By Amber Polo
In 2004 a kitten from Camp Verde needed a home. The owner felt this kitten had a destiny and when she heard 7 Centers needed a temple cat she felt “Lionheart” had found his dharma. His journey from arrival in a laundry basket to Sri Guruji Lionheart, Sedona’s most honored cat touched the lives of many yogis.
Interview with Sri Lionheart
AP: What are the duties of a Temple Cat? Do you have advice for a novice temple cat on the path?
SL: According to Lopsang Rampa, author of “The Third Eye,” in the old days of Tibet , the temple cats were fierce guardians of the masses of uncut brilliant gems strewn around the holy figures of Buddha on the altars. Nearly black Siamese cats were often chosen for their legendary voices, blue eyes and long whip-like tails. Only monks who personally knew the cats could approach them when they were on duty prowling and protecting the temple.
In modern day, temple cats are also protectors and guardians of the temple. Kitten initiates are trained to appear to be sleeping but their third eye is open for intruders like crickets, mice and bold chipmunks to be chased. At 7 Centers (as a school of yoga), the temple cat is also training to model yogic poses like cat stretch and lion’s pose and learn to apply yogic philosophy to everyday life.
For those novices who want to initiate as a temple cat, there are three important qualities to cultivate: to have an open heart, a sense of adventure and to be curious and love learning.
AP: Can you offer comfort to cats and dogs looking for homes?
SL: When visitors come to the animal shelter, make eye contact, grin and be confident of how great you are and how lucky anyone would be to have you as their pet and companion. Trust that you will land in the best and right home no matter how long it takes.
AP: Do you have wisdom to share with those humans who work to end the suffering of animals?
SL: I would ask Do you have any wisdom to share with animals who are trying to help the suffering of humans? There is profound expansion in consciousness that happens in the exchange of love between animals and humans that is beneficial for both and for the planet. Ultimately this love is greater than the suffering.
AP: Is it true in a past life you were a male lion, head of a pride?
SL: Sometimes appearances can be deceiving. People see me as a rather large and plumpy orange tabby cat with green eyes but our history and inner world may be very different from what we look like. In eastern philosophy, all beings reincarnate again and again in many forms. This is known as the wheel of life- a journey of karma and dharma. Sometimes especially in meditation, particular past life memories surface without bidding. In my experience, they have significance and meaning for the current life. Yes~ I have been the male lion head of a pride and my current name, Lionheart comes from that life.
AP: Can you confirm or deny that once when you ventured out to minister to the felines at the Humane Society of Sedona you were incarcerated?
SL: So the story goes….When I was less than 6 months old I was exploring the neighborhood which includes the local Humane Society of Sedona just under the hedge and down the slope from the temple parking lot. Not even 50 yards and I walked up to check out the cat bros and was promptly captured by as a “stray” because I didn’t have a collar or a license tag. Then I was put into a cage as a homeless cat. Luckily one of the volunteers (a mother of a yoga teacher) recognized me and put a call in for me to be bailed out for $25.
So – yes, I have been incarcerated in my youth and I wear a collar and tag which I “lose” outside about every six months.
7 Centers Yoga Arts
Ruth Hartung, better known as Sraddhasagar, is the owner and director of 7 Centers Yoga Arts and founder of the non-profit Mystis, which supports outreach yoga programs. Sometimes when she travels to teach, she leaves Lionheart to protect and guard the temple while gone. Lionheart is assisted by Xena (Warrior Princess) Junior Temple Cat and Temple Dog Jackson who shows up regularly as the subject of Lionheart’s blogs to contribute a dog’s perspective. Lionheart’s email is lionheart@7Centers.com
In addition to yoga classes, 7 Centers offers five yoga teacher trainings per year, specialized workshops, and personalized retreats. One of their instructors leads “Yoga with Cats” the first Thursday of the month at the Humane Society of Sedona. For more information: www.humanesocietyofsedona.org