zen and innocence

Zen and Innocence

This entry is part 6 of 10 in the series Zen 101

Zen and Inno­cence  —  find­ing a place of child­like inno­cence allows us to inter­act with life, rather than ana­lyze it.

Look­ing for more on this topic? 

Check out my book, Half Asleep in the Bud­dha Hall.

Wayne’s “East­ern” book takes you by the hand and helps you to find peace of mind. Half Asleep in the Bud­dha Hall is a Zen-based guide to liv­ing life ful­ly and deeply.

There’s this thing about Zen: it flies in the face of conventional “wisdom.”

For exam­ple many are the sto­ries of Zen mas­ters, in the mid­dle of life-threat­en­ing sit­u­a­tions  —  stop­ping to admire (or eat!) a straw­ber­ry. Here’s one version:

One day while walk­ing through the wilder­ness a man stum­bled upon a vicious tiger. He ran but soon came to the edge of a high cliff. Des­per­ate to save him­self, he climbed down a vine and dan­gled over the fatal precipice. As he hung there, two mice (one black, one white) appeared from a hole in the cliff and began gnaw­ing on the vine. Sud­den­ly, he noticed on the vine a plump wild straw­ber­ry. He plucked it and popped it in his mouth. It was incred­i­bly delicious!

The west­ern con­cepts of “urgency and impor­tance” are dis­turbed by a sto­ry such as this. How can it be, in the midst of this seri­ous sit­u­a­tion (Tigers! Oh! My!) that he would eat (and enjoy!) the straw­ber­ry? And yet…

Remembering and using the skill of coming to a full stop is a useful way to approach our lives differently.

A friend recent­ly men­tioned watch­ing his three-year-old child. Right in the mid­dle of some­thing, the child would do a “full stop;” she would freeze in place, her eyes would glaze over, and then, a sec­ond or two lat­er, she’d snap back to “here,” and car­ry on. 

My friend decid­ed that the child was mak­ing a new neu­ro­log­i­cal connection. 

Of course, this is how chil­dren do behave.

None of us remem­ber being a young child. We do not remem­ber being born into a world about which we had no clue  —  we were born as tab­u­la rasa  —  blank slates. We were born as receivers. Our sense organs were open to some degree (for exam­ple, it takes months for a baby’s eyes to tru­ly focus) and our brains were emp­ty sponges. 

We began to add in data  —  but it was raw data. It lacked mean­ing. Data flows in and ini­tial­ly  —  per­haps for three or four years  —  much or all of this data is new – or bet­ter, being expe­ri­enced by the child for the first time. 

So, the child must turn to adults for inter­pre­ta­tion.

Remem­ber, the child has no con­text (pri­or expe­ri­ence) to judge a new expe­ri­ence. Con­text devel­ops over time. So the par­ent I described above is cor­rect; his child was “zon­ing out” in order to cat­e­go­rize. The “zon­ing out,” was the child turn­ing off exter­nal stim­u­la­tion to make a neur­al con­nec­tion regard­ing a new experience.

But what the experience means is up for grabs.

To repeat, mean­ing is ini­tial­ly pro­vid­ed by adults. As chil­dren, we learn what oth­ers believe to be so, and because we, as chil­dren, have no innate beliefs. So, we buy into the belief sys­tem of our “tribes.”

Because noth­ing pre­dates this trib­al inter­pre­ta­tion, it becomes our deeply root­ed belief sys­tem. Every­thing, from then on, is vet­ted through  —  and attached to  —  this pri­ma­ry belief sys­tem. This hap­pens with­out explor­ing the truth of the ini­tial belief(s). We believe our foun­da­tion­al truths are true… because we believe them to be true.

These baseline beliefs are not based upon evidence.

They are based upon … well … noth­ing! Weird­ly, most peo­ple nev­er exam­ine these beliefs  —  they go through life fil­ter­ing their ongo­ing real­i­ty through un-exam­ined beliefs. 

For this rea­son, Bud­dha (might have) said,

Do not believe in any­thing sim­ply because you have heard it. Do not believe in any­thing sim­ply because it is spo­ken and rumored by many. Do not believe in any­thing sim­ply because it is found writ­ten in your reli­gious books. Do not believe in any­thing mere­ly on the author­i­ty of your teach­ers and elders. Do not believe in tra­di­tions because they have been hand­ed down for many gen­er­a­tions. But after obser­va­tion and analy­sis, when you find that any­thing agrees with rea­son and is con­ducive to the good and ben­e­fit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”

Let’s revis­it this: What the Bud­dha sug­gest­ed is not what most adults do. Most have nev­er ques­tioned their base­line beliefs. 

And then, to com­pli­cate mat­ters, we think that what we believe is also true. We believe it so fer­vent­ly that, even though what we believe leads to suf­fer­ing and pain for our­selves and oth­ers, we still believe it and do it. 

It’s as if our heads hard­en at age five, and that’s it. “Here is who and what and how I am, and there is noth­ing I can do about it!”

Well, yes, there is an alternative, although it is difficult.

It is called adopting a practice of innocence.

Inno­cence comes in two flavours: You have seen chil­dren run­ning off in all direc­tions. They are doing that because they crave new expe­ri­ences. They know that the only way to learn new things is to have new expe­ri­ences. They have not (yet!!) shut off their curios­i­ty. They rush ahead, and damn the consequences. 

This is a descrip­tion child­ish inno­cence. It is reck­less, and lacks reason. 

Child-like inno­cence, on the oth­er hand, hap­pens when a rea­son­ing and func­tion­al adult explores the world (inner and out­er) with com­plete open­ness and total freedom.

The freedom of child-like innocence is freedom from prejudice.

Prej­u­dice sim­ply means “pre-judg­ment.” It is believ­ing that I already know what some­thing means, what it will feel like, what will hap­pen, how some­one “always is.” It is a load of crap, but we believe it. Prej­u­dice keeps us from expe­ri­enc­ing life in with child-like innocence.

zen and innocence

The monk in this card from the Osho Zen Tarot deck is demon­strat­ing what I am talk­ing about. He is total­ly engaged with the pray­ing man­tis on his fin­ger. He is ful­ly and deeply present in the moment, with­out prejudice. 

And, he is clear­ly hap­py.

One mark of the state of inno­cence and bliss is a smile. It is get­ting the joke that my life is what I make of it, and is pre­cise­ly how I define it. In inno­cence, my expe­ri­ences are devoid of mean­ing, (until I add them,) and there is no require­ment that I do so!

I can “be” in my experience. 

And the joke is, you are in your expe­ri­ence, whether you notice or not. This is the Zen of today’s arti­cle. You can­not escape your expe­ri­ence. Tor­tur­ing your­self and suf­fer­ing over your expe­ri­ence is a func­tion of judg­ment and prej­u­dice, and it entire­ly optional.

I am “in” my experience; if I am also awake to it, then whatever is going on is simply what is going on.

Life is incred­i­bly short, and much of it is wast­ed in end­less jus­ti­fi­ca­tions for stay­ing stuck in old thought pat­terns and habits. The old, old stuff is not remov­able. It’s just there. But, and here’s the key, it can be dealt with. 

For instance, when you were four, there like­ly was an absolute rule that you were nev­er, ever, to cross a street with­out hold­ing an adult’s hand. I trust you’ve moved past that rule by now! Yet, that “life or death” rule is still in there, and like­ly no one ever told you specif­i­cal­ly to dis­re­gard it. You out­grew it.

It is now time to outgrow all the stuff you shovel that keeps you stuck and miserable.

Not by root­ing it out or by get­ting some­one’s per­mis­sion to let it go. You out­grow it by act­ing in anoth­er way. Metaphor­i­cal­ly, it is now up to you to look both ways before cross­ing, but to cross the damn street!

Grow­ing up means let­ting go of child­ish things. Let­ting go of what is not work­ing, by doing what does work. Hav­ing expe­ri­ences because they are avail­able to you. Hav­ing full body rela­tion­ships because you want to. Hav­ing new thoughts and new expe­ri­ences each and every moment. And this is only pos­si­ble by being in the moment (you are any­way!) with atten­tion and focus.

Do it, now. And enjoy the adven­ture! Even with tigers above and tigers below, the straw­ber­ry at hand is delicious!

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