Friday, July 5, 2019
Nearing the end of a week in a small house shared with an eight-week old infant, I offer reflections on infancy, living-in-the-moment, and Buddhism.
The rented house sits in the middle of nowhere.
You can’t see another structure from it.
It’s surrounded by cornfields.
They could’ve filmed Field of Dreams here, but it would take a lot of mowing. Besides, they filmed that in Iowa.
Returning to the topic at hand, my reflections include considerable awe at, and even envy of, the being of this little human infant.
I’ve cooed at, held, diaper-changed, and otherwise hung out with the teeny, tiny little girl most of the week. She’s spit up on my shirt. She’s loudly farted, and then spasmed out a moist poop. She’s shrieked horrific cries and, seconds later, giggled uproariously.
What could this have to do with Buddhism?
The Buddha’s Four Noble Truths, considered a brief overview of his teachings, consist of the following:
- The Truth of Suffering is best understood in terms of order and chaos. We humans create order wherever we can. But, wherever we do, it’s short-lived. People get sick and die, buildings collapse, and entire civilizations thriving 3000 years ago, or even 100 years ago, are long gone. We carry the awareness of chaos lingering on the edges of our worlds; further, we know, on some level, chaos eventually dominates.
- The Truth of the Cause of Suffering means, in a word, attachment. Attachment causes pain. Many misinterpret this as suggesting we should strive for detachment. But this is precisely incorrect. Ideally, according to the Buddhists, you live fully engaged in life. However, you relinquish attachment to any one subjective experience. If you’re having a great Saturday night, you don’t cling to it because it will pass; the same goes for an awful Wednesday spent lying in bed with the flu. Experience these without clinging to them, and suffering ends.
- The Truth of the End of Suffering refers to Buddhist practice, particularly meditation. How ironic that mindfulness enjoys a recent upsurge in popularity. Many think it a new discovery! In truth, the Buddha preached the practice 2500 years ago. He suggested meditation, the practice of single-focused attention, as a primary means of nurturing the capacity for mindfulness, for living-in-the-moment.
- The Truth of the Path that Leads to the End of Suffering. Here, the Buddha referred not only to the Four Noble Truths, but the Eightfold path which, as I will soon demonstrate, applies naught to a two-month old baby girl.
Because she’s got it down.
She displays it without will or practice.
The Noble Eightfold Path consists of right understanding, thought, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness and concentration.
Herein lies the envy problem:
This little baby already MASTERS all these aspirational goals!
“Goals?” she thinks with a smirk. “I do them all.”
Here is how she spends a typical hour:
She feeds at the breast, eyes rolled back in ecstasy. Attachment, hell no. She knows it won’t last. Next, she pulls away, “milk-drunk,” as the saying goes. Depending on her mood-of-the-moment, she either coos or sleeps or farts or poops.
She might fall off to sleep, sit still, or become uncomfortable.
The latter calls nearby hominids to action!
What can one do?
You might try burping her. She may or may not comply because she’s entirely absorbed in the moment. Perhaps she’ll still be crying. Diaper changes work sometimes, bouncing her on knees at other times, and placing her flat with a mobile above her head may help.
Oftentimes, though, nothing works. She operates on her own, subject-to-change-at-a-moment, schedule.
Or is it even a schedule?
I think not.
She lives in accordance with her own needs and feelings at the moment.
Sometimes, she cries and cries.
At other times, she laughs and giggles.
Occasionally, she lies flat on her back in tranquility and, I mean,
(I doubt any of us ever achieve that level of tranquility again).
(Perhaps addressing the so-called opioid crisis requires incorporating the arguably permanent yearning for such a feeling of peace).
All the time, however, this little baby-girl’s engaged with the world.
She’s always looking out, seemingly exploring outer and inner worlds. She’s unendingly curious. She likes faces, particularly, but also lights, plants, walls, carpet, hair, furniture, birds, squirrels, pots, pans, knives, forks, eggs, toast, and so on.
When turning inward, she seems amused, even surprised, by her eating, crying, giggling, barfing, farting, or pooping.
You get the idea.
Babies are little Buddhas.
They enter the world with innate Buddha-natures.
Their lack of language or “knowledge” diminishes nothing of the enormity of their teachings.
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Alan Karbelnig, PhD, ABPP