Someone has said: ‘The heart of God is the heart of a child.’ In a way it is true that a child’s heart is pure and free from malice, and we can also call him Mu-ga or without-I. But we cannot say that this no-I of the child is the Mu-ga of the Buddha; it has to be admitted that it is not the non-egoity and freedom from malice of the Buddha. We must be clear on the point.
Take for instance this poem:
The infant step by step is attaining wisdom:
Alas that he is also moving away from the Buddha!
The child is indeed free from malice and he seems pure, but gradually with the years he advances in the wisdom of all the goods and bads and rights and wrongs. Sad it is that through this he becomes estranged from the Buddha. And so—he must return to that long-lost child. . . . But when we say that, do we really mean it? In a sense the child certainly is without-I and seems pure, but in fact it is not so. It is a Mu-ga of escape from the sufferings of life, a purity which knows nothing of human sorrows, whereas the Mu-ga of the Buddha comes forth from out of that suffering.
What is human suffering? It is our worldly ties which torment us on account of mistaken sticking to selfhood. A state of no-I, when by not accepting those ties we escape from them, can perhaps be called purity. But it is not the true Mu-ga. It is an unconscious state, and the state of the child is in fact an unconscious state.
Unconscious here means that the self is not connected with the world of others. The false sticking to ego is not yet cognized, the thought ‘I’ has not yet arisen. Our thought of I arises on the basis of consciousness, but in the state of infancy the sticking to egoity has not yet appeared in consciousness. So it is not a state of no-I but rather a state of no-consciousness, namely a world of instinct. It is the pure instinctive world which is the world of the infant’s no-I. When he wants to cry he cries, when he wants to laugh he just laughs, and that is his world. He acts by instinct. Since he has not yet any attachment to ego, his world is simply things as they are, and there is no mud of ties of passion. But neither is there the lotus of Bodhi.
A neighbour made a present of some very delicious cakes to a certain family. He gave them to the little boy. It so happened that an important guest came on a visit at that very time, and the mother wished to make use of the cakes to offer the guest. But the child, to whom they had been given, resisted the proposal. ‘They were given to me and it’s not fair to give them to an uncle from somewhere . . .’ and finally the mother had recourse to a lie. ‘They are yours, but please just lend them to Mummy to put before the uncle. The uncle, you know, is a perfect gentleman who would never take one. When he’s gone I give them back to you.’ ‘Well, if it’s only lending . . .’ and the cakes were taken and laid before the guest. Now as it happened this man was unusual in that he did not drink rice- wine at all, not even a drop, but he had a great liking for sweet things, and between sips of tea he began on them The little boy had stationed himself at the crack of the door, and saw the uncle, who was not supposed to eat anything according to what he had been told, take one and then another. He managed to hold himself in while the fourth cake went, but at the fifth a howl burst forth: ‘Mummy, the uncle’s eating all my cakes!’
Is this no-I? Is it purity? If this sort of no-I is the life of Mu-ga taught in Buddhism, then it will be destructive of society. And so we can see the child is neither pure nor without I. It is simply that he has not yet risen to consciousness of individual selfhood. “When they talk of returning to the state of a child it is not really returning to childhood that they mean; if you did return, what would it be? The no-I of the child is not the real no-I but no-cousciousness. His world is the world of unalloyed innate instincts, of responding to their drives. When he wants to laugh just laughing, when he wants to cry just crying, such is the world of the child. And in that happy-go-lucky state there are no ties but also no Bodhi. In this sense we should understand the Vimalakirti Sutra.
People today follow their whims and think human life can somehow be fulfilled by so doing. They think the point of life is this laughing when the innate impulse comes to laugh, and crying when it comes to them to cry. Those who think the thing is to express the impulse as it comes have in a sense the no-I of children; cynics call them the bread-and-butter of life, but the truth is that they are simply happy-go-lucky.
by Abbot Obora of the Soto Zen sect