Recently, I was part of a discussion of the difference between doing nothing and doing nothing. The former takes the place from the perspective of the fictitious character that thinks there is a person who is able to and can do something or perhaps do nothing at all. Conversely, the latter can only be understood from the perspective of the absolute.
As I mentioned in a recent post, in Buddhism, the spiritual and material realm are often referred to as the absolute and the relative, respectively. The relative is the world of perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and form. It is the world that is experienced as space and time. It includes the projection of a ‘me’ upon this world.
Conversely, the absolute is not actually any thing, but contains everything. It has also been called emptiness, nothingness, deathless, oneness, wholeness, and the divine. But make no mistake: the absolute is not something. Although it is everything, it cannot be held, weighed, or measured. And even though concepts and labels are often applied to it, such as ‘the absolute,’ when experienced directly, there is the direct experience of there being no thing. Nothing.
So what exactly is the difference between doing nothing and doing nothing? Well, doing nothing is actually doing something. It involves an actor and a set of behaviors, even if the behaviors are sitting still, or thinking, or meditating, or watching a sunset. There is an observer and something being observed. There are perceptions, thoughts, and feelings. It is activity or non-activity from the relative perspective.
But doing nothing? Well, as the phrase was originally used, it means abiding as the absolute; as your true nature; as Oneness; as Awakeness; as the eternal, boundless no thing that you are.
(Before I go on, I want to add the following here. First, it is easy for the mind to come in and interpret this doing nothing as doing something. Second, and conversely, abiding as the absolute might lead to potentially destructive and harmful behaviors because if there is nothing going on, then it doesn’t matter what “one” does.
Notice that in both cases above, whether it is acknowledged or not, there is still a sense of a ‘me.’ With the former, the ‘me’ arises and co-opts the experience of being the absolute, thinking that something happened; something the ‘me’ can do again in order to have that experience again. Feelings of grandiosity might be mixed with feelings of having “had it, but then lost it.” With the latter, the ‘me’ arises but the experience of being the absolute is mistakenly seen as being truly empty. The point is missed or perhaps just forgotten that the ‘me’ IS the absolute. And because mind needs to instill a sense of meaning into everything, emptiness is then viewed as an existential hell-hole. Consequently, depression might set in. Or conversely, a mindset sets in that it doesn’t matter what one does because nothing matters anyway. Which, in turn, might lead to behavior that is harmful to oneself and others.)
But when it is realized that the relative and the absolute are not one thing or two things; that they are, at once, simultaneously, all things and no thing, then it follows that the statement doing nothing might be better expressed as nothing doing: the absolute and the relative together in one succinct phrase. Nothing. Doing.
In fact, it might be even more accurate to just collapse the absolute and the relative and say that doing just happens. But if that is the case, it might be easy to forget to ask the question: But what exactly is doing the doing? Nothing! That’s why, when this is fully realized, life is lived fully: Nothing matters AND everything counts. There is nothing doing.
Which is, of course, just this! Right now.