What Is Action?

Chinese masters speak of "Wei Wu Wei," doing by not doing. An ancient Chinese general, having defeated several armies of invaders, declared, "I would rather retreat one mile than advance one inch." Is that action?

In the "Bhagavad Gita," which was Gandhi's favorite book, God appears to the warrior, Arjuna, on a battlefield just before combat. Arjuna asks the Lord whether to fulfill his duty and fight, or refrain from battle. The Lord replies: "When you see stillness in action, and action in stillness, then you truly see."

Quantum physics reveals that material particles vibrate out of a silent vacuum. Even more mysterious, the stillness of the vacuum is teeming with unmanifest "virtual" particles. It seems this entire world of physical activity is pervaded by stillness.

If you march in a political demonstration, passionately shouting your beliefs against those who shout against you, shutting down traffic and commerce to stop the war, is that action? If you stand still for hours in silence, with a vigil candle in hand, before a court house or a military recruiting station, is that action? If you write a passionate essay or a letter to the newspaper, are your words actions?

If you gaze into the eyes of a passing stranger, with your heart full of love, what have you done?

If you sit in deep meditation, filling the boundless universe with compassion, are you not doing? Not-doing? Or undoing the not?

In the garden of Gethsemane, Christ's disciples confronted the authorities with sword in hand. The situation was ripe for revolution. But Jesus said, "Stop. Put the sword away." The authorities arrested him, beat him up, and took him to Pilate, the Roman ruler. Finally, Jesus had an opportunity to speak truth to power! But before Pilate, he was silent. Not a word! They led him away to be crucified.

Why didn't he do something?