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 (sarvdbhogavigata), attains to the effortless state of consciousness, he enters upon the eighth stage known as Acala, the Immovable. – Suzuki (1929, p. 225)

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)

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)


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 distinguishes them. He does not labor, and yet he accomplishes. (Suzuki, Carus, 1913)

Lester Levenson:

INACTION – Serenity, Inaction: the ability to just be, to be the witness, watching and allowing the universe to be perfect as it really is.

“To achieve the actionless state you should try to let go of your ego more and more . . . If you keep letting go of the ego, you will eventually drop it and be the witness and not the doer.” (1993)

* * *

Discovering that my happiness equated to my loving, discovering that my thinking was the cause of things happening to me in my life gave me more and more freedom. Freedom from unconscious compulsions that I had to work, I had to make money, I had to have girls. Freedom in the feeling that I was now able to determine my destiny, I was now able to control my world, I was now able to arrange my environment to suit me. This new freedom lightened my internal burden so greatly that I felt that I had no need to do anything. (2003)

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, nothing hearing. (Suzuki, 1932, p. 20)

The Blessed One said: Mahamati, my no-birth and no-annihilation is not like that of philosophers who also speak of no-birth and no-annihilation; nor is it like their doctrine of birth and impermanency. Why? Because, Mahamati, that to which the philosophers ascribe the characteristics of no-birth and no-change is the self-nature of all things. But mine is not that which falls into the dualism of being and non-being. Mine, Mahamati, goes beyond the dualism of being and non-being; has nothing to do with birth, abiding, and destruction; is neither existent nor nonexistent. How is it not nonexistent? Because (199) multitudinousness of objects is to be seen as like Maya and a dream, I say that it is not nonexistent. How is it not existent? Because no characteristics of self-nature can be perceived in things. They are seen yet not seen; again they are graspable yet impossible to grasp. For this reason things are neither existent nor nonexistent.

But when it is understood that there is nothing in the world but what is seen of the 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 discriminated, 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 really people going in and coming out. It is owing to this discrimination characterised by perturbation that such takes place. Mahamati, it is the same with those ignorant ones who have a confused notion of birth and non-birth. There is really nothing born or destroyed. It is like the rising of magically-created people; for magically-created people are neither born nor destroyed, because there is no question whatever as to their existence or non-existence. Likewise, all things have nothing to do with birth and destruction. The ignorant, cherishing false ideas, imagine the birth and destruction of objects, but this is not so with the wise. By false ideas is meant that objects are not seen as they truly are: they have no objective existence. When things are discriminated as having an objective existence, there is clinging to the idea that they have their own self-nature, and what is alone by itself is not seen. When what is alone by itself is not seen, there is no cessation of discrimination. For this reason, Mahamati, an insight into formlessness excels, and not an insight into form: as form causes another birth, it excels not. By formlessness, Mahamati, is meant the cessation of discrimination.

No birth and no destruction, this I call Nirvana. By Nirvana, Mahamati, is meant looking into the abode of reality as it truly is in itself; and when, along with the turning-back of the entire system of mentation (citta-caitta-kalapa), there is the attainment of Self-realisation by means of noble wisdom, which belongs to the Tathagatas, I call it Nirvana. (Suzuki, 1932, pp. 198-200)


Finally and in particular in the eighth stage, the Bodhisattva’s activity is practiced spontaneously, without action (abhisamskara) or thinking (abhoga), 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; not having a mind is bliss.’ (Jorgensen, p. 268)

Ma-tsu: (709-788) (translated by D. T. Suzuki)

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

The master replied: “In the Tao there is nothing to discipline oneself in. If there is any discipline in it, the performance of such discipline means the destruction of the Tao. One then will be like the Sravaka. On the other hand, if there is no discipline whatever 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 an external object, 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.

Madame Guyon:


Some people, hearing of the prayer of silence, have wrongly imagined that the soul remains inactive, lifeless, and without movement. But the truth is that its action is more noble and more extensive than it ever was before it entered this degree, since it is moved by God Himself, and acted upon by His Spirit. I do not say that there must be no action, but that we must act in dependence upon the divine movement.

This action of the soul is a restful action. When it 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 at this point it is of great consequence to put an end to self-action and operations in order to let God act. “Be still and know that I am God” as said by the mouth of David. The creature, so in love with what it does, does not believe that anything is being accomplished unless it can feel, distinguish and know all of its operations. But the rapid progress of the soul prevents the creature from seeing his or her efforts. As the operations of God become more abundant they envelop and overwhelm the soul more and more while absorbing the actions of the creature.

Those who call this the prayer of idleness mislead others. It is their want of experiencing it that causes them to say this. Oh, if they would only try this prayer! In a short time they would experience and know this method. The appearance of inaction is indeed not the consequence of fruitlessness but of abundance. They would know that they have a fruitful silence, indeed a full and rich silence caused by abundance. (James, 2011, p. 78)

Meister Eckhart: Sermon 87

While 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 was flowing all creatures spake God. If I am asked, Brother Eckhart, when went ye out of your house? then I must ever have been in. Even so do all creatures speak God. And why do they not speak the Godhead? Everything in the Godhead is one, and of that there is nothing to be said. God works, the Godhead does no work, there is nothing to do; in it is no activity. It never envisaged any work. God and Godhead are as different as active and inactive. On my return to God, where I am formless, my breaking through will be far nobler than my emanation. I alone take all creatures out of their sense into my mind and make them one in me. When I go back into the ground, into the depths, into the wellspring of the Godhead, no one will ask me whence I came or whither I went. No one missed me: God passes away. (Walshe, Vol. II)


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.

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.

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