To Be Shown to the Monks at a Certain Temple

Not yet to the shore of nondoing,
it’s silly to be sad you’re not moored yet…
Eastmount’s white clouds say
to keep on moving, even
if it’s evening, even if it’s fall.

Chiao Jan

On this Monday, when most people are starting their work week, focused on action and accomplishment, I thought Chiao Jan should remind us of the goal of “nondoing.”

Not yet to the shore of nondoing,
it’s silly to be sad you’re not moored yet…

To be “moored” implies the boat of the self has arrived at its destination — enlightenment. But what does that have to do with “nondoing”?

Nondoing isn’t so much inactivity; rather, in the midst of action, there is no personal sense of doership. Action takes place through you, but within you are quiet, at ease, a serene witness. Action no longer emerges from the impulses of the ego, and actions do not reinforce the ego. I know this sounds like a concept that only arcane philosophers would care about, but the actual experience is one of delightful, pure flow, as if a layer of grime has finally been washed from your hands. Movement just naturally occurs upon an open field of awareness. Some traditions describe this actionless action as writing on water, the movement occurs but no trace of ego is left behind.

So this is Chiao Jan’s nondoing.

But he is writing this from the perspective of an aging monk who hasn’t quite reached that shore yet. Even though it’s evening, even if it’s fall, even if if the years have gathered in our bones and hang upon our faces, the mountain of the east — the direction of sunrise and enlightenment — beckons us onward, and inward. We journey until we arrive.

And Chiao Jan is absolutely right: It is silly to be sad at not yet having arrived. There’s a secret key here, one that’s so easy to overlook in spiritual practice. It’s silly to be sad to be where one is. Think about that for a moment. To wish to be somewhere else, even if that somewhere is enlightenment, is to wish to be somewhere other than where you are. Whereas true enlightenment — and nondoing — are only possible when one is deeply present. It is only by fully being where we are that we then discover our boat has arrived at the shore.


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