Saturday, 8 August 2009

Positive Qualities of a Childlike Mind

Question: What are some of the positive qualities of a childlike mind?

Tenzin Palmo:
An example of a childlike quality is when children are in the midst of intense grief and then someone gives them a lollipop. The tears disappear and they giggle and smile. They have completely forgotten that a few minutes ago they had been grief-stricken. A childlike quality of the mind really means a mind which is fresh, which sees things as if for the first time.

Once someone did a test on meditators'...brainwaves. They tested someone who was doing a formal Hindu style meditation and a Zen master. This was to find out what the difference was, because they both said they were meditating, but each was doing a very different kind of meditation. They also tested a non-meditator. Every three minutes, they made a sudden loud noise. It was regular. The first person they tested was the one who didn't know how to meditate. The first time this person heard the loud noise, he became very agitated. The second time he was less agitated. The third time there was some vague agitation, and then the fourth time he more or less ignored it. The person doing the Hindu meditation didn't react to the noise at all. He didn't hear it. When the person doing the Zen meditation heard the noise, the mind went outwards, noted the noise and then went back in. The next time, the mind noted the noise and went back in. His reaction was unchanged. Each time, the mind noted the noise and went back in.

That tells us a lot about the quality of mind we are talking about. This is a mind which responds to something with attention and then returns to its own natural state. It doesn't elaborate on it, doesn't get caught up in it, doesn't get excited about it. It just notes that this is what is happening. Every time it happens, it notes it. It doesn't get blasé. It doesn't become conditioned. In this way, it is like a child's mind. When something interesting happens, it will note it and then let it go and move onto the next thing. This is what is meant by a childlike mind. It sees everything as if for the first time. It doesn't have this whole backlog of preconditioned ideas about things. You see a glass and you see it as it is, rather than seeing all the other glasses you have seen in your life, together with your ideas and theories about glasses and whether you like glasses in this or that shape, or the kind of glass you drank out of yesterday. We are talking about a mind which sees the thing freshly in the moment. That's the quality we are aiming for. We lose this as we become adults. We are trying to reproduce this fresh mind, which sees things without all this conditioning. But we do not want a mind which is swept away by its emotions.

- from Reflections on a Mountain Lake: Teachings on Practical Buddhism by Venerable Tenzin Palmo, published by Snow Lion Publications

* * *

Pilgrimage to the Cave in the Snow. In October 2010 Ven. Tenzin Palmo will accompany a pilgrimage tour, including the Indian Himalayan region of Lahaul and Spiti, Dharamsala, Tashi Jong, and Dongyu Gatsal Ling Nunnery, and other monasteries and temples. They expect to meet with various high Lamas during the tour. Limited space is available. Read more at or email them at


I came across this quote on Integral Options Cafe a blog by William Harryman after he shared it on twitter. I thought it was brilliant for two reasons - firstly as a follow-on to my previous post Simple Pleasures: Not So Simple which also relates to ideas we have of Childlike qualities, and secondly because it elucidates so elegantly the distinction between Zen meditation and some other forms. The later being something than can at times be rather difficult!

No comments: