Lester Levenson: Be Not the Doer

Lester began teaching about this practice by telling the group: “Whatever you want, get it by releasing only. No effort, no doing, just releasing.” But by the next day he realized his mistake, and he changed the practice to “Be not the doer.” What he is teaching here is called in Zen tso-ch’an (literally “sitting meditation”); it is also called mindfulness.

* * *

“You are at peace when you are established in witness consciousness.” – Deepak Chopra

“Supernatural power and marvelous activity: Drawing water and carrying firewood.” – Layman P’ang

“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)

“My son, be easy, it is nothing remarkable to be amazed about. The Almighty God is present everywhere with infinite strength and grace. We too are empowered by that same infinite power, but our addiction to sensory pleasures and material greed negates our entire strength and turns us into slaves of meanness. We never care about spiritual upliftment or try to achieve purity of heart. Otherwise man is also immensely powerful, as God Himself is the source of power of his creations. The man who know this truth and honors this power within can do anything easily without fail.” – Swami Trailanga

I took out of Ramana Maharshi something that I’ll give you now. “Work is no hindrance to realization. Doing things does not block you from realization. It is the sense of wrong identification that is the source of all your trouble. Get rid of the false identification.” And what’s the false identification? That you are the doer. And you have all experienced from releasing that when you’re released, it happens. You’re not the doer. Like when Yogananda was sitting in a bed, he was very high, and trying to get his balance he raised his hand, and it went up effortlessly. When you’re not the doer and you want your hand to go up, it just floats up with no effort. In everything you do the same thing happens. No energy, no effort is necessary. So, being in action is no hindrance; the hindrance is identifying as being the limited body-mind, is identifying with the ego.

If you tried to do no action, you wouldn’t succeed, because your karma is driving you now into action. So if you tried to do nothing, you wouldn’t succeed. Whatever your karma is, you would do. So, trying to do nothing doesn’t help. Only releasing helps. And only releasing will get you all the way—as fast as you will do it. So, the action, rather than being a hindrance, is really a help. Because as you’re in action, you’re being pushed by your feelings, which bring up more feelings while you’re in action for you to release all your feelings. So you must do it in the world; you must do it in action. You cannot do it isolating. When you isolate you’ll just escape.

Every man is where he is by the law of his being; [his] thoughts have brought him there, and in the arrangement of his life there is no element of chance, but all is the result of a law which cannot err. As a progressive and evolving being, man is where he is that he may learn that he may grow; and as he learns the spiritual lesson which any circumstance contains for him, it passes away and gives place to other circumstances. – James Allen (“As a Man Thinketh”; 1903)

So, the next major point to write down is “Whatever you do, do it to perfection.” That’s behaving like a master. Behaving like a master brings up the objections to it for your releasing. If you don’t do things to perfection, it’s because . . .  actually, your destructiveness, your non-constructiveness, causes you to not do it to perfection. But if you make it a point to do it to perfection, up will come these feelings of “I can’t” for your releasing. So, make it a point to do whatever you’re doing very successfully. That word “perfection” might not be understood—“success” might be better understood. Whatever you do, you should be successful in doing it.

Q: I still get confused about the action part of it. You’re saying it’s effortless. You still—the body acts to [accomplish] it, but it’s without . . .

Lester: Yes, it’s without effort. It’s like floating through the air, floating through the thing. As I explained, if you wanted to lift your arm up, it takes no effort: it just floats up. No energy is required. So, effortlessness is when I say, “I am not the doer” and I let it happen. Another way of expressing it is letting go and letting God. But your actual experience is [that there is] no effort.

Q: That makes it a lot clearer, because the body could go through all of the actions of the day, doing things, and yet be effortless if we stay released.

Lester: Right. That’s it. I think the last time I read something that Ramana Maharshi said: “Action doesn’t stop one from realization; identifying as the doer does.”

So, bottom line, it all adds up to “I am my beingness.” And when you come from your beingness, you’ll just watch the bodies float around, including your own, exactly as you would watch them on a movie screen. And when bodies on a movie screen start shooting bullets and wiping each other out, you know it for what it is—just an imagined thing. There’s no death. You can imagine a death, but actually there’s no thing as death. Get rid of the image, get rid of the mind. And, again, you’ll never stop struggling until you go all the way to freedom.

Maybe we ought to continue where we left off last night. It was, “Be not the doer.” Who wants to be a door? (Laughter) So I’ll say, “Be not the door.” (Laughter)

And in general there were a lot of questions on what it means to “Be not the doer.” So I think I started off by saying, well, I told you to release to get everything you want. When you are released, you have no sense of doership—everything falls into line. When you are released you experience the sense of being not the doer. So that ought to connect for every one of you. When you’re completely released, it just happens with no effort. And so you just sit back and watch it happen, is the experiencing you go through. That’s being not the doer.

Now, you cannot go into inaction because of your karma. But you should use the action to grow by, and one of the big things is “Be not the doer.” Watch it happen. When you are being not the doer your sense is [that] you’re sitting in a theater watching the show go on. Do you have any question on the sense of being in action and being not the doer?

Q: I got to the point where even my will seems senseless.

Lester: It is, if you can “Be not the doer.” But if you cannot “Be not the doer” then will is useable. Will is effort; it’s making an effort to undo the effort. But there’s a power in you, it’s a willpower, where you can decree if you will. So that now willing is good, because you could will out the whole thing if you so decided. I have yet to see the first one do it. Okay, so, what’s your question now?

Q: You just answered it. Thank you.

Lester: See, with Alan I was able to explain it relative to something that was going on. He wanted to make a preparation for somebody to do something that he would like them to do. And he asked me if I would call that [unintelligible] and I said, No. Well, in his idea you had to go “da, da, da, da” to get ready for it. My concept was, in a matter of thirty seconds I’ll have the whole thing completed when I see this person. Because I’m not the doer; it happens right away if I continue to be not the doer. If I am the doer then I gotta make preparations, I gotta do convincing, I gotta do asking—a lot of roundabout stuff. But when you’re not the doer, it’s the sense of letting go and letting God do it. You actually sit by and watch the body action go on, just as you would [watch] a moving picture of your body.

I think you have all experienced times when you were not the doer and you saw things happen, right? So you’ve all experienced it, and experience is the main thing that we need to use to learn. We cannot learn intellectually through the mind, through the head. The mind is the enemy; the mind is the obstacle. The only way we can learn is through experiencing. And each and every one of you has experienced being not the doer and watching the thing fall into line without effort. All right. Now, the thing to accomplish is to have that happen all the time. When it did happen, was it miserable? (Laughter) But every time you make an effort, you’re unhappy. You’re striving, you’re struggling. Every time you make an effort, you’re not happy. But the moment you let go of identifying yourself as being the body, things are effortless. I should say “body-mind.” They’re opposite sides of the same coin, the mind and the body. The mind says the body is there.

(8:00) So, experiencing, there’s something you should know: the difference between the intellect and experiencing. Everything you accumulate even now in the intellect, you’re going to have to drop [in order] to get that intellect, that mind, totally quiet. Everything you’ve learned in your lifetimes, you’re going to dump. Afterwards, you’re omniscient. Afterwards, you’re in touch with your beingness, which is omniscient. And what thinking would omniscience require? If everything is known, what is there to think about? So you shift from using your head, which is your block, to quieting that head, so only your beingness remains. And everything is effortless, everything falls perfectly into line, and you’re in the perfect happiness that there is, that’s really your basic nature.

You should be unattached in your works. But for an unpractised man it is an uncommon thing to reach the point where no crowd and no task hinders him. It calls for diligent application, so that God is ever present to him and shines before him completely unveiled at all times and in all company. Skilful diligence is required for this, and in particular two things. One is that a man has shut himself off well inwardly, so that his mind is on its guard against the images without, that they remain without and do not unfittingly keep company and walk with him, and that they find no resting-place in him. The second is that he should not let himself be caught up by his internal imagery, whether it be in the form of pictures or lofty thoughts or outward impressions or whatever is present to his mind; nor [should he let himself] be distracted nor dissipate himself in their multiplicity. A man should train and bend all his powers to this and keep his inner self present to him. – Meister Eckhart, The Talks of Instruction (Walshe)

(10:49) I remember in the early days they’d put a tape recorder on, and it meant to me, “Oh, I wish that were not on.”

Question: It would stop.

Lester: No, it would go, and when I’d replay it, it was blank. There’s nothing out there but your picture. And for some years, when anyone took a picture of me, I wasn’t in the picture. And if it was a crowd, everyone would come out but me. Until Neva Dell [phonetic] came to town and had a national conference here. She kind of put me up high, and “Oh, I must be in the picture.” So I said, “Oh, Lord, it had better come out this time.” And from that time on, my picture comes out now when people shoot it. But it’s just another example that there’s nothing out there but your consciousness. I know what did it: “Oh, I’m not that body. That body is just imagination.” And so it didn’t come out on the negative—nor on the positive.

Q: I have a question. How do I get myself into the place of being not the doer?

Lester: Practice. Of course, the very best way, as I said before, is releasing. When you’re released, you’re not the doer. And that bothers you sometimes!

Q: Well, it seems that things happen. You don’t really—

Lester: That’s it—things happen. You don’t have to do them. . . . But the sense is that released sense: you let go, and it happens, in the sense of letting go and letting God. You don’t have to do a thing. You just watch it happen. You’re not the doer. Does that answer your question? It’s experiential. You’re not going to get it in the head; you’re going to get it in the experience.

Saraswati, Paramanand (2013). Trailanga Swami and Shankari Mataji. Kolkata: Amar Nath Poddar.

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

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