“Be sovereign wherever you are
and use that place as your seat of awakening”.
“As I see it, there isn’t much to do. Just be ordinary – put on your robes, eat your food, and pass the time doing nothing.”
Master Linji, Teaching 18
Nothing To Do, Nowhere To Go
“Many of us have spent our whole lives learning, questioning, and searching.
” But even on the path of enlightenment, if all we do is study, we’re wasting our time and that of our teacher. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t study; study and practice help each other. But what’s important is not the goal we’re seeking—even if that goal is enlightenment—but living each moment of our daily life truly and fully.
“When we learn to stop and be truly alive in the present moment, we are in touch with what’s going on within and around us. We aren’t carried away by the past, the future, our thinking, ideas, emotions, and projects. Often we think that our ideas about things are the reality of that thing. Our notion of the Buddha may just be an idea and may be far from reality. Buddha is not a reality that exists outside of us, but is our own true nature.
“Insight can’t be found in sutras, commentaries, verbal expression, or -isms. Liberation and awakened understanding can’t be found by devoting ourselves to the study of the Buddhist scriptures. This is like hoping to find fresh water in dry bones. Returning to the present moment, using our clear mind which exists right here and now, we can be in touch with liberation and enlightenment, as well as with the Buddha and the patriarchs as living realities right in this moment.
“The person who has nothing to do is sovereign of herself. She doesn’t need to put on airs or leave any trace behind. The true person is an active participant, engaged in her environment while remaining unoppressed by it. She lives in awareness as an ordinary person, whether standing, walking, lying down, or sitting. She doesn’t act a part, even the part of a great Zen master.
“This is what Master Linji means by ‘being sovereign wherever you are and using that place as your seat of awakening.’ ”
“Often, we live a life of compromise so that there’s peace in the house. We buy a ‘small peace’ so that we can get though the day. And if we live like that we aren’t a great person, but a cracked vase, unable to contain the rice soup. If we want to be a great Dharma instrument, then we have to be determined not to let other people trick us.
“Master Linji exhorted us to be the master of our own situation, but that doesn’t mean we need to fight and suppress others, but rather to be masters of ourselves. Suppose we have a friend who is quick to anger. We can think there is something wrong with him, and try to suppress his anger. Or we can be the masters of ourselves in that situation, feeling real compassion for the other person’s difficulties.
“Sometimes it’s not a person in the moment but a person in the past who we think is the master of our situation. We say we are behaving a certain way because of something our parents or someone else did to us as a child. But each person has their own karma and each person is the master of their own situation in the moment, not a slave to others past or present.
“The true person doesn’t go looking for an outside master. WE are in charge of our own destiny and we have to be responsible for each of our own words, thoughts, and actions. Mindfulness will help. Then we realize, ‘I’m thinking like this. I’m responsible for these thoughts. I’ve spoken like that, I’m responsible for my words. I’m doing this, and I’m responsible for this action.’
“We have to know that each word, each thought, each of our actions carries our signature. We are responsible for it and that is called being in charge of ourselves.
“Wherever we stand, wherever we sit, we are the true person. We are masters of ourselves and wherever we are, we are ourselves. We only need to live these eight words, and that’s enough to make us master Linji’s student. Worthy to be his continuation: ‘Wherever we are, we are our true person.’ Write these words and hang them somewhere to remind yourself.”
by Thich Nhat Hanh, Nothing To Do, Nowhere To Go p. 128
Q: I feel guilty when I’m not occupied. Is it okay to do nothing?
A: In our society, we’re inclined to see doing nothing as something negative, even evil. But when we lose ourselves in activities we diminish our quality of being. We do ourselves a disservice. It’s important to preserve ourselves, to maintain our freshness and good humor, our joy and compassion. In Buddhism we cultivate “aimlessness” and in fact in Buddhist tradition the ideal person, an arhat or bodhisattva, is a businessless person- someone with nowhere to go and nothing to do. *People should learn how to just be there, doing nothing. Try to spend a day doing nothing; we call that a “lazy day”. Although for many of us who are used to running around from this to that, a lazy day is actually very hard work! It’s not easy to just be. If you can be happy, relaxed, and smiling when you’re not doing something, you’re quite strong. Doing nothing brings about quality of being, which is very important. So doing nothing is actually something. Please write that down and display it in your home: Doing nothing is something.
From Answers from the Heart (2009) by Thich Nhat Hanh. With permission of Parallax Press, Berkeley, California. www.parallax.org