I know it’s a cliché to refer to a child as a Zen master, whether it’s your own, or a stranger’s, or in my case a grandchild. It’s a given that children are more open, more intuitive, more curious. Even Hakuin said to understand a baby and it’s hunger is to be able to understand Buddhism.
Still, I’m going to say it…my grandson Asher is a little Zen master. As proof I offer the fact that he is intensely focused on questions of coming, going, arriving, who and where. He loves to ask, “How did you get here?” and “Where have you come from?” and “Where are you going?” Even a cursory glance at the Blue Cliff Record of koans will show you that it seems nearly a quarter of the hundred koans in there begin with a master asking just such a question. I rest my case.
But the other day he went even beyond the coming and going question. He went up to Minneapolis with me, and I was having fun driving him around, showing him the places where his dad had grown up. Then I decided we’d go to get some lunch, and told him so. He asked how I would get there, and told him. Then as we started going in that direction, he asked, “Papa Phil, are you sure about this?” “Yes, I’m sure.”
As we continued on our way, he continued, too. With each new turn or street, he’d ask, “Are you sure about this?”
And once we got there and were choosing whether to go in, what to have, he continued with that line of questioning. Even going to a city park after for a dip in a wading pool on a very hot day, merited the question, “Are you sure about this?”
And as the afternoon went on, I would no longer answer, “Yes, I’m sure.” I starting replying, “Not completely.” And, “What do you think?” Finally, I’d tell him, “Not at all, but let’s do it anyway!”
The funny thing was rather than becoming a more anxious journey, even going to old familiar haunts became more of an adventure. We both had more fun. It also brought to mind some of those other koans asking, “Where have you come from?” and how they seem to undermine certainty and surety.
We came back home, and I dropped him off with his dad. But I couldn’t resist for the rest of the day asking myself regularly, “Are you sure about this?”
As it’s said, “Not knowing is most intimate.”