But a Reflection on The Mind of the Child:by Tyler Sheaves
Nietzsche and Eastern Philosophy
on May 24, 2017
To be childish. This is not something many aspire to. Children tend to be disruptive, unfocused, and harbingers of trouble. Why then would many philosophers, Eastern and Western, reference the mind of a child as being an objective for people's states of mind? Do children have embedded philosophy that enables them to be more ‘enlightened’ ? Philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche and Takuan Soho provide the most compelling explanation for what it means to have ‘the mind of a child’ and why we should all aspire to obtain it.
Born in Germany in 1844, Friedrich Nietzsche was a philosophical pioneer who uncompromisingly challenged conventional European morality and religious views. (Anderson) He challenged veraciously that conforming to social norms would result in any sort of benefit to a person. He realized that humans were lustful beings that longed to fulfil their desires. He identified that modern society has tried to mold people into beings who repress their desires, namely, through religion. (Anderson)
Nietzsche did, however, support certain religiously originated ideals. He believed that the spirit passed three phases to become strong and free. Nietzsche identified these three stages in his most famous work, Thus Spoke Zarathustra. In the story, Zarathustra, the main character, is imparting his beliefs of the three metamorphoses of the spirit to his audience.
Children say Yes to life. Children view life as a game and everything in it as a pawn. They are forgetful. They harbor no resentment or preconceptions, and thus, as Nietzsche puts it they are "a new beginning". (Nietzsche p. 139) They see the world as a potential and not an attachment. Initially, children want nothing more than pleasure. As the world corrupts them, they begin to become attracted to 'the dragon'.
- The first phase, says Zarathustra, is burden. Likened to a camel bearing a load, the first phase was one in which the spirit is tested and humbled. This test can be the rigors of day to day life. The humility can come from failure or honoring one's enemies.
- In the second phase the spirit evolves from a camel to a lion by surviving isolation. The lion can abandon conventional values and survive with his own strength rather than the recipe for survival imparted by society. The lion's purpose is to destroy the dragon. The dragon's name is "thou shalt" and his scales are golden and he sits upon the materials of the world. (Nietzsche, p.139) By naming the dragon this, Nietzsche implies that the dragon represents tenants which society, or religion, imparts on our spirits. The lion longs to, and can, defeat the dragon. Therefore, the lion is a destroyer of tenants and ideals and an attachment to things. The lion, which analogues to going into the wilderness alone, is the final preparatory step to building a strong spirit. However, the lion is not able to create his own beliefs or values. Nietzsche's final transformation addresses this. It is one suggested by eastern philosophy for thousands of years:
- (In the third phase,) the transformation to a child.
Nietzsche's three phases, oddly enough, relate to several religious doctrines.
Zen Buddhism is a religion that is a mix of Indian Mahayana Buddhism and Taoism. Its main goal is to detach a person from logical thought, language, and any other filters through which thoughts are processed through. Thus, Zen aims to enable a person to be truly ‘free’ in the sense of decisions. A truly Zen person would appear completely spontaneous in actions and do whatever they felt was right or pleasing. Zen Buddhism entices its followers to find their inner child and to follow the whims of that internal voice. It goes so far in this ideal to say that Buddha himself is the mind of a child, or that he survives as the mind of the child. (BBC) To show the utility of such an ideal the great Zen Master, Takuan Soho, led a life of leadership and mentorship. He imparted his Zen Buddhist ideals on great leaders and warriors, namely, the shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu and the greatest Japanese swordsman of all time Miyamoto Musashi. (Soho)
- The first phase, the camel, as Nietzsche phrased it, was like Christianity's doctrine of humbling oneself through sacrifice or demanding work to mortify one's pride. (Cottingham p.787)
- The second phase of isolating oneself to bring out one's strength seems to be a constant in all religions. Mohammad and Moses travel to mountains, alone, to hear the word of god. Siddhartha leaves the castle walls, alone, to become the Buddha. These are heavily religious doctrines coming from a man who believed in dismissing religious ideals, which impair ones search to fulfill their desires This suggests that Nietzsche is leaving his followers the gems from each religion. He takes out what he likes from them and discards the rest.
- His final stage is a gem which is also identified in Zen Buddhism. Nietzsche says that our spirits must become children. Our spirits must be a wide eyed sacred "Yes" (Nietzsche p.139) what Nietzsche means by this is that children do not turn down opportunities to fulfil their desires. Children are not as easily pacified or contented by the tenants of society. Children know only what is in front of them and do not ponder much else. This, Nietzsche suggests, is the final stage of the evolution of the spirit.
In a small village in Japan in 1573 Takuan Soho was born. Raised in the snow-covered mountains of the province of Tajima, Takuan took an unorthodox path as he did not continue the legacy of Samurai status his family had achieved, but instead dedicated himself to Zen Buddhism. Just as Nietzsche surprised all and became a full professor at the early age of 24, Soho became the abbot of a major Zen temple in Kyoto at the age of 35, which was unprecedented. He served as advisor to Tokugawa Iemitsu, who was the third shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan. He inspired Miyamoto Musashi to become more than a swordsman, but also a philosopher prompting him to write The Book of Five Rings. In the text The Unfettered Mind, several letters written by Soho are compiled to explain his philosophy in depth.
Soho states that the mind will go to a place of stagnation if the mind is detained by some matter. (Soho) This place he calls the abiding place. It is the place where modern people exist in. It is this place that Nietzsche was frustrated with. He saw himself and those around him in it and he wanted to get us, and himself, out. Soho has a solution for this: immovable wisdom. Immoveable wisdom means that the mind is fixed in a state of openness and thus can apply the wisdom of intelligence freely. Soho applies his Zen Buddhist beliefs to the principle of immoveable wisdom to relate it to the state a child is in. They fixate on nothing yet absorb so much. A child can observe without fixation; they cannot enter the abiding place but they exist in a state of immoveable wisdom. Soho provided his students with the ability to have supreme focus by, first, not placing focus on any one thing, but rather the whole scene in front of them, and, subsequently, to expand the scope of their letting go. Nietzsche and Soho have obvious parallels in their works and it points to a larger need that humans have.
People tend to fixate on events or things. Not necessarily the want or desire of the thing, because often the things that people want are filling voids in their lives, but once the thing has been obtained they continue to let it consume them. The dragon in Nietzsche's text Thus Spoke Zarathustra is the embodiment of this obsession. Like the dragon, people sit on their mounds of wealth and stare at it and ponder it and they themselves begin to identify with these things (analogous to the dragon's golden scales). The things, then, define us. Not our essence or our minds. Our material goods give us our identity, and thus we, like the dragon, are lost and evil. We cloak the anguish of living these lives consumed by things by conforming to the established morals or religious doctrines, never losing sight of our accumulated things long enough to establish our own.
Nietzsche seems to have a more refined version of Soho's philosophy. The Unfettered Mind is extremely dense in philosophical ideals, often cloaked in poetry or stories, but the ideals tend to be very broad, and all lead to the same conclusion: the mind fixates on things and falls back to preconceptions, and to stop this we must try and maintain an open mind, and try to shut off our attachments to all things and ideas. The result Soho tries to achieve is the same results that Zen Buddhism promotes. His aim is to get people to live lives guided by their wisdom rather than their logic. Nietzsche promotes the same goal in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Zarathustra, however, provides more insight. He comes down from the mountain and immediately an old man calls him a 'child'. This seems to be a type of foreshadowing, because it appears to be a source of approval from the old man, rather than an insult. Zarathustra makes his speech in which he proclaims the steps to achieve his own state of being a 'child'.
Zarathustra's new philosophy is methodical and implies that the mind of a child, which Soho promotes as one that can be achieved simply through centering and then detaching ourselves, is much more complex to achieve. Nietzsche shows that to be truly in the state of a child we must evolve our spirit first. Zarathustra's algorithm includes:
We will then follow our desires. Implicit in this philosophy is that our lusts and desires will not be material as we have crushed the attachment and control that we give to material things and morals in the steps of evolving our spirit. Thus, Nietzsche and Soho have a strong common ground in their approaches to achieving the mind of a child. They both promote an evolution of the spirit. Likely, both Soho and Nietzsche know that in order to achieve the final state multiple stages are needed, but only Nietzsche elaborates in full detail. Perhaps, Nietzsche simply gives a specific route to the mind of a child, whereas Soho points in the direction. Either way, they both can provide significant insight in the journey.
- burdening ourselves,
- embracing the burden,
- renouncing all values, ethics and morals which bond our spirit to society,
- finding peace in solitude,
- crushing the attachment to commandments of our lives, and,
- finally, living our lives detached from all the burdens we are now free from; a life as a child.
Nietzsche and Soho identify the issue of living lives consumed by things and governed by morals and established doctrines. Soho imparts his idea of immoveable wisdom, tells his followers to be conscious of the abiding place, and then imparts his ideals of Zen Buddhism by explaining how dethatching oneself from the material world and allowing your mind to see the world and not the filters we place on it can make a profoundly positive impact on one's life. Nietzsche provides a more thorough path to this state of mind by first establishing the prerequisites for achieving the mind of a child, and then explains the effects of such a mindset. Both philosophers, however, explain that the result of achieving the mind of the child is an evolved spirit. One that is more robust and more likely to live a fulfilled life of purpose. A life that says Yes and I will. A life that makes its own way.
Anderson, R. Lanier. "Friedrich Nietzsche." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University, 17 Mar. 2017. Web. 24 May 2017. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/nietzsche/.
BBC. "Religions - Buddhism: Zen Buddhism". BBC. BBC, 02 Oct. 2002. Web. 24 May 2017. http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/buddhism/subdivisions/zen_1.shtml.
Cottingham, John. Western Philosophy: An Anthology. Malden: Blackwell, 2013. Print.
Nietzsche, Friedrich, and Walter Kaufmann. The Portable Nietzsche. New York: Viking, 1960.
Soho, Takuan, and William Scott Wilson. The Unfettered Mind. Boston, MA: Shambhala, 2012.
© 2017 Tyler Sheeves