Quang Duc Homepage


Buddhist Stories

...... ... .


   Dharma The Cat - Philosophy With Fur
By David Lourie, Ted Blackall &
Dave Heinrich



Creating "Dharma The Cat"

Basically, the cartoons are about the the rocky path to nirvana, with a Buddhist cat, a novice monk and a mouse hell-bent on cheese."   There is a young novice monk named Bodhi, who is stumbling earnestly along the Buddha’s Noble Path, succumbing to every spiritual pitfall along the way, while his cool cat Dharma observes it all with equanimity. The wise and mischievous Dharma is able to outwit his guileless, unsuspecting young master at will. And Siam, the House Mouse, always provides an extra opportunity (ie, challenge) for Bodhi’s spiritual growth. 

by David Lourie

The idea for "Dharma The Cat -- Philosophy With Fur" came to me one day while I was contemplating the deeper meaning of life . . . and unemployment.  I was a freelance writer and documentary filmmaker at the time, as I still am.  But back then I was ‘between jobs’ – way between.

I had long ago made the basic decision that money was not what my life was about.  Since then I had been trying to make a living by creating projects I believed had value – both personal and social. 

I know what you’re thinking: this decision may have had something to do with why I was between jobs.  .  .  . But that’s another issue.

Getting back to that fateful day when I gave birth to Dharma The Cat: I was on the verge of making a series of phone calls to potential clients, letting them know that I was available for work – though doing it carefully, without letting on that I actually needed the work.   But just as I picked up the phone to make the first call, I was suddenly distracted by a different kind of call -- a soul-piercing plaintive wail from my cat, Dharma. 

Although he is lovingly cared for and exceedingly well placed in life, Dharma’s dramatic vocal styling could easily convince the neighbours that he is the most maligned creature on Earth.

On this particular occasion, as I was about to phone a potential client, Dharma insisted on displaying his hungriness with more extreme vocal styling than usual.  So, pointing at the clock, I gently but firmly reminded him that he only gets fed when the big hand is on 12 and the little hand is on 5.

Strangely, my clear and patient explanation seemed to fall on deaf ears, and my attitude of perfect reasonableness went unacknowledged..

Now, I am not going to try to tell you that my cartoon strip is autobiographical.  I will let you figure that out.  [see Episode 1 "Time"] 

Suffice it to say that no job-hunting phone calls were made on that day.  Or the next.  Instead, I was overwhelmed by inspiration.  Eight cartoon episodes exploded out of me – and all of them produced in the short breaks between my frequent mouse-rescuing sorties out to the compost bin. [see Episode 2 "The Lesson"].

And so it was born: "Dharma The Cat – Philosophy With Fur."  As the blurb goes, it all takes place “on the rocky path to nirvana with a Buddhist Cat, and novice monk and a mouse hell-bent on cheese.”

The young novice monk is named Bodhi.  It is he who provides the strip’s humour, by stumbling over-earnestly along the Buddha’s Noble Path, succumbing to every spiritual pitfall along the way, and demonstrating clearly how not to do it.   All the while, the cheeky and relentless Siam the Mouse provides extra challenges to Bodhi’s efforts at maintaining inner peace.   And from the eye of the storm, Cool Cat Dharma observes it all with wit and equanimity.  Naturally, the wise and mischievous feline is able to outwit the guileless young Bodhi at will, and this adds to Bodhi’s amusing pitfalls (and pratfalls)along the path.

Although the idea for the strip appeared to be born quickly and naturally, upon further reflection I realised it was not an immaculate conception after all – the basic content had actually been brewing below the surface for quite some time.

Several years before I had written a couple of illustrated children's stories which were intended to immortalise my extraordinary cat, the late great Mugsy – who, like Dharma, was a furface with Buddhanature.   He was the gentlest animal of any species I had ever met.   I never saw him even swipe at a fly.  In fact, when we found him he had been abandoned, and was starved almost to death.  He obviously had never learned to hunt.   And having Mugsy in the yard never kept the birds away.   They would walk right past him when he was lying around on the lawn – they had him figured out.

Anyway, those Mugsy adventure stories never got published, partly because it happened to be bad timing in the marketplace, as times were too tough then to get a reputable company to publish new material from an unknown author.

So the Adventures Of Mugsy The Cat is still sitting on my shelf, for the time being, but the spirit of Mugsy has now taken rebirth as Dharma The Cat .

So why the name "Dharma" instead of "Mugsy?" That comes from the other part of the brewing process: my own practice of the dharma (the teachings of the Buddha).

I have been meditating and exploring religions and philosophies for over 30 years, and have also been making the odd documentary film on those subjects.  I am not a religious person by inclination, but I do have a philosophical nature.  So I would describe myself as a philosophical Buddhist, as opposed to a religious one.  And because I have friends who have chosen to don the robe and go down the religious path, I can write about some of the situations they encounter.  And of course, I use myself as a model for Bodhi, the spiritually-challenged novice monk who suffers from over-earnestness.

The cartoon’s humour is based on the “How Not To” approach to learning, and I have plenty of personal, long-term expertise in that area.

So it's not hard to see how the idea for this strip emerged from those two strands of my life.

The reason I am writing a strip that popularises the dharma, instead of producing a "household humour" strip with Mugsy's name, is out of appreciation of what the dharma has done for me.  I have had some difficult passages in my own life, and in those times the wisdom and insight of the Buddha's philosophy empowered me to handle things with clarity and good judgment.  And so, as a freelancer over the past 10 years, most of the ideas I've come up with for my own projects, whether it be a book, video, CD or whatever, has been related directly or indirectly to the Buddhadharma.

"Dharma The Cat" is designed to popularise an awareness of the teachings of the Buddha, but without specifically preaching any of them (which I would be unqualified to do).  In fact, the strip does not directly present the dharma at all.  It only presents the context and general subject of spiritual life in an engaging way, with humour that is universally accessible and independent of any familiarity with the dharma.  But the humour is designed so it can be spoken about and analysed in terms of spiritual and religious issues, which is useful for educators and academics.

The web site ( features an Inter-Faith forum, in which spokespeople of ten major and minor religions comment on each episode of the strip in terms of their own ideology. It's a unique exercise in Comparative Religions which is personalised and quite revealing.   The cartoons, in combination with this multi-faith religious commentary, are now forming the basis of classroom studies in Australia and American schools, religious organizations and discussion groups in several countries worldwide.

THE METHOD: I have often been asked about the approach I take to producing the cartoon strip.  My method is to first write all the dialogue, since for me the ideas emerge as philosophical issues, not necessarily as visual gags.  I then make stick figure drawings to crudely illustrate the dialogue.  Then I test this very rough presentation on a variety of people of diverse mentalities, to get a good public cross section, including some people for whom this strip is ‘not intended’ -- I learn a lot from them!  I then take most of their comments on board, and continue to revise and re-test the rough episodes until people will laugh out loud at the idea even despite my primitive stick figure drawings.  When this happens, I know that the raw idea itself is now strong enough to produce.

So when an episode finally gets laughs of approval, I then hand it over to my extremely talented illustrator, Ted Blackall.  We collaborate and workshop the idea further.  He works in black and white, so I scan his final line drawings into the computer, and colour them in.  

However, after producing 20 episodes that people liked, Ted and I felt sure-handed enough to proceed with the rest without the market testing stage any more.

But, having said all that, after episode 56 (the last cartoon in the book)Ted moved on, and now it’s Dave Heinrich from Adelaide who is creating the beautiful drawings for Dharma The Cat.  Dave is a freelance illustrator and graphic designer in publishing and advertising, as well as a cartoonist in his own right.  We are currently working on a sequel book, called “The Silk Road Adventures Of Dharma The Cat,” which spans four continents and 2,000 years of history.

And that's the end of the story . . . so far.    – David Lourie


TED BLACKALL is the original illustrator and collaborator on "Dharma The Cat." He is a commercial artist, storyboard artist and oil painter. He, too, lives on Sydney's northern beaches.


Back to Content


Vietnamese Version

"Visit Dharma, Bodhi and Siam at, winner of the 10 Best On The Web Award."


Update 01-08-2005

Back to Buddhist Stories

             Top of page



Webmaster :Ven. Thich  Nguyen Tang
For comments, contributions, questions and other requests to the Editor, 
please send email to Ven. Thich Nguyen Tang: