Children can be so wonderful, even in their challenging and demanding ways. Very early on they learn to say no with a surprisingly self-assertive tone. They pepper conversation with question marks, often after the word why.
Someone said, “Living with a child is like having a Zen master in your home.”
Both require patience-quiet reflection before speaking. They remind us of all our good-parenting intentions. They put us to the test; we want to get it right.
The student of Buddhism is presented with koans–riddles in the form of a paradox used in Zen Buddhism as an aid to meditation, requiring deep reflection. Quick answers aren’t accepted. The koan is used to help the student gain intuitive knowledge.
“What is the sound of one hand clapping? If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one to hear it, does it make a sound?” Those are two famous koans.
At twenty three, when the stork delivered my daughter Susan, my first Zen master arrived. Jonathan, my second Zen master, came four years later. Zen masters present different koans. They won’t accept the same answers. Each is unique.
Even when these Zen masters grow up and move out on their own, they remain teachers, presenting us with koan-like questions that require deep reflection. Being a good parent is, after all, simply being a good person. What’s the right thing for a good person to do and say? The age of these Zen masters doesn’t matter. The younger ones may be more innocent, but the koans keep coming.
With grandchildren it’s different. They visit. We visit. We have fun. It’s different from the twenty-four-hour-a-day task of parenting. Grandchildren become your Zen master’s Zen master. It’s just what they need. When your children become parents they come to understand what it’s like having a Zen master in the home. It’s their turn.
Parenting is an active, hands-on process, like the dialogue (mondo) between Zen master and student. The goal of Zen training is buddha consciousness-to free the mind from the assumption that the distinct individuality of oneself and other things is real. Buddhism, in all its schools, holds that separate things exist only in relation to one another.