Innocent Wisdom?

by Christopher Lovejoy on August 4, 2013

Innocent wisdom: provocative oxymoron or paradoxical realization? If pure innocence is genuine innocence, then wise innocence is a return to genuine innocence with the benefit of hindsight.

Two issues arise when I reflect on the interplay between innocence and wisdom: (1) in the presence of virtue and vice, is discernment enough? Or must I also include and expect judgment?; and (2) is the world just about me, myself, and I? Is the world just what I think it is, of what I reflect and project?

For the purely innocent, these questions never arise; for the wisely innocent, they always do.

Tao Te Ching, Verse 49

Verse 49 is clear about its answers to the questions posed above:

(1) discernment is enough; (2) you are the world in which you live.

Aware of the needs of others,
sages have no fixed minds.

Those who are good
they treat with goodness;
those who are bad
they also treat with goodness,
as the nature of their being is good.

They are kind to the kind
and they are kind to the unkind,
as the nature of their being is kindness.
They are faithful to the faithful
and they are faithful to the unfaithful.
Sages live in harmony with all
below heaven: they see everything
as their own selves; they love
everyone as their own children.

All people are drawn to them;
they behave as little children.

Edited slightly to enhance flow and to reflect more inclusive language

Ref: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao

As you can well imagine, for many, these words challenge.

My Impressions of the Verse

I appreciate the wisdom in this verse, but I also know there are those who would dismiss it as naive.

Aware of the needs of others,
sages have no fixed minds.

No fixed minds: no minds conditioned by fear, no minds attached to the objects of desire, no minds fixed by pride and prejudice, no minds bent on seeking retribution or revenge.

With no fixed mind, just imagine how easy it would be to be mindful of the needs of others.

Those who are good
they treat with goodness;
those who are bad
they also treat with goodness,
as the nature of their being is good.

As they stand, these words seem naïve, as they seem to nullify the moral dimension of life. Might there be a way to justify validate their use in daily discourse?

They are kind to the kind
and they are kind to the unkind,
as the nature of their being is kindness.
They are faithful to the faithful
and they are faithful to the unfaithful.
Sages live in harmony with all
below heaven: they see everything
as their own selves; they love
everyone as their own children.

Do I have the presence of mind to face injustice with enough goodness and kindness, with enough mercy and compassion, and would I not betray someone if I did?

According to this portion of the verse, sages live in worlds of their own making, with a knowingness that what they do to and for others they also do to and for themselves.

All people are drawn to them;
they behave as little children.

I surmise that most of us find delight in the presence of innocent wisdom, but as a way of being, is innocent wisdom realistic, reasonable, sensible? Might it be problematic?

Implications for Personal Fulfillment

Let us revisit the two questions posed near the beginning of this post in light of reading verse 49.

For ease of reference, here they are again: (1) in the presence of virtue and vice, is discernment enough? Or must I also include and expect judgment?; and (2) is the world just about me, myself, and I? Is the world just what I think it is, of what I reflect and project?

As these two questions are intimately related, a response to these questions is also intimately related.

I think the best place to start, by way of response, is with the reality and ubiquity of judgment, which is anything but intimate, even if such judgment is intimately expressed. Affirmative or negative, judgment separates; judgment divides. These are the obvious effects, but the causes are a little more complicated.

We’re all familiar with blaming, shaming, cursing, condemning, and criticizing, whether they be sporadic or sustained, subtle or obvious. This is the cold, dark side of judgment. On the greener side of the fence, we have praising, adoring, blessing, honoring, and appreciating. This the warm, bright side of judgment.

A pervasive or persistent fear of lack or loss, real or perceived, hiding behind a cloak of pretense, lies at the heart of judgment. Judgment never judges having and doing; rather, judgment judges the heart of being for what it has or does, for what it had or did, for what it doesn’t have or do, or for what it didn’t have or do.

In courts of law, judgments are really discernments of having and doing. If discernment discerns having and doing or not having and doing without aiming and thrusting its arrow at the heart of being, then judgment judges, affirmatively or negatively, the heart of being for having or not having, for doing or not doing.

If negative judgment judges the heart of being when having or doing (or not having or doing) triggers or confronts a pervasive or persistent fear of lack or loss, real or perceived, then affirmative judgment might judge the heart of being when having or doing (or not having or doing) prevents or lessens or removes such pervasive or persistent fear.

With each passing verse of the Tao Te Ching, in keeping with the Tao, in harmony with the Tao, discernment honors the heart of being in spite of having and doing (or not having and doing). Judgment, on the other hand, takes perverse pleasure in feeding off the life energy of being, sucking the juice from the heart for all its worth.

Let us further consider the contrast between discernment and judgment.

“You’re good”, “I’m better”, “they’re the best” – these judgments not only draw or suck the life from the heart of being, they also try (rather insecurely) to create a static world; judged as bad, or worse, or the worst, it might take a long time for a heart of being to show otherwise. On the other hand, “this is good”, “this is better”, “this is best” are mere discernments of quality and vitality that spare the heart of being.

The habit of calling yourself or others good or bad, right or wrong, sows separation and division, putting you in danger of reinforcing a punitive, retributive attitude at risk of manifesting clouds of hatred, anger, and threat, where love, acceptance, and kindness can no longer be trusted.

When opposed, challenged, or threatened, sages rarely if ever judge another heart of being because they remain innocent at the heart of being. Rather, they contain the fear; they notice, observe, witness, and discern. With peaceful inner postures of presence, sages welcome what is presented as opportunities for discernment.

With this moral and metaphysical context in mind, let us return to the questions posed above: (1) in the presence of virtue and vice, is discernment enough? Or must I also include and expect judgment?; and (2) is the world just about me, myself, and I? Is the world just what I think it is, of what I reflect and project?

As I mentioned already, and this bears repeating, these two questions are intimately related. If the world really is just about me and what I think it is, of what I reflect and project at a deep level, then any judgment against anyone is ultimately a confession of my own guilt or shame.

Any judgment against anyone – that is, against the very heart of being – because of or in spite of having this or doing that or not having this or not doing that, is ultimately a confession that I have neglected to incorporate my experience of pain and discomfort.

With any experience of pain or discomfort, can I be present with it long enough to incorporate it, to integrate it for the sake of wholeness? To treat it like the messenger that it is? To view it as an indicator that something is right rather than wrong? Or do I feel compelled to turn away from it, to run from it, to block it and distract myself from it, to sedate it or control it, to suppress it or pretend that it doesn’t even exist?

Am I willing to make space for my pain and discomfort so that I can receive it, discharge it, and release it, or do I feel compelled to bury it (or keep it buried) and have it appear in a place at a time in a form that I can no longer control or care to control?

If reactive judgment is a natural consequence of pushing away my pain and discomfort, responsive discernment is a natural consequence of making time and space for my pain and discomfort, which bodes well for enhancing my appreciation of genuine comfort and pleasure. Alert, assured, blissfully responsive discernment and a peaceful inner of posture of presence go hand in hand.

The issue of evil no longer seems problematic.

With responsive discernment, I can see that evil acts are committed by those who are vibrational matches for them, whether or not they have chosen to set themselves up to bury their pain – and experience a seemingly endless string of reactive judgments.

The victims of such acts might also be vibrational matches for them or merely innocent bystanders (if living in a free will zone is to have any meaning). From a broader perspective, and this might sound strange to those who are not familiar with this way of thinking, the commission of such acts might have been agreed upon prior to birth, either as a way to satisfy karma or to have the experience of serving up some contrast.

With responsive discernment, I can pay attention to subtle messages that others convey to me, whether they’re aware of doing so or not. It is not uncommon for me to hear wisdom being spoken to me through others, regardless of their level of intelligence or sophistication.

With responsive discernment, I can hold the contrast, or appreciate it when others hold the contrast for me, so as to stimulate learning and growth. For example, cheapskates, skeptics, and cynics can serve valuable functions in having us come to certain realizations.

Holding the contrast, especially in these times of transition, I can appreciate, with responsive discernment, the essential difference between a fixed mind and a fluid mind. If a fixed mind says “give me a reason to reject you”, a fluid mind says “I’m willing to meet you half way.”

Absent reactive judgment, I am free to explore, experience, and expand the limits of responsive discernment to realize a deeper, fuller, more fulfilling connection with the Tao.

Fortunately for me, the cultivation of innocent wisdom is still a work in progress.

Next up: Immortality Realized (Living as an Immortal)

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