Springingtiger's Blog

Poverty And Innocence

There is an Indian word swabhava which means being in one’s own true nature it is sometimes translated as ‘innocence’ its opposite is abhava which is translated as ‘poverty’. We tend to think of the opposite of innocence as guilt, but perhaps we are too conditioned by generations of crime writing.

When we are little children we have swabhava, innocence. It never occurs to us to wonder where the next meal is coming from, or whether someone will care for us, or to question the difference in skin colour in the nursery. We eat, we play, we sleep and life is good. Psychologists suggest we have an undeveloped sense of self, we lack possessiveness or any understanding of lack. However that innocence is soon under threat and starts to be eroded. Perhaps it begins with the first angry word, perhaps the first beating, a parent who leaves, a school bully and with it comes a sense of lack, a sense of loss. Instead of an innate awareness that life, the universe or God would provide for us we develop a belief that something is missing and we try to fill that empty space with ‘stuff’. This sense of lack is abhava.

I think when we read the story of Adam and Eve we tend to be so blinded by the guilt we have been taught to see in it that we fail to see the sense of loss. No longer can Adam and Eve just enjoy life in the abundance of the Garden of Eden they have to labour for everything, life becomes a struggle to get the means to live. No longer can they enjoy the casual unforced relationship with a God who walks with them in the garden and guides them gently, now they are bound by rules to worship God otherwise they will lose what little they have. Abundance ceases to be an innocent pleasure and is replaced by an aspiration to wealth and all the anxieties and burdens it brings.

Jesus saw the difference between swabhava and abhava as he said, “…unless you turn and become like children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” He told his followers not to be anxious about their material needs, “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to the span of life?” Sadly very few people find themselves able to ‘become as little children’ and so live lives of unremitting care. Either they suffer from a sense of lack or else from a fear of loss, and try to fill the emptiness with things or else with people, an ongoing search for whatever is missing be it material or emotional security.

St. Francis of Assisi was blessed with the gift of childish innocence he gave up all his possessions and status and lived joyfully imitating the example of Jesus. People looked at Francis and considered his way of life unrealistic, how much less realistic must they see it now in this materialistic age! I know from personal experience that Francis was not so unrealistic. As a theology student I gave away most of my clothes and other possessions, some years later I walked away from everything again. It was far easier to give everything away than to maintain a life without stuff, I am still amazed at how quickly things accumulated around me despite my best efforts to avoid them. Unlike Francis I am no saint, but I have a tendency to innocence it is one of the gifts of autism and it can make life considerably more carefree. Can we live without care for the material, without anxiety for the morrow? Well even today on the highways and byways of India, in caves, and on mountainsides there are men and women who live without possessions free from a sense of lack, free from the illusion of need, free from attachments.

I am not advocating asceticism, but I am suggesting that an ability to live in childish innocence is a blessing. In innocence the world is a magical place where anything can happen. In innocence everything becomes possible. Some people may not be able to live permanently in innocence, but all can enjoy moments of innocence. In the Transformation courses taught by Darren Eden entering a state of innocence is integral to all the exercises and processes because in innocence everything is possible. Unfortunately most people are unable to maintain innocence for prolonged periods and the walls of conventional possibility quickly imprison them. However with practice it is possible to cultivate the ability to return to childish innocence and re-enter the kingdom of heaven. Contrary to conventional wisdom it is not ignorance that is bliss, bliss lies only in innocence.


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[…] were chosen in order to depict the image of innocence. However, focusing on children in poverty is strategic. It is proven that images of children who […]

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