The Secret of Non-Doing

Osho on Chinese Philosopher and politician Confucius

Born in 551 BC in Zou (a province of China), Confucius lost his father at the age of three and was raised by his mother. They were poor so he began working at an early age. He took up any available jobs in the local government and assiduously worked his way up the ladder. In a fortuitous confluence of dynastic rivalries and his growing reputation as a philosopher, Confucius rose to the position of Minister of Crime.

His philosophy permeates both religion and politics in China making him one of the most influential figures in human history. It came to be known as Confucianism, focuses on ethics, morality, righteousness, justice, family loyalty and ancestor veneration. Confucius stressed on the importance of study of ancient Chinese texts religiously. His most famous work, The Analects of Confucius, is a collection of his sayings and ideas compiled by his followers. In the book though Confucius presents himself as a transmitter who invented nothing. Confucius’s ideology and teachings expectedly won him the respect of the aristocracy and governments. His descendants were honoured by successive imperial governments with titles of nobility and official posts. 

Osho has spoken extensively on Confucius in His discourses. Osho says Confucius was a great rationalist, a pragmatist and realist. He wasn’t a mystic but a moralist. The world has not known such a great formalist. He was simply manners, morality, culture and etiquette. He has continued to influence China for over 25 centuries.   

Osho shares a practice introduced by Confucius in ancient China that turned the whole practice of Medicine around. It remained functioning for centuries after Confucius. Osho says Confucius advised the emperor that doctors should be paid for keeping people healthy, not for curing them. It is dangerous if people pay doctors when they are sick because doctors would like people to be sick so that they have an opportunity to treat them. Confucius said that everybody should register for a personal physician and everybody should pay his doctor a certain sum for keeping him healthy. The payment should stop when the person falls sick. Doctors should be made responsible for the expense of nursing a person back to health. This would make the doctors authentically invested in people’s health.

Osho attributes the overwhelming embracing of Buddhism in China to Confucius. Osho says Confucius was a materialist. He denied the inner. To him, everything was outer. He believed that there is no God, no soul, no heaven, no hell and all religions are useless. Consciousness is just a by-product of five elements getting together, and death is the end. There is no life before death and no life after death. You come from nothingness and go into nothingness.  His whole teaching was focused on ethics, morality and social behaviour. Infact it is because of Confucius that China turned to Communism because his thinking was very close to that of Karl Marx. And Confucius had been such a dominant and influential figure in China that the whole soul of the Chinese people was parched; was hungry for religion. Millions and millions of people… a great appetite… that Buddhism fulfilled.

Osho Says….



My God! This is the time… even if you know how to swim, forget it! The tide has brought you to the shore; where are you going by swimming? Are you going to swim in the sand? You are fortunate that the tide has brought you to the shore. Now don’t be stupid. If you start swimming you will be swimming against yourself, you will undo what the tide has done.

There are things which only happen, which cannot be done. Doing is the way of very ordinary things, mundane things. You can do something to earn money, you can do something to be powerful, you can do something to have prestige; but you cannot do anything as far as love is concerned, gratitude is concerned, silence is concerned. It is a very significant thing to understand that doing means the world, and non-doing means that which is beyond the world — where things happen, where only the tide brings you to the shore. If you swim, you miss. If you do something you will undo it; because all doing is mundane. Very few people come to know the secret of non-doing and allowing things to happen.

If you want great things — things which are beyond the small reach of human hands, human mind, human abilities — then you will have to learn the art of non-doing. I call it meditation. It is a trouble, because the moment you give a name to it, immediately people start asking how to do it. And you cannot say that they are wrong, because the very word `meditation’ creates the idea of doing. They have done their doctorate, they have done a thousand and one things; when they hear the word `meditation’ they ask, “So just tell us how to do it.” And

meditation basically means the beginning of non-doing, relaxing, going with the tide — just being a dead leaf in the winds, or a cloud, moving with the winds.

Never ask a cloud, “Where are you going?” He himself does not know; he has no address, he has no destiny. If the winds change… he was going to the south, he starts moving towards the north. The cloud does not say to the winds, “This is absolutely illogical. We were moving south, now we are moving north — what is the point of it all?” No, he simply starts moving north as easily as he was moving south. To him, south, north, east, west, don’t make any difference. Just to move with the wind… with no desire, with no goal, nowhere to reach — he is just enjoying the journey. Meditation makes you a cloud — of consciousness. Then there is no goal. Never ask a meditator “Why are you meditating?” because that question is irrelevant.

Meditation is in itself the goal and the way together.

Lao Tzu, one of the most important figures in the history of non-doing…. If history is to be written rightly then there should be two kinds of histories: the history of doers — Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, Nadirshah, Alexander, Napoleon Bonaparte, Ivan the Terrible, Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini; these are the people who belong to the world of doing. There should be another history, a higher history, a real history — of human consciousness, of human evolution: the history of Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, Lieh Tzu, Gautam Buddha, Mahavira, Bodhidharma; a totally different kind. Lao Tzu became enlightened sitting under a tree. And a leaf had just started falling — it was in the fall, and there was no hurry; the leaf was coming zig-zag with the wind, slowly. He watched the leaf. The leaf came down on the ground, settled on the ground, and as he watched the leaf falling and settling, something settled in him. From that moment, he became a non-doer. The winds come on their own, the existence takes care.

He was the contemporary of a great thinker, moralist, law giver, Confucius. Confucius belongs to the other history, the history of the doers. Confucius had great influence over China — and has even today.

Chuang Tzu and Lieh Tzu were the disciples of Lao Tzu. These three people have reached to the highest peaks, but nobody seems to be impressed by them. People are impressed when you do something great. Who is impressed by somebody who has achieved a state of non-doing? But Confucius had heard the name of Lao Tzu, and was interested — “What kind of man is this who says that real things can be achieved only by non-doing? Nothing can be achieved by non-doing; you have to do, you have to become a great doer.” And hearing that Lao Tzu was very close by in the mountains, Confucius went with his disciples to see him. He had many disciples — kings, princes. He was a great teacher. But he stopped everybody outside. He said, “Let me go inside the cave to see him, because as I have heard he is a dangerous man and I don’t know how he is going to behave with me. You simply remain outside. If I call you in, you can come; otherwise, I will tell you afterwards what happened.”

And it was wise of him not to take that whole group of disciples with him, because when he came back he was perspiring. And they said, “What happened? — because it is so cold, and the winds are so cool in the mountains, and you are perspiring.”

He said, “You should be glad I am alive. That man is not a man, he is a dragon. He is really dangerous. Avoid him!”

We don’t know from Lao Tzu’s side what happened in the cave, but we know what Confucius reported. He said, “As I entered in, he did not even look at me. I went around him, but he did not take any note of me. Even that was enough to give me a trembling — in that dark cave, that man sitting there so silent, as if he is not. Finally I had to break the silence, to break the ice, and I said, `I am Confucius.’

“And that old, dangerous fellow said, `So what? Remain Confucius.’ And the conversation would not start because — how to talk with this man? I said, `I have come here to talk with you.’

“He said, `Okay, you can talk. I have never prevented anybody from talking. Talk, but there is nobody here to answer you.’

“Gathering courage,” Confucius said, “I asked, `But what about you?’ And he laughed and he said, `About me! Yes, I used to be, but it is for a long time that I have not been. The house is empty. There is no host here, but if you want you can be a guest.'”

Seeing that there was no way to have a nice, gentlemanly conversation with this man, Confucius said, “I have come from a long distance” — thinking that he would feel a little compassion.

Lao Tzu said, “That shows that you are stupid. You don’t know anything about me; otherwise, you would not have come. Now you are wanting some compassion from me. A man who is absent, how can he be compassionate?”

Confucius said, “At least give me some advice — how to relax, to rest.”

Lao Tzu said, “For that you will have to wait. Death will come, and in your grave you will relax and rest, not before that. Because if you want to rest before that, then forget that crowd that you have left outside. You remain here and I will go — just a lion’s roar and they will all escape, none will come back to this cave again. You rest and relax.”

So Confucius said, “No, don’t do that. They are my disciples. Some are kings, some are princes, some are great, rich people. I cannot afford it.”

Lao Tzu said, “That’s why I said that in life you cannot afford relaxation; only death can help. Those who understand can relax in life and rest in life. And the miracle is: for them there is no death, because they have already done what death does. Those who are stupid don’t rest, they don’t relax. Then nature has managed a device called death, so they can relax in their graves.

“Don’t be worried. You will have a good marble grave with great inscriptions on it in golden letters: Here lies the great Confucius, the teacher of kings and emperors. But if you want to be with me, you have to understand: I am going to be a death to you. Without that — unless I kill you, destroy you — there is no way of saving you.”

Confucius somehow said, “I will come again.”

Lao Tzu laughed. He said, “Don’t lie. You will never come again. This time you came because you had no idea what kind of man you were going to meet. But I enjoyed it. Now go and tell the crowd all the lies you want.” So we don’t know exactly what transpired in that cave. This much is from Confucius. Much more must have happened there, which needs guts even to report.

Lao Tzu’s whole teaching was the watercourse way: just go with the water wherever it is going, don’t swim. You are blessed that the tide has brought you to the shore. But the mind always wants to do something, because then the credit goes to the ego. Now the credit goes to the tide, not to you. If you had come swimming to the shore, you would have come with a great ego, that “I managed to cross the English channel.” Feel humble. It is not a question of learning swimming; it is a question of understanding why you have asked this question. Your ego is feeling unfulfilled, you cannot take the credit; the whole credit goes to the tide. But why not give the credit to the tide, why not give the credit to existence?

Existence gives you birth, gives you life, gives you love; it gives you everything that is invaluable, that you cannot purchase with money. Only those who are ready to give the whole credit of their lives to existence realize the beauty and the benediction; only those people are religious people. It is not a question of your doing. It is a question of your being absent, non-doing, letting things happen. Let go — just these two words contain the whole religious experience…

Have you sometimes seen people drowning in water? While they are alive they come up again and again and shout, “Help! Help!” And again they go down — come up, go down — and finally they don’t come up. But after two or three days they come up — and then they don’t go back down — but now they are dead. The village where I was born was by the side of a beautiful river, and I have seen a few people drowning in the river — it was a mountainous river; in the rainy season it became miles wide, and the current was so strong that to cross it was just to risk your life — but when they died, they suddenly came up, started floating.

In my very childhood I learned one thing: that there is something which dead people know and the living people don’t know. Because the living shout “Help! Help!” and go down; and the dead simply come up — no shouting, and they float so easily, and no drowning anymore. They must know some secret. I used to ask my father, “What is the secret that the dead people know?”

He said, “You are mad, and you will drive me mad. Now how am I supposed to know? They are simply dead, they know nothing.”

I said, “I cannot trust that, because I can see them floating so beautifully — there must be a secret that the living are missing.” And when I started swimming, I came to know the secret.

In the beginning, when you learn swimming it seems so difficult, almost impossible. You get so many times drowned — water goes in the nose, in the mouth — but just within three or four days you are perfect, as if you have been swimming for lives. And just within three or four weeks you can float like a dead man, without swimming, without moving your hands. You can just lie down, relaxed, and the river is no longer trying to drown you. I told my father, “I have learned the secret. It is not a big thing, it is a simple thing: because the dead are not trying to swim, they are relaxed. They are not worried about drowning, they are already dead — what can they do? They are in a state of non-doing. And the living are trying hard to save themselves. It is not the river that drowns them, it is their effort to save themselves that drowns them. Because now I know exactly how to be like a dead body in the water, I can lie there for hours and the river is not interested in drowning me. But it is a non-doing, I am not doing anything.”

In life you are trying to do everything. Please, leave a few things for non-doing, because those are the only valuable things. There are people who are trying to love, because from the very beginning the mother is saying to the child, “You have to love me because I am your mother.” Now she is making love also a logical syllogism — “because I am your mother.” She is not allowing love to grow on its own, it has to be forced. The father is saying, “Love me, I am your father.” And the child is so helpless that all that he can do is pretend. What else can he do? He can smile, he can give a kiss, and he knows that it is all pretension — he does not mean it, it is all phony. It is not coming from him. But because you are his daddy, you are his mommy, you are this, you are that…. They are spoiling one of the most precious experiences of life. Then wives are telling husbands, “You have to love me, I am your wife.” Strange. Husbands are saying, “You have to love me. I am your husband, it is my birthright.”

Love cannot be demanded. If it comes your way, be thankful; if it does not come, wait. Even in your waiting there should be no complaint, because you don’t have any right. Love is nobody’s right, no constitution can give you the right of love. But they are all destroying everything — then wives are smiling, husbands are hugging…. One of America’s most famous authors, Dale Carnegie, writes that every husband has to tell his wife at least three times a day, “I love you, darling.” Are you insane? But he means it, and it works; and many people, millions of people, are practicing Dale Carnegie followers. “When you come home, bring ice cream, flowers, roses, to show that you love” — as if love needs to be shown, proved materially, pragmatically, linguistically; every now and then uttered again and again so nobody forgets it. If you don’t tell your wife for a few days that “I love you” she will count how many days have passed, and she will become more and more suspicious that this man must be saying it to somebody else, because her quota is being cut. Love is a quantity. If he is not bringing ice cream anymore, ice cream must be going somewhere else, and this cannot be tolerated.

We have created a society which believes only in doings, while the spiritual part of our being remains starved — because it needs something which is not done but happens. Not that you manage to say “I love you” but that suddenly you find yourself saying that you love. You are surprised yourself at what you are saying. You are not rehearsing it in your mind first and then repeating it, no; it is spontaneous. And in fact, the real moments of love remain unspoken. When you are really feeling love, that very feeling creates around you a certain radiance that says everything that you cannot say, that can never be said…

We live without any rebelliousness — and the ultimate result is that slowly slowly hypocrisy becomes our very characteristic. We forget completely that it is hypocrisy. And in the mind, in the being of a man who is a hypocrite, anything of the world of non-doing is impossible. He can go on doing more and more; he will become almost a robot. His whole life is doing. Day and night he is doing, because everything that he has is an outcome of doing. But if you suddenly had an experience of happening, take it as a gift from existence — and make that moment a beginning of a new lifestyle.

Forget swimming. Allow the tide to take you — to any shore. Don’t be worried, you will find me on any shore watching you. It is not that on this shore it was just a coincidence that you came on the tide and you found me, no. If you come on the tide, wherever you come you will find me. But come on the tide. If you come swimming, you will not find me on any seashore. My whole approach is of non-doing. Just allow a few moments in twenty-four hours when you are not doing anything, allowing the existence to do something to you. And windows will start opening in you — windows which will connect you with the universal, the immortal.


This is an excerpt from the transcript of a public discourse by Osho in Buddha Hall, Shree Rajneesh Ashram, Pune. 

Discourse Series: The Osho Upanishad

Chapter #28

Chapter title: If you swim, you miss

15 September 1986 pm


Osho has spoken on eminent philosophers Aristotle, Berkeley, Confucius, Descartes, Feuerbach, Hegel, Heidegger, Heraclitus, Huxley, Jaspers, Kant, Kierkegaard, Marx, Moore, Nietzsche, Plato, Pythagoras, Russell, Sartre, Socrates, Wittgenstein and many others in His discourses. Some of these can be referred to in the following books/discourses:

  1. The Dhammapada: The Way of the Buddha Vol.2,3,4,6,8,10,11,12
  2. The Empty Boat
  3. From Bondage to Freedom
  4. From Misery to Enlightenment
  5. The Search
  6. The Revolution
  7. Dogen, the Zen Master: A Search and a Fulfilment
  8. Walking in Zen, Sitting in Zen
  9. One Seed Makes the Whole Earth Green
  10. Sufis: People on the Path Vol. 1, 2
  11. Dang Dang Doko Dang
  12. Beyond Psychology
  13. The Rebel
  14. The Messiah Vol. 1, 2
  15. The Perfect Master Vol.2
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