As Little Children

By James A. Long

In the Christian scriptures we read that the Master Jesus said: "Except ye become as little children ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" -- a statement so simple that for years and years we have failed to give it the attention it should have. To whom was Jesus speaking when he made that statement? Not to children, or those just come of age. He was speaking to older people, men and women who had had many problems, both material and spiritual, and who had come to the Master for what help he might be able to give them. He saw their problems, both inner and outer, and saw how they were trying to solve them. I don't doubt that he saw in their faces exactly what anyone may see today in the faces of people throughout the world.

In times of stress and crisis we often become so involved in the immediate situation that we lose sight of the fact that it is only one point in a long series of situations, the culmination of years, perhaps lifetimes. Because we do not recognize that fact, we lose perspective and cut ourselves off almost completely from the valuable experiences we have had leading up to the present which, if understood, would help us resolve our current problem. Not being able to make the connection between our circumstances and what we have done in the past to bring them about, we begin to think that we are being imposed upon by life and start to blame everyone -- our family, close friends, business associates, neighbors, the government, the world, anything -- but ourselves. That is what Jesus must have seen in the eyes of those to whom he spoke those words: how completely clouded was their immediate consciousness, how many thick veils they had allowed to be built between what they were when the Master saw them, and what they were as little children.

All of us have made our lives difficult and complicated beyond any necessity. We may pride ourselves on our learning, our erudition, our understanding of truth. And yet spiritual teachers have ever reminded us that the heart-doctrine is to be preferred to the eye-doctrine: the learning that is native to the heart, the intuition, the spiritual will, rather than the learning that is purely intellectual and motivated by the human will. We should have sufficient discernment to realize that the problems of life are solved not by reason, but by intuition; not by sentimentality, but by judgment.

Those of us who love children are astounded at times at the intuition they express, amazed at their clear perception. We know, if we watch them at play, that they have pure judgment despite their few years of experience, and that sentimentality does not influence them very much. Children ask us questions, astonishing questions sometimes, that go right to the core of basic issues that often confound the world's philosophers. We have great difficulty in giving them an answer that will satisfy them if we appeal to their reason or sentiment alone. But how their eyes sparkle when we appeal to their innate intuition and judgment!

Why did the Master urge his followers to become as little ones if they would attain the kingdom of heaven? He was appealing to that quality within each one of us which is like the little child. Let us look at ourselves today. What happens to us as we grow up? We go through school, perhaps university if we are fortunate. Then we enter all the vicissitudes of life and as we progress, we begin to feel as though we were learning a great deal. But what do we do with that learning, whether it is scholastic or practical, religious or scientific? In many cases, I'm afraid, we take what has been given us as if it were so many spoken or written words, and merely file it away in our minds for possible use later on. This process goes on for years and, as a result, when we are confronted with a difficult situation, we attempt to draw on our knowledge and make every effort to pull out of that file in our mind those things which will help us solve our problem, but so often it is not solved satisfactorily. Now why? Here again is what the Master Jesus was driving at. I wonder what would have happened if, instead of merely absorbing each thing we had learned with our brain and filing it away in our minds, we had taken the knowledge or experience to ourselves and said: Now what does this mean to me insofar as my immediate situation is concerned, and how can I utilize it in making myself more valuable to the world? After thinking it over and over, we may find some application by which it has value. When we do that, we file it away in our heart, in the permanent part of our consciousness. If that process be followed, then when we are brought face to face with serious problems, the mind will not be in the way. Instead of trying to worry out the answers mentally, we would discover that the heart would quite naturally attract us to the answer. The intuition would have become our guide, and the mind its obedient servant, the implementor of its directives -- not its master.

On the face of it, it might seem a most difficult task for those of us who are older and have made many mistakes, perhaps even grave ones, to become in a short time like little children. But that is not the case. The Master Jesus knew it was not difficult or he would not have admonished the people of his day to do just that. And especially is this true once a person has determined to try to be of service to his fellow men.

Let us ask ourselves this simple question: what is the foundation in the child's consciousness that allows his intuition and judgment to operate so beautifully? He is freshly arrived from another shore. At his tender age he is unencumbered by an awareness of his past or his future, so that he has a truly virgin consciousness with which to prepare for the experiences ahead. He has come into life, as Wordsworth so graphically phrased it, "trailing clouds of glory." What does the child bring with him, most of all? It is trust -- that genuine foundation upon which the spiritual growth of the world must be built. What human being who has any love in his heart cannot recognize that implicit trust in the eyes of a child who newly looks upon a world and those around him as something greater than himself, something that he hopes to become? But as he goes through life, he finds less and less trust in the hearts of those around him. As a result, he becomes confused, maybe even bitter.

I have said that it is simple to become as little children. There is a natural way of doing this, which may not appeal to us because we are human. But it has been the same all down the ages: Man, know thyself! That injunction is timeless, as potent today as when first enunciated. The only way we can know ourselves is to each search our consciousness and face ourself. If we can do this honestly, we will stop blaming others for our trials. But because we are so cluttered up with our filing system of mental facts, which we are so fond of, we cannot break through to our hearts where intuition and help reside. Once we determine to face ourselves and assume the full responsibility for our circumstances, however, the gods stoop down to help, at unexpected times, through unexpected persons, and in unexpected ways. It is a beautiful experience. This inviolable law offers the foundation in fact of the famous expression of Hercules to the wagoner: "Put your shoulder to the wheel; the gods help those who help themselves." Until we become as little children we shall never attain that state of consciousness where we feel the full value and help of the spiritual forces that protect mankind.

We may begin this process of self-knowledge and character building by acknowledging that we are not always right, but are probably wrong more than we are right. In time we may realize that no one of us is any better than the worst among us, nor any worse than the best among us. This is the basis of true brotherhood. Once we grasp that fact literally, and allow its truth and significance to soak into our consciousness, we will have an example of such dynamic spiritual value to offer to the world that ultimately its force will turn all nations in the direction of true harmony and peace. And if each of us will contribute even one tiny drop to the world's reservoir of spiritual strength, we will be fulfilling our responsibilities as helpers of mankind.

(From Sunrise magazine, February/March 2004; copyright © 2003 Theosophical University Press)

Human Being Menu

He does not believe who does not live according to his beliefs. -- Thomas Fuller