I discovered Zen about the same time I became a parent. So I sought out Zen- and Taoist-themed books as my children grew. Some to guide my wife and I, and some to delight the children with vibrant pictures and good storytelling rooted in a Zen Buddhist worldview.
And I’ve built quite a library. In subsequent posts, I’ll write about all of them. But if I had to chose just two to give to new parents, they would be The Parent’s Tao Te Ching by William Martin and The Three Questions by Jon J. Muth.
Bill Martin has beed a student of the Tao and of Zen for many years. He and his wife run The Still Point Center for Zen Practice in California. This book is the first of his many re-imaginings of the Tao Te Ching (I also own his Sage’s Tao Te Ching which looks at the second half of life through Lao Tzu’s lens). Each of the 81 chapters corresponds to the 81 “chapters” of the Tao Te Ching. Martin poetically interprets each chapter from a parenting perspective, and adds a short commentary at the end of each. Here’s how the first lines of the famous first chapter (“The Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao”) read in his book:
You can speak to your children of life,
but your words are not life itself.
You can show them what you see,
but your showing and their seeing
are forever different things.
And this is the commentary he adds:
Go for a slow and mindful walk.
Show them every little thing that catches your eye.
Notice every little thing that catches theirs.
Don’t look for lessons or seek to teach great things.
The lesson will teach itself.
This is a wise and wonderful guide that stays on my night table.
The Three Questions by author and watercolorist Jon Muth is a retelling of a short story by Leo Tolstoy. In it, a young boy seeks to answer three basic but very important questions: When is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do? During the course of this beautifully illustrated story, the boy discovers that the answers do not come from his animal friends, but from within himself and his own experience.
The book is laid out and sold as a children’s book, but it really is a powerful story for anyone at any age. I have told friends that if I had to give up all but one of my books on Zen and philosophy, this is the one I would keep. The message is that strong and that simple. I am moved every time I read it.