Do nothing and all will be well.

July 21, 2015 § 8 Comments

A Snail Climbs Mt Fuji 2

What is the right answer to life’s problems? Is there a right answer to life’s problems? Or is the problem the answer itself?


To discover who you are you must pass through barriers of your own making. What are these barriers? They are dualistic thoughts of good or bad and right or wrong. They are the tendency to see your self as “this or that” or, more precisely, “as this but not that”. They are the seemingly rational tendency to prefer one situation over another, such as power to powerlessness, wealth to poverty, life to death. These thoughts of “either/or” are barriers because they limit and direct your life into conflicts that cannot be solved by dualistic thinking. To pass through these barriers you must leave such thinking behind.

If you take up Zen you may be given a koan that brings you into direct contact with a barrier. If not, life will will do the same job. Someone close may die. You may become ill. You may lose your job. Any event that creates an inner conflict and leaves you unable to answer questions of “Why?” or “What shall I do?” will be your barrier. As with the koan you will not find an answer through thinking, though you will certainly try. Being unable to think a way to a solution, is it any wonder that most fail to pass through these barriers and get stuck?

I recently spoke with a friend stuck in the barrier of poverty. He’s never actually been poor but now that he wants to change careers to something less demanding he thinks that a lower salary will automatically make him impoverished. The irony is that he has always been sensible with money and even when the economy was at its worst he’s always been employed. Any onlooker would say he has next to zero chance of being poor but in his mind he stands on the brink of poverty.

This is how it is when a barrier catches us. Reality is replaced with dysfunctional thinking and fearful imaginings, and no amount of rational argument can change this outlook. Nothing can persuade us to step through the barrier because in our minds what lies beyond is something horrible.

Knowing our reluctance, the Zen Masters of old created the koan system to distract our thinking minds so something greater can be born.

There is no answer to a koan because the koan itself is nonsensical. When we think we understand it, the Zen Master will give us three blows and send our befuddled minds back to the koan to try again. Until we finally divorce ourselves from thought we will never be open to the koan’s true solution.

Life does the same as the koan system. It presents us with insolvable problems and knocks us down just when we think we have the answer. In doing so, life pushes all of humanity to give up their dysfunctional ways, even as humanity tries ever harder to patch them up.

So, if life is a koan for which there is no thinkable solution, “What,” you may ask, “do we do?”

The answer to this question is simple, though heeding this may take years to attain.

In all things have no preferences but be relaxed with paradox and ambiguity. Attach yourself to nothing for that will only bring suffering. Remember that whatever you pursue with your thinking, that is what will limit your awareness.

If you follow these instructions you will come to know why Bodhidharma said, “Not thinking about anything is Zen.”

You will see why Thích Nhất Hạnh said, “The secret of Buddhism is to remove all ideas, all concepts, in order for the truth to have a chance to penetrate, to reveal itself.”

You will understand the wisdom in Pema Chödrön’s words, “Without giving up hope—that there’s somewhere better to be, that there’s someone better to be—we will never relax with where we are or who we are.”

And why Lao Tsu said, “Do nothing, and all will be well.”


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§ 8 Responses to Do nothing and all will be well.

  • tiramit says:

    Thanks for this, it reminded me of so many things and events in my life. I notice the following is in italics: “In all things have no preferences but be relaxed with paradox and ambiguity. Attach yourself to nothing for that will only bring suffering. Remember that whatever you pursue with your thinking, that is what will limit your awareness.” Is it a quote from another source, or your own words? Either way, I’d like to use it in a future post.


    • The writings in italics were garnered from three different sources. They are not exact quotes but paraphrasing to fit into the overall sense of the post. The first line owes its origins to Pema Chodron who has on occasion spoken of ambiguity, the second to the Buddha and the last, it seems I’ve misplaced that source.

      The idea was to say the same thing in three different ways so I chose three different people to say it. I didn’t source them because what they are saying has been said in various ways by various people not only in Buddhism but in other religions and in today’s psychology as well. Strangely, however, when most of us sit to meditate the first thing we do is pursue a preferred line of thought to which we’ve become attached. It’s not easy just to sit.

      If you still wish to use the words, please do.


  • I absolutely love this. Very powerful, insightful and to the point.


    • Thank you. Trying to express an idea and at the same time make it enjoyable to read is something this writer struggles with. Been trying to do both, lately, so your positive response gives me some hope that I’m moving in the write direction.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I liked it because you’ve expressed a known concept in a very personal way, while at the same time referring to important references that give additional robustness to your argument. By the way you wrote the post one could tell that you made these insights yours. Also, the writing style you’ve used makes it easy for readers to retains the important bits in their memory. The only think I would have added would have been a personal story. Was there a practical case where were this “no thinking” helped you moving forward? Which barriers of your own making did you pass exactly? How did it felt? Once passing them did they reappear or were they gone forever? Perhaps this is material for another post, though! Ciao and thanks!


      • I have considered including personal stories but, in the past when I read of people’s personal stories of attainment, I thought they were inspiring but lacked any real insight into how they got there. Their stories also seemed to imply some end point of attainment where, it also seemed, all problems would be solved. I wanted to know how to clear my mind but they were providing no insight on how to get there. Here, in August Meditations, I attempt to clarify through a Buddhist perspective the salient points that best help me along the path of awakening. My hope is that it will help others, too.

        But August Meditations is also a personal story. It tells of how I’ve been coming to see thought as just thought, just something in my head that I’ve been mistaking for reality. It speaks of how my mind is becoming clearer as I learn not to move toward, or run away from, thought. It doesn’t do this by telling of how these fundamental insights of Buddhism are experienced in my outer life. It’s does this as an evolving expression of what is going on in my inner life. To me, there is nothing more personal than that.


      • Good point. Have you read the book “After Englightement the Laundry” By Jack Kornfield? He was one of the few authors speaking about what you’ve just described: to realise that even after “enlightement” experiences you still need to move along in life. Your words reminded me of that book


      • I’ve not read Jack Kornfield but, of course, Zen Master Hakuin Ekaku of the Rinzai School of Zen did emphasize the need for post-satori practice. No matter how great your initial insight, there is always the need to incorporate that insight into your daily life, and that takes time and practice.

        This is especially true when you consider that “enlightenment”, or whatever term one uses, is an awakening to the ineffable and formless. Realizing this, the next question is how to make it an active part of our lives so we may help others. In other words, how to give form to the formless, and words to the ineffable.

        Liked by 1 person

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