Master by not mastering

“A good swimmer will in no time get the knack of boating, that means he’s forgotten the water,” said the sage.

master wuwei

How does a master perform his art?

Strangely enough, a master can perform only when he does not think of performing. Thinking of performing turns his performance into execution. Execution takes the sparks away from the greatness of his performance.

Master acts without acting. He is not in the art of performing; but the art of non-doing or wuwei. He is desireless. He moves and flows with Tao, letting go of his attachment, and performs without performing.

How does he do it? This is exactly a disciple of Confucius asked the master boatman.

In the fable of Chuang Tzu, the disciple of Confucius met the master boatman who was known for his supernatural skills. Curiously he asked, “Can a person learn how to handle a boat like you?”

“Certainly,” said the master boatman. “But if you want to be a good boatman, do not worry about rowing a boat.”

“Not worry about rowing?” the disciple was taken aback. “Then how can you handle a boat?”

“You don’t worry about rowing, you just make sure that you can swim,” the boatman said. “If a man can swim under water, he may never have seen a boat before and still he’ll know how to handle it!”

“The moment a man becomes a good swimmer, he can get the knack of handling the boat, and become a good boatman in no time.”

The disciple did not fully comprehend what the boatman mean, and besought Confucius to spell it out.

“A good swimmer will in no time get the knack of boating, that means he’s forgotten the water,” said the sage.

“If a man can swim under water, he may never have seen a boat before and still he’ll know how to handle it. This is because he sees the water as so much dry land, and regards the capsizing of a boat as he would the overturning of a cart.”

“The ten thousand things may all be capsizing and backsliding at the same time right in front of him and it can’t get at him and affect what’s inside. So where could he go and not be at ease?” added the sage.

Picture credit:  Painting by Master Fu Baoshi

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