Showing posts with label Sanjay Nambiar. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sanjay Nambiar. Show all posts

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!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Maybe: A Little Zen for Little Ones by Sanjay Nambiar

Title: Maybe: A Little Zen for Little Ones
Author: Sanjay Nambiar
Publisher: Umiya Publishing
Rating: WORTHY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is reward aplenty!

Maybe presents as a Zen-based approach to relating children's stories while teaching something useful, and it's part of a series.

When many people think of Zen, it's probably of that old trope "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" which is purposefully nonsensical because it's not about the answer, it's about the question, and how it derails ordered, reined-in thought. The point of Zen isn't thought; rather it lies in centering and allowing thoughts to run on by without trapping them - like enjoying nature without any focus on capturing animals or picking flowers.

The aim is not to be free of emotion, per se, but to live your life free of obsession, distraction, and misdirection. Perhaps a better catch-phrase than the 'one hand clapping' is "If you love something, let it go". That doesn't mean you have to say goodbye to it, but it's of no value to dwell on it, wishing for things which might never be, or trying to own things which don't lend themselves to ownership, especially not in the long-term.

This is how the main character in this book manages not to focus on the immediate, but to open herself to a much bigger picture. Of course, life isn't quite like this. We shouldn't expect that just because a bad thing happens, there must be a good thing coming right along behind it to balance your account, nor should we expect the inverse of that: a bad event must necessarily follow a good one. Good things don't come in threes. Neither do bad ones. But good and bad things do come.

We should realize, though, that it's worth trying to teach children that situations are not always permanent, and things which bring with them obsession, making it seem like they're everything in the world at the time, are not so important in the long run. The world is bigger than any of us, and pain goes away, tears dry, discomfort eases, and loss is forgotten.

Of course, it can be really hard to see this when it's happening, or fresh in memory! Our main character does an unlikely if admirable job in this regard. She's very equanimous, taking things in her stride, and not worrying over-much about events, even though some are uncomfortable and upsetting. She understands, unlike most children, that these things will pass and other things will arrive and take their place, and unlike all-too-many of us, she can live with that!

Would more children were like this! My own are too old for a book like this one, but they do tend to obsess on the now or the immediate, especially when it comes to wants as opposed to needs - and they're often conflating the two. They're growing out of what is traditionally considered to be children's toys, and moving on towards more grown-up interests, but they still grow too attached to things, and too upset by failure and loss. The older is much more Zen than the younger (he's actually better than me!), and our hope is that the younger will grow to follow his sibling, at least in this regard.

A book like this is a good thing to have around, especially for younger children, but it's also paradoxical - that we should value a book which is, after all, only a passing phase! That's why it's important to keep in mind that it's not the book that's important in the long-run, but whether you can help your children to learn something from it while it's in your possession. I hope so. Even writing this review has taught me something. I've never thought of blogging books as a form of mediation, only as fun! How very un-Zen of me!