23: The sage does nothing

智者無爲     The sage does nothing

愚人自縛     while the ignorant bind themselves up


The enlightened being’s inner state is: “Even though I am constantly engaged in activity, I do nothing—all happens. Living happens. There is nothing to cling to or grasp, nothing to renounce or run away from.  – Deepak Chopra, The Secret of Healing

When thus the Bodhisattva, discarding all effortful works, attains to the effortless state of consciousness, he enters upon the eighth stage known as Acala, the Immovable. – Suzuki (1929, p. 225)

Choose not the life of this body before eternal life:
put the fear of God in thy heart and thou shalt live without toil.

When you thus come to a state of doing nothing, you are said to have attained the truth. – Lin-chi

When God created the heavens, the earth, and creatures, he did no work; he had nothing to do; he made no effort. – Meister Eckhart (Suzuki, 1957)

And all your activity must cease, and all your powers must serve His ends, not your own. If this work is to be done, God alone must do it, and you must just suffer it to be. Where you truly go out from your will and your knowledge, God with His knowledge surely and willingly goes in and shines there clearly. – Meister Eckhart, Sermon Four (Solitude)

“And it came to pass when the Lord was come up out of the water, the whole fount of the Holy Spirit descended upon him and rested on him and said to him: My son, in all the prophets was I waiting for you that you should come and I might rest in you. For you are my rest; you are my first-begotten Son that reigns forever. – The Gospel of the Hebrews
(The word “rest” is emphasized because Jews believed that the Messiah’s name would be “Menachem,” meaning “rest.”)


Seng-chao (384-414):

“With regard to the Way, the worthy man in every age is he who has nothing to do. With regard to the Way, when one is mindless, all things proceed effortlessly.” (The Pao-tsung lun, quoted in Watson, 1993, p. 30)


1. Without passing out of the gate
The world’s course I prognosticate.
Without peeping through the window
The heavenly Tao I contemplate.
The farther one goes,
The less one knows.

2. Therefore the holy man does not travel, and yet he has knowledge. He does not see things, and yet he perceives them. He does not labor, and yet he accomplishes. (Suzuki, Carus, 1913)

The Diamond Sutra

Furthermore, the Lord said to the Venerable Subhuti: What do you think, Subhuti? Is there any Dharma (True Reality) that the Tathagata has attained as utmost, perfect enlightenment, or is there any Dharma that the Tathagata has taught?

Subhuti said: No, not as I understand what the Lord has said.  And why?  This Dharma which the Tathagata has fully attained and taught cannot be attained or taught; it is neither dharma nor adharma (thing nor concept).  And why?  Because all sages belong to non-doing (asamskara), though in appearance they are different from one another. (Suzuki, 1935)

The Lankavatara Sutra:

“Lord of Lanka, beings are appearances; they are like figures painted on the wall: they have no sensibility.  Lord of Lanka, all that is in the world is devoid of work and action because all things have no reality.  So are all the teachings: there is nothing heard, no one hearing. (Suzuki, 1932, p. 20)

But when it is understood that there is nothing in the world but what is seen of Mind itself, discrimination rises no more, and one is thus established in his own abode, which is the realm of no-work.  The ignorant work and discriminate, but not the wise.  Mahamati, [the doings of the ignorant] are unrealities made real, realities confounded.  They are like the city of the Gandharvas, like magically-created figures.  To illustrate, Mahamati, here is a city of the Gandharvas where children see magically-created people, merchants and many others going in or coming out, and imagine that they are real people going in and coming out.  It is owing to discrimination characterised by perturbation that such takes place. (Suzuki, 1932, pp. 198-200)


Finally and in particular in the eighth stage, the Bodhisattva’s activity is practiced spontaneously, without action (anabhisamskara), without thinking (anabhoga), for it is unaffected by things or concepts (dharma or adharma).  This is why it is called anabhisamskarabhogavihara . . .” (Maha Prajnaparamita, “Acala“)

The Tsung-ching lu

Manjusri said: It is like a man who learns archery and becomes skilful after long practice.  Although later he is mindless, because of his long practice, his arrow hits the bull’s eye every time. . . . Therefore a sutra says, “Having a mind is difficulty; having no-mind is bliss.” (Jorgensen, p. 268)

Ma-tsu (709-788):

Someone asked Ma-tsu: How does a man discipline himself in the Tao?

The master replied: In the Tao there is nothing in which to discipline oneself.  If there is any discipline in it, the exercise of such discipline means the destruction of the Tao.  One will then be like the Sravaka.  On the other hand, if one never disciplines oneself in the Tao, one remains in ignorance.

By what kind of understanding does a man attain the Tao?

On this, the master gave the following sermon:

The Tao in its nature is from the first perfect and self-sufficient. When a man finds himself unceasing in his management of the affairs of life good and bad, he is known as one who is disciplined in the Tao. To shun evils and to become attached to things good, to meditate on emptiness and to enter into a state of samadhi—this is doing. Running after outward things, they are the farthest from the Tao.

Only let a man completely do away with all the thinking and imagining he can possibly have in the triple world. When even an iota of imagining is left with him, this is the triple world, which contains the source of birth and death. When there is not a trace of imagining left, he has wiped out the source of birth and death, and he then holds the unparalleled treasure belonging to the Dharmaraja. All the imagining harboured since the beginningless past by an ignorant being, together with his falsehood, flattery, self-conceit, arrogance, and other evil passions, will be united in the body of One Essence and all will melt away. (Suzuki, https://terebess.hu/english/mazu.html#1)

Madame Guyon:

This action of the soul is a restful action. When the soul acts of itself, it acts with effort; and is therefore more conscious of its action. But when it acts in dependence upon the spirit of grace, its action is so free, so easy, so natural, that it does not seem to act at all.

* * *

Here it is necessary to say that it is of great consequence to put an end to self-action and operations in order to let God act. As the operations of God become more abundant they envelop and overwhelm the soul more and more . . . (James, 2011, p. 78)

Lester Levenson:

Now the very highest state is simply beingness, and if we could only be, just be, we could see our infinity. We would see that there are no limitations. We would see that we are the all. We would be in a perfectly satiated, permanent, changeless state. And it is not a nothingness, it is not a boredom; it is an allness, an everythingness, a total satiation that is eternal. You will never, never lose your individuality. The word “I” as you use it to mean your individuality will never, ever leave you: it expands. What happens as you remember what you are is that you’ll begin to see that others are you, that you are me, that you are now and always have been gloriously infinite.  (1993, “The Basic Goal”)

Ralph Waldo Emerson:

I ask primary evidence that you are a man and refuse this appeal from the man to his actions. I know that for myself it makes no difference whether I do or forbear those actions which are reckoned excellent. I cannot consent to pay for a privilege where I have intrinsic right. Few and mean as my gifts may be, I actually am, and do not need for my own assurance or the assurance of my fellows any secondary testimony. (“Self-Reliance”)

Meister Eckhart:

When I subsisted in the ground, in the bottom, in the river and fount of Godhead, no one asked me where I was going or what I was doing: there was no one to ask me. When I flowed forth, all creatures said, ‘God.’ If anyone asked me, ‘Brother Eckhart, when did you leave your house?’ then I was in there. That is how all creatures speak of God. And why do they not speak of the Godhead? Everything that is in the Godhead is one, and of that there is nothing to be said. God works, the Godhead does no work: there is nothing for it to do, there is no activity in it. It never peeped at any work. God and Godhead are distinguished by working and not-working. When I return to God, if I do not remain there my breakthrough will be far nobler than my emanation. I alone bring all creatures out of their reason into my reason, so that they are one with me.  When I enter the ground, the bottom, the river and fount of the Godhead, none will ask me whence I came or where I have been. No one missed me, for there God unbecomes. (Walshe Vol. II, Sermon Fifty Six, p. 81)


Deepak Chopra and Adam Plack. “The Secret of Healing: Meditations for Transformation and Higher Consciousness.” Play It By Ear Music, 2011.

Guyon, J. M. B. de La Mot (1875). A Short and Easy Method of Prayer. https://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/spiritualformation/texts/guyon_shortmethodofprayer.pdf

James, Nancy C. (2011). The Complete Madame Guyon. Brewster, Massachusetts: Paraclete Press.

Jorgensen, John A. (1979). The Earliest Text of Ch’an Buddhism: The Long Scroll. The Australian National University. (JorgensenBodhidharma)

Levenson, Lester (1993). Keys to the Ultimate Freedom: Thoughts and Talks on Personal Transformation. Phoenix, Arizona: Sedona Institute. (Keys to the Ultimate Freedom pdf)

Levenson, Lester (2003). No Attachments, No Aversions: The Autobiography of a Master. Sherman Oaks, California: Lawrence Crane Enterprises, Inc.

Suzuki, D. T. (1998). Studies in the Lankavatara Sutra. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers. (originally published in 1929)

Suzuki, D. T. (1932). The Lankavatara Sutra: A Mahayana Text (Based upon the Sanskrit edition of Bunyu Nanjo). London. (http://lirs.ru/do/lanka_eng/lanka-nondiacritical.htm)

Suzuki, D. T. (1935). Manual of Zen Buddhism.

Suzuki, D. T. (1957). Mysticism: Christian and Buddhist. London and New York: Routledge Classics. (https://terebess.hu/zen/mesterek/d-t-suzuki-mysticism-christian-and-buddhist.pdf)

The Zen Teachings of Mazu translated by Thomas Cleary; Mondo taken the book Sayings of the Ancient Worthies, translated by D.T. Suzuki: https://terebess.hu/english/mazu.html#1

M. O’C. Walshe (1987). Meister Eckhart: Sermons and Treatises Volume II. UK: Element Books Limited.

Watson, Burton (1993). The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-chi: A Translation of the Lin-Chi Lu by Burton Watson. Boston & London: Shambhala. (https://cup.columbia.edu/book/the-zen-teachings-of-master-lin-chi/9780231114851)

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