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365 Days For Travelers

The Heart of a Child

     What is the heart of a child? Do you have it? The heart of a child is a Buddha's mind, a mother's heart, and a saint's heart. Compassion, honesty, innocence, and benevolence are all the heart of a child.

     We have the heart of a child when we witness and cannot stand the suffering of sentient beings or when we feel anguished upon seeing others in physical pain. We have the heart of a child when we take in mistreated animals, establish foster homes for abused children, and care for the elderly and the needy, or the injured and the physically challenged.

     Manjusri Bodhisattva is called Manjusri the Child because he has the heart of a child. In pursuit of the Dharma, Sudhana went to learn from fifty-three teachers. Similarly, sages such as Confucius, Mencius, Laozi, and Zhuangzi were all called "child." Among examples of women, Mulan fought in battle in place of her father; Tiying pled her father's case of injustice; and Sumagadhi spoke the Dharma. They also had the heart of a child.

     Among the emperors in Chinese history, Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty was noted for his heart of a child. One day, he was playing with a little bird in his palace, and when he heard that his minister Wei Zheng was there to see him, he quickly hid the bird in his sleeve. As he tried to stay composed while talking to Wei, he was actually thinking of the little bird, afraid that it would suffocate in his sleeve. He became so anxious that he sweated profusely. His true heart of a child was most touching.

     Qing Emperor Qianlong also had the heart of a child. One day, he overheard his minister Ji Xiaolan call him the "old head child" behind his back. Qianlong made use of the chance to give Ji a hard time and asked for a good explanation, saying if he were not satisfied with it, he would severely punish Ji. Being exceptionally wise, Ji replied, "Emperors are addressed as 'ten-thousand-years old' and are, therefore, 'old.' 'Head' suggests that an emperor is the head of all the people he rules, and being the son of heaven, he is a 'child.'" In this case, both the emperor and the minister exhibited the heart of a child.

     In American politics, there are also people with the heart of a child.When Adlai Stevenson was running for president, he often said that children were his priority in order to win the affection of his voters. On election day in 1952 he gave a talk to a group of schoolchildren and asked, "I would like to ask all of you children to indicate, by holding up your hands, how many of you would like to be Governor of Illinois the way I am?" After the children raised their hands, he said, "Well, that's almost unanimous. Now, I would like to ask all of the governers if they would like to be one of you kids." Then he raised his hand right away, winning the applause and laughter of the parents. Although Stevenson lost the election twice to Eisenhower, his heart of a child won the hearts of Americans.

     In the Twenty-Four Chinese Stories of Filial Piety, sixty-year-old Lao Laizi often acted like a child to entertain his aging parents. In Buddhism, there are examples of masters helping their disciples who had become abbots by serving tea and fruit to guests. They are all expressing their natural kindness.

     Humor is the language of the heart of a child, and a person of authority acting as a subordinate exemplifies this behavior. Those with the heart of a child will be good elders and masters. The heart of a child is actually what we call the heart of bodhi!

  • The Heart of a Child    5:21
      Recorded by Steven Chan   Toronto Radiant Subchapter