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A Rant Against Doing Nothing | The Truth Is You

A Rant Against Doing Nothing

Rant Monkey

"What is this?" I asked. "And who is that woman?"

"She's the daughter of Fu Manchu," he said. Suddenly, he threw his head back and laughed like a rooster crowing. Just as suddenly, he stopped and looked at me. Just looked at me.

"Somehow," I said slowly, "I've qualified for a small demonstration of whatever you and she are selling. But I don't qualify for any more until I make the right move?" He gave the faintest hint of a nod and went on watching me.

Well, I was young and ignorant of everything outside ten million books I'd gobbled and guilty unsure about my imaginative flights away from my father's realism and of course stoned of course but I finally understood why he was watching me that way, it was (this part of it) pure Zen, there was nothing I could do consciously or by volition that would satisfy him and I had to do exactly that which I could not not do, namely be Simon Moon. Which led to deciding then and there without any time to mull it over and rationalize it just what the hell being Simon Moon or, more precisely SimonMooning, consisted of, and it seemed to be a matter of wandering through room after room of my brain looking for the owner and not finding him anywhere, sweat broke out on my forehead, it was becoming desperate because I was running out of rooms and the Padre was still watching me.

"Nobody home," I said finally, sure that the answer wasn't good enough.

"That's odd," he said. "Who's conducting the search?"

And I walked through the walls and into the Fire." ~ Robert Anton Wilson & Robert Shea, The Iluminatus Trilogy.

It's an old Zen adage, "Nothing to do, nowhere to go." In the awakening stories of the tradition, some variation of this exclamation is commonly heard when clear seeing of reality dawns on a mind.

Similar sayings have become suspiciously frequent from the mouths (and fingers) of the exploding number of awakening proclaimers and teachers in modern spiritual circles, especially the Advaita/Neo-advaita crowd.

The trouble is this has become a statement at the beginning of seeking, and seekers then throw up their hands and say, "Well, got that nailed, why are all of the rest of you still struggling? LoL!!!" (Yes, this is an actual quote from an actual GB group.)

I am reminded of Shinran Buddhism. Shinran was a follower of Jodo-Shu Buddhism, famous for recitation of the nembutsu, "Namo Amida Butsu", which can be translated as "In the name of Amida, the Buddha of compassion." Without going into too much detail, Amida is the Bodhisattva of ultimate compassion, and in Jodo-Shu it is believed that the recitation of the nembutsu with true conviction will free the reciter from the wheel of samsara and they will be re-born in the Western paradise. In order to get to the point of being able to say the phrase with utter conviction, it is taught that the practitioner should spend dedicated time every day repeating the phrase over and over, spending years building up the conviction needed to win their freedom from samsara.

Shinran was an ardent follower of Jodo-Shu and threw himself deeply into the practice. After some time the idea that the incarnation of ultimate compassion might refuse to save anyone began to dig at Shinran. Why would anyone need to say the nembutsu with pure conviction, and what would happen to them if they never managed it? It just did not seem fair to Shinran. The story goes that he meditated on this quandary "until his heart broke." He came away from this consideration with a new twist on Jodo-Shu. In Shinran Buddhism, saying the nembutsu once was enough. Amida would then shed compassion on the practitioner and see to their salvation. It might take a few lifetimes, but salvation was guaranteed.

This school of Buddhism was the preferred school of one of my favorite writers and critical thinkers, Robert Anton Wilson. The simple compassion of Shinran Buddhism appealed to his sensibilities, and so he would say the nembutsu whenever it occurred to him to do so.

The line of thinking that Shinran followed leads me to ask; Well, if Amida is suprememly compassionate, why is the nembutsu required at all? Why even bother. I mean if Amida's compassion is absolute, then why woud Amida care if a specific person ever even heard of the nembutsu.

It often feels, to me, that the extremists seekers who go whole hog on the "do nothing" path fall into this line of reasoning. The argument seems to be, "If my true nature is fundamentally without blemish, or even existence, then there is nothing to do, so I am done." Well, I'm sorry Charlie, but if you did nothing you got done with nothing.

The way I think about it goes like this: Let's say I have a brilliant idea for a chemical therapy that will eliminate Alzheimers, and I am sitting next to a billionaire who can easily afford to make my idea a reality. Now, I can sit and stew in resentment wondering why they jerk won't cut me a check for a couple of million to fund the research and production of the therapy, or I can open my mouth and ask. If I choose to stay silent, my idea won't become a reality, and I can live out my life thinking it's the billionaire's fault. But, really, who's fault is it?

I mean, ultimately it does seem to be true, what you really are is unstained and unharmed and cannot be harmed. But, if you want to live from that place, having it inform your day to day existence, then it seems to me that an intention towards realizing that has to be present. It's not enough to simply carry it as an intellectual formulation. You have to look at that, bend awareness to this consideration, and intentionally explore it.

Of course, if this is ultimately true, then it doesn't matter unless you want it to. Billions of people make their way through life, and lots of them are perfectly happy never giving a thought to their true nature. I think that a very fine thing. It just means they aren't in the set of people known as seekers. That distinction seems to me to be neither good, nor bad, but it does seem to be a distinction.

Life doesn't stop. Evolution, on the personal and impersonal scales, continues. If you have gotten to the "nothing to do, nowhere to go" point it's okay to take a breather. It's not so okay to forget what got you to that point, or to suggest to someone else that if they just do nothing they will get it.

I firmly agree that nothing can change your most basic nature. What changes is your relationship to that. Making that shift takes action, intention, and decision.

Don't be afraid to do something to get nothing. 😉

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