Non-resistance and the Art of Resisting without Resisting!

Nope - Cat ResistingIn Buddhism, nature of non-resistance is truly non-dual, but I think this this non-dual nature is misapprehended sometimes.

Paradoxically, non-resistance doesn’t necessarily mean no resistance! Non-resistance is more like the martial artist Bruce Lee’s “fighting without fighting.”  Or better yet—and maybe pet owners can relate to this—it’s more like the resistive nonresistance of a cat, or dog, when they don’t want to me moved from some spot, and they turn into incredibly flexible and nearly immovable “blobs!”

Maybe a better term than “non-resistance” would be passive resistance, or nonviolent resistance or non-reactive resistance. In Buddhist practice, when developing mindful attention, it’s true that one does not resist what arises in mind — these things are just skandhas (Sanskrit) or khandhas (Pāḷi).  These “aggregates”—material form, sensation, perception, mental formations, and consciousness—are what constitute the human being.

Healing WaterfallYou can’t keep khandas from arising and passing away, any more than a waterfall can stop and start the water passing through it.  A waterfall is defined by the water passing through it, and in Buddhism, khandas are what we self-identify with (which is a big problem, from the Buddhist standpoint, since clinging to the aggregates as “I” and “me” and “mine” are the origin of suffering.)

But simply because some thought or feeling or impulse arises, doesn’t mean we necessarily give ourselves over to it—or worse, just mindlessly give some impulse expression through self-identification with it! The point of mindful attention is to stop—come to a full stop and to look into the nature of what is arising. Is what is arising likely to produce happiness, or to produce suffering?  Or is it neutral?  What is going on?

If we are not sure—or even if we act mindlessly and on “autopilot”—we still have to pay attention to consequences! We still have to recognize when some mental/emotional khanda train roared on by, with us blithely on board through self-identification, and ended in a train wreck!

Inner LightTo bring an end to suffering, we have to look into the effects of our letting some thought, feeling, impulse, or idea give rise to actions. (In Buddhism, it’s all about cause and effect—kamma, or karma—and about becoming very wise at observing and understanding how cause and effect operate as karma in our lives.)

With practice — and Buddhism is also all about patient, right effort-full practice — and with appropriate attention to the causes of happiness, and the causes of suffering, we can do better.  We don’t have to be carried away by arising thoughts and feelings that leave us beat up and bruised — or others beat up and bruised!  As we learn how to pay attention, we actually can choose not to act out. Right there, in that mindful stopping and choosing— that’s the resisting non-resistance!

The art of “fighting without fighting” is by no means simply allowing ourselves to be swept along by the arising of our own or another’s khandas!  What brings suffering to an end is non-violent, non-reactive resistance that is absolutely anchored in mindfulness and flexible, pliant, flowing, water-like presence of mind.

The great Thai forest meditation teacher Ajahn Chah spoke of this presence of mind as “still, flowing water.”  He said:

“Have you ever seen flowing water? Have you ever seen still water? If your mind is peaceful, it’s like still, flowing water. Have you ever seen still, flowing water?  There! You’ve only seen flowing water and still water. You’ve never seen still, flowing water.

Right there, right where your thinking can’t take you: where the mind is still but can develop discernment. When you look at your mind, it’ll be like flowing water, and yet still. It looks like it’s still, it looks like it’s flowing, so it’s called still, flowing water. That’s what it’s like. That’s where discernment can arise.”

Stone gardenThis is the state of mind that gives rise to true non-dual resisting without resisting—or , to put it another way, not resisting by immovable resistance!  The words may seem contradictory, but the actual experience of  this non-duality is wonderful, even if it’s not easily expressed in words.  In paraphrase of the great Mahayana Heart Sutra: form is emptiness; emptiness is form. True resistance is non-resistance; true non-resistance is resistance!

Practically speaking, this means there are times to say “yes” and times to say “no” to what arises.  There are time to act and time to just be quiet and observe.  The big idea is to become conscious of what’s going on in our minds, and hearts, and lives. Whether our “yes’ or “no” is skillful all depends on where it is coming from—from reactivity or from true presence of mind and insight.

Finally, the skillful practitioner doesn’t get caught in words or in mere ideas about either resistance or non-resistance.  Cultivating true presence of mind, the mind of “still, flowing water,” we will find that increasingly we naturally do what is most skillful and most harmless.  This is the arising of citta, of “original mind.”

Until that wisdom and right action arise spontaneously without thought or conscious effort, what is most skillful is to practice paying attention.  What liberates is to look into what arises and passes away with dispassion, skill, and wisdom until  “original mind” is manifest through the causes and conditions that give rise to its appearing.  Then concepts of “resistance” and “non-resistance” dissolve.  They cease to be seen as dualities and are known as merely two aspects of one thing, and that one thing is presence of “still, flowing” mind.

Waterfall and Whilpool


About Steven Goodheart

"I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them." Spinoza

One Response to “Non-resistance and the Art of Resisting without Resisting!”

  1. Ed.Zebolonè Goldstein Reply 2013/09/18 at 10:12 PM

    ~ 100%like ~ • ~ ཡོ ~

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