Monday, December 21, 2015

Still There? A Little Zen for Little Ones by Sanjay Nambiar

Rating: WARTY!

In a retelling of an old zen Buddhist story, we read here of two boys with improbably, amusingly, large heads, who encounter a girl in the school yard. She's lost an earring and isn't dealing. She seemed to think that stomping and yelling was the best way to find her earring, and in actual fact, she was right! One of the boys thought the best thing to do was get down and dirty and search for it. The other boy didn't, but once the earring was found and the girl stomped off without even thanking her helper, the boy who didn't help was annoyed! The girl was rewarded with her earring. The two boys were rewarded with nothing, but wasted time and dirtied clothes and hands.

It seems like the lesson we're supposed to learn here is that it doesn't do to cry over spilled milk (it's actually much better to clean it up before it stains and stinks!). There are several lessons to be learned here though, and we're offered only one, which is that when you perform an act of kindness for someone, do not expect a reward. I agree with this. You set yourself up if you expect something in return, and the quality of your life is lessened by the act of wanting. The girl didn't specifically ask him for help of this particular boy. The boy volunteered. As a lawyer (Buddhist or otherwise!) might say, there was no contract entered into here. The boys should not expect anything in return, not even thanks, and therefore shouldn't by adversely affected when none come. Nor should the unhelpful boy be upset by the helping boy's attitude.

I think that the author missed a great opportunity though, to look at other lessons here. He focused on only one perspective, which doesn't seem very zen to me. There's a better story here. For all I know this is the one which inspired this children's version.

It would have been a better story had we looked at each perspective in turn, and then looked at how things could have been better all around. Of course, in real life, you rarely get an opportunity like that, but in real life, there is a concept of justice and equity. It doesn't do to let those who are selfish, ungrateful, fraudulent, arrogant, or endlessly demanding. It is better to teach them the error of their ways - or to at least try. Only one lesson was learned here where several could have been. None of the other lessons were considered, which lessen the lesson! In a way, this is a very selfish lesson to teach a child. This was a very short story so there was room for lots more.

In some ways, this book is the polar opposite of one I reviewed favorably back in 2014. In that book, not focusing on the now was the point which was extolled. In this book, it seems to be just the opposite! Now that's zen! But I can't recommend this story as it stands. There's no still there, there!