A 9-Year-Old’s Hidden Self


–by Jacob Needleman (Apr 12, 2011)

The quality and strength of Lobsang’s inner being was also brought home to me through an event that took place in my home.  After one of his weekends working with our translation group, he stayed for a few days as a guest in my house in San Francisco.  One morning at the breakfast table we were discussing this and that, I don’t remember what.  My nine-year-old daughter, Eve, was present.  Ordinarily, she tended to be shy, especially when strangers or guests were present.  But at one point in the conversation, during a brief pause, she looked up at Lobsang and without any preamble she asked him: “What happens when people die?”

I was startled and a certain warmth rose up in me.  It was obvious she had been keeping this question for a long time inside herself, without letting anyone know.  My own attempts to make room in our relationship for this kind of question had not gone anywhere, or so it has seemed to me.  But now, suddenly, I felt her hidden self and felt that strength of its need.  How would Lobsang respond?  I set myself to listen to him with as much eagerness as my daughter.

Lobsang turned toward her with his warm, brown face and his lucent black eyes and began talking to her as though she were, like him, simply a normal human being for whom such questioning was as natural and as important as eating, a human being who was, like him and like all of us, someday going to die.  I don’t remember the content of what he said to her; I do remember thinking that what he said was not extraordinary — things that any serious adult might say to a serious, inquiring child.  But what I do remember as vividly as though it were yesterday was the “resonance” of his voice, the stillness of his body and the warm attention in his face.  I remember sensing the vibration of a certain kind of energy passing between Lobsang and my daughter that served more as answer to her question than any words by themselves could have.  I saw her eyes deepen as though they were seeing something strong and new — not outside herself, but inside herself.

Perhaps she did not realize what was happening inside herself.  Maybe she still doesn’t know.  But I saw it.  A quality of attention was passing between Lobsang and my daughter that is becoming more and more rare in our common world.  And it is this “something” that desperately needs to pass between people.  It is the mutual flow of this special quality of attention between human beings that all people, whether they know it or not, are starved for.  Not all the praise, touching, words, teaching, smiling, sympathizing, serving good causes — not any or all of it can do what this quality of shared attention can do.  Its lack is more of a threat to our world than anything else — or, rather, its increasing absence in human relationships is at the root of all else that now threatens to destroy or degrade us beyond recovery — the internecine hatred and egoism and immorality that is crowding out not only our ancient, traditional ways of life, and the life of nature itself, but which is also crowding out the human memory of what mankind is, and is made for.

–Jacob Needleman, in What is God


Previous Reflections:
On Apr 7, 2011 Richard Whittaker wrote:

Beautiful passage. The whole book is really worth reading, by the way. Somehow Needleman captures the essence of a precious quality of exchange. I think what’s most amazing is the quality of Lobsang’s tone in addressing this 9 year old as a being in her own right and not someone it’s necessary to “speak down” to. I’m sure Logsang’s response was made with full awareness that he was speaking to a child, but also another being in herself. So the content, the words, no doubt were chosen wi  See full.


On Apr 7, 2011 Aumatma wrote:
This passage reminds me that maybe it is not in the words that we convey, but in the presence that we share, that is most significant.
On Apr 7, 2011 Prasad Kaipa wrote:

 I was touched by the quality of listening that Needleman and Lobsang brought forth to Eve’s question. Considering that Eve is his daughter, Needleman’s ability to be open to her the way, he describes makes me long to be the kind of father he is. Then Lobsang’s attention and willingness to be with Eve and engage her with his own response — not to answer it so that the question goes away, but to answer it in a way that there is more curiosity, certain confidence that one is on the right pat  See full.


On Apr 7, 2011 Pratibha wrote:
Hmm, it would be interesting to know what Lopsang actually said to the child.  I agree that the communication as described was surely significant between the two, but the actual words to answer her question would be important too.

What happens when people die–would we like to have that discussion?  I think it could be very  interesting.



On Apr 7, 2011 Conrad Pritscher wrote:

I was touched. Normally I respond to what you write by saying my name is Conrad. Today, I gave my full name partly because of Lobsong’s open expression. First, I thought I might respond by saying something about how death is natural and everything, including people, are impermanent  (dealing more with the content rather than how the content was expressed). After reading more, I thought what is important is not only what I say but how I say it. Kindness in expression says more than what is e  See full.


On Apr 7, 2011 Kate wrote:

What a passage – thank you for posting.  This story reminded me of a piece of being-human that I forget – of how we give attention to each other when we don’t have answers.  That quality of attention, of holding each other and the things we are scared or unsure of, is an amazing gift.  This story reminded me of times and people in my life who have shared that gift – and held me in their attention, when the unknown was overwhelming.  How fabulous it is, that as humans we have  See full.


On Apr 7, 2011 susan schaller wrote:

This needed story reminded me of when I first moved to Berkeley many years ago.  I wondered how I was going to relate to all the panhndlers.  I couldn’t give everyone all my money, but I hated the idea of looking away and rushing by as so many people do.  At that time, I often stopped for a cup of coffee after I dropped my kids off at school.  I decided to befriend two women who were outside of my coffee stop.  I chatted with them, got to know them, and considered money  See full.


On Apr 7, 2011 Rajesh wrote:
A most wonderful passage. One gets a hint of the quality of conversation that Needleman is speaking about. When that quality happens in an intearction with a friend or a stranger, one feels like one’s heart has opened up to the whole world and that everything is blessed. I find that such interactions have become rarer in my own life and I long to create such deep connections more often.
On Apr 7, 2011 xiaoshan wrote:
“We sat together, holding hands. No words were said…that was a perfect moment in my life.”
On Apr 7, 2011 madhur wrote:
This passage brings up an opening like perhaps the conversation did. The idea of treating the question and the enquirer as perfectly normal, in sync with self and giving profound attention, has so much to learn and practice in everyday life’s moments. This has potential perhaps to make deep relations, connect and express or change for good which otherwise may be extremely difficult.

Thanks so much for bring forth a strong message from such a simple incidence.

On Apr 8, 2011 Ganoba wrote:
when we drop the ego, which is after all just an image, a fragmented one at that, what is left is the nameless I. this I is one with the whole universe. It is pure compassion and a loving wisdom.To this I age, titles, gender etc don’t mean a thing.
On Apr 8, 2011 Derek wrote:

 What I enjoy about this delicate passage is it’s emphasis on the power of subtle meanings. Many adults today have gotten caught up in the day to day “static” of life, missing the intentions behind words. Young children, with pure minds absorb every nuance in movement and tone in communication. They are Watchers of life. They can see, feel and absorb what some might say are messages of transcendence.  As adults, children can be great teachers for all of us. They can guide us  See full.


On Apr 9, 2011 Edit Lak wrote:

A truly beautiful and inspiring passage. This reminds us all ,that, our interactions have meaning and true purpose. The comfort and safeness of a child to ask a deep question from her own growing, learning and inquisitive mind, As important as the question is, more importantly is the reply, not so much in the format explained, but to have the respect and care to answer the child the best one can, to be as one with the child without ego or mental nature running wild, Instead there was a responsib  See full.


On Apr 9, 2011 KT wrote:

Human-kind has more ways to communicate with one another than one could have ever imagined, and while It is probably true that people are communicating MORE due to technology, the communication is LESS due to the quality. You see it every day.  As an English teacher my job is to teach students how to communicate through speech and writing. What I have found is that I often spend the most time on teaching them the art of “tone.” They have no idea how their choice of words combined  See full.


On Apr 10, 2011 Kinjal wrote:

Beautiful passage. I am glad that the author does not remember what Lobsang said to the child, because that would have distracted the reader. The following words hit me the most: “the mutual flow of this special quality of attention between human beings that all people, whether they know it or not, are starved for” We all have been there at some point or another, at least I have been there. Infinite amount of praises and kind words can’t do what true compassion conveyed by warm atte  See full.


On Apr 10, 2011 Ricky wrote:

I am so grateful to have read such a precious story about a parent who really gets it…about who our ‘teachers’ are on this journey we refer to as our life…in this case, his daughter.  What most enchants me about this beautiful writing is that it touches what I know to be true in my deepest inner core-my soul-the Self.  At a very young age, as I looked out at the world around me and tried to make sense of it all by making observations and asking questions, I  See full.


On Apr 12, 2011 Dr Venkat Pulla wrote:
being human – we forget, being caring we forget, being there in that moment with that person we forget. grateful fo these wonderful reminders. may God bless you all.


On Apr 12, 2011 Somik Raha wrote:

This passage reminded me of a chat my wife and I had with a monk. We expressed a desire to meet with spiritual teachers and film Q&A with them so others can also benefit from it. The Dalai Lama came up, and this monk said, “The Dalai Lama says a lot of insightful things, but that is not what is really important about it. What is important is that he says it.” In the spiritual and intellectual realms, two opposite standards apply. In the former, the purity of the individual and the  See full.


On Apr 15, 2011 Dinesh wrote:

Few audio clips from our circle of sharing last Wednesday …    See full.


On Apr 15, 2011 rahul wrote:

The first thing this passage brought up for me was presence, and that with a given quality of presence always comes permission to respond in harmony its energy.  The neurological basis of this is what are called ‘mirror neurons’ which essentially pick up on the mental states of those around us and cause us to replicate their inner states within ourselves.  Research has shown that you’re much more likely to be happy if you have happy friends.  Not just that, but  See full.


On Apr 17, 2011 jacob wrote:
What a beautiful story.


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