Sunday, May 20, 2012

Not Zen 6: Non Action

A young mother sat in the grass outside her guru's studio. She had brought her infant son, who was of an age to walk. As a consequence, when he awoke from his nap during the tutoring session, he proceeded to crawl to the nearest iron railing and pull himself upright.

He wobbled and nearly fell over onto the sidewalk. The guru, having dashed over in her blue robes, saved him. She was not upset with the mother for bringing her child but she reproached her for failing to pay attention.

"But I was practicing my sitting," the mother protested. "I was feeling my breath. You told me to practice 'non action.'"

"Non action is not inaction," explained the guru. "It is not natural for a mother to watch her child in danger and do nothing."

"What is natural, then?"

"Have you learned so many things from books that you don't know what's natural? This is what Lao Tse meant by needing to unlearn. 'Non action' occurs when a person acts in harmony with inner principles. The inner principle is what Lao Tse called the 'De.'"

"I read that De meant the 'true nature' of a thing."

"It is the opposite of learned, artificial, and often incorrect knowledge. It is the part of life that is not formally learned."

"Is De what we call instinct?"

The guru sighed. She let the infant boy go crawl in the grass.

"Lao Tse lived long ago and he used language differently than we do now. Perhaps what you call instinct is a small part of De. To know your De, you must let go of book learning. See the world not as it should be in those books but as it really is. Don't act on what you think is true. Instead, practice non action."

"You mean, don't act?" said the student as she watched her son try to climb up at concrete step at the end of the sidewalk in front of the studio.

"And don't 'not act,'" said the guru as she stepped forward. She rolled up the sleeves of her robe, put out her hands, and caught the child as it fell backwards.

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