Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Power of Non-action

Non-action? Non-action! What new-age rubbish is this? you say. We have to act! We have to take action! Well, yes and no. By non-action, I don’t mean sitting around on your butt all day. Non-action refers to the intent, the origin and the attachment to the action.
Henrik over at the awesome Positivity Blog has a great little post One timeless tip that can make your life a whole lot easier which begins with a quote from the Bhagavad Gita:

To action alone hast thou a right and never at all to its fruits; let not the fruits of action be thy motive; neither let there be in thee any attachment to inaction.

Henrik goes on to expose the benefits (less stress, less effort, better effort and more enjoyment) of letting go of trying to control the results of your actions and just focusing on enjoying the process. This is very true and reminds me of a story (yes, I have a story for everything):

A man went to see a famous martial arts master and asked him how long it would take to become a black belt.
“Ten years” said the master.
“What if I train very hard seven days a week, night and day, month after month, how long then?”
“Twenty years” came the reply.
“Twenty years! Why ten years more? Why so long?”
“With one eye on the destination, you have only one eye left for the path.”

How true. Most of the time, as Henrik points out, we have one eye on the destination and this makes the process more difficult than it need be. But there is more, much more, to the power of non-action.
I came across Henrik's quote from the Bhagavad Gita myself many years ago in the Dervy Edition (French) of the Tao Te Ching, Tao Te King - Livre du Tao et de sa Vertu. In the extensive commentary there is a section on the theme of non-action as found in the Tao Te Ching.

To master action, we must keep our independence with regard to it. Now, we are only free with regard to a thing when we have contracted no debt toward it and we expect nothing from it. The Sage “produces without appropriating to himself, works without expecting anything, accomplishes works of merit without becoming attached to them, and precisely because he doesn’t become attached to them, they endure… because he does not pursue selfish goals, he realises to perfection everything he undertakes.”

The power of non-action is in subordinating our constant selfish desires which produce only grasping, fearful, temporary actions to actions that come from, shall we say, our higher selves.

For as long as man claims the I and Mine, his works will be as nothing. When all love for the I and Mine is dead, then the works of the Lord will be accomplished. Kabir, Poems VI

The effort to possess, forces man to identify himself with the objects of his possession. What he possesses is a part of him, to such a degree that if something is taken away from him or if he loses it, he feels as if a part of himself has been taken away. This is truly slavery; man may imagine that he possesses things, in reality they possess him. Van der Leeuw

The point is that the more an action is selfish, the less power it has. The more an action is good for everyone, good for the community, universally good, the more it will have the support of the universe, the Tao, God. The more, in other words, it will be non-action, the spontaneous work of the Spirit. (So I must be resigned to not getting what I want? Not at all. As Confucius said: He who wishes to secure the good of others has already secured his own). And if you think this is an idea only to be found in Chinese philosophy, look more closely, you will find parallels in all philosophies and religions.

That thou mayest have pleasure in everything, seek pleasure in nothing.
That thou mayest know everything, seek to know nothing.
That thou mayest possess all things, seek to possess nothing.
That thou mayest be everything, seek to be nothing. Saint John of the Cross

Thy lot or portion of life is seeking after thee; therefore be at rest from seeking after it.
Caliph Ali

So lift up your thoughts, lift up your motives, enlighten yourself with the knowledge to be found in this very blog, and you will harness the power of non-action. (Or not, if you know what I mean).
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Photo from Wikimedia: Krishna displays his Vishvarupa (Universal Form) to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra

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Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)
Kiyomizudera Temple has a large veranda looking out over Kyoto and beyond