robert and his lady had also produced miracles in the alchemy of wilderness.
As the days passed we also saw what must have been a further development of Robert’s plan of living. The lady cat who had remained domestic the previous year disappeared, as her sister had done. I think it was their plan to exchange their states of living and carry on the same pattern as before. But we found the lady dead near the highway. She had been struck by a car while moving off into the wild.
It was about this time that Nina and I began to prepare to move to New York. Robert’s children surrounded us in great numbers now. Along with the new four there were at least five others from the domestic lady. And there was another stray that seemed to wander in from nowhere but who was allowed to remain. We named him Sanjuro, because he was such a tough, self-contained rascal, and he handled himself like the samurai depicted by Toshiro Mifune in Japanese movies. We had also acquired a little black female whose manner was irresistible. She was a little stalk of a creature with tall legs, and we knew her as “the fastest cat in the West.” We called her “the Bitty.”
All in all there were about a dozen cats around us, living in various degrees of dependence and wildness. As we prepared to leave we gave them to various friends. On the last day we gave two of Robert’s “wild flowers” to Ken Kesey. But we kept Robert and his wild lady and the Bitty.