The Power of Yielding: Getting it Done By Not Doing It.

by Fred Lehrman

“By non-action, all things are accomplished… Without leaving his house, the Sage knows everything in the world
...My words are easy to understand.”

Dao Te Ching


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I remember sitting one morning several years ago with Professor Cheng and several students in the Asian Library at Columbia University. The Club of Rome Report had just been released by MIT, and one of the students had bought in a clipping from the New York Times outlining the hopelessness of solving the compounded problems posed by overpopulation, food shortage, energy resource depletion, atmospheric pollution, radioactive waste, etc. The student was quite upset, and asked professor Cheng what he thought of the situation, and how we could get out of it. The Taiji master turned the question around and asked the questioner what his ideas were. The student gave his answer, and sat expectantly, awaiting correction from the Sage. Instead, Professor Cheng turned to another student at the table, and asked, “What do you think about what he said?” This continued until each student had commented on the others ideas, and it was clear that the subject had been exhausted. There was really no way to solve the problem. Professor Cheng went back to reading his book.

After a pause, the first student, more upset than ever, asked again for some word from the teacher. Professor Cheng leaned forward, and put his book down next to the cup of hot tea which had just been refilled for him. “What will happen to the world? I don’t know. Look at this vapor; it comes from the tea, it goes into the air, and right about here” – he pointed in the air – “you don’t see it anymore. Where does it go?” He sat quietly for a moment while we pondered the empty space left after the world had destroyed itself. “Don’t worry about it, “he said , “Nothing gets lost.”

There are many lessons in this story. Primarily, we made the problems, because we are unable still to clear them up. The problems are in us, and not in the world. No one rules the world, because no one rules himself. Until that changes, the world rules us. Because Professor Cheng at first did nothing, we were able to see that; or rather, to experience it. And from this experience comes the natural response, without effort.

The lesson of the tea might appear superficially to mean that we ought to just sip merrily as we are being snuffed out. But Professor Cheng’s actions in the world don’t give the impression that that’s what he’s doing. The world gets better when he’s around, Thus, the other side of Taiji begins to become apparent. Professor Cheng’s teaching is this: in relation to yourself, internally, follow the Dao of Lao-tze—yield, yield, yield, invest in loss; in relation to the world, externally, follow Confucious—be responsible, act appropriately to the situation, and always, right timing, right timing, right timing.

Because he has let go, because he knows the abyss, the man of Dao has power.

In the Tui-shou, or “push hands” part of the Taiji practice, the students work in this paradox for hours on end. And as he learns to not resist, to let things have their way, he begins to find that they start to turn out his way just by virtue of his intention, with no strength applied. This is difficult to believe and harder to figure out. Through practice it becomes part of your body’s knowledge.

My point is this: go ahead and change the world. To the extent that you resist the Universe, the Universe will resist you. Make the way things are part of your plan, and everything will cooperate to get you there.

© 1998 Fredrick Lehrman

NOTE: Louis Swaim found the article on the Jung Tao School of Classical Chinese Medicine. CMC/s Webmaster contacted the Jung Tao School’s Webmaster and requested permission to post the article on our site. They responded by way of e-mail and later Dr. Sean Marshall, the school’s founder, called us and granted permission to reprint it.

Fred Lehrman was a senior student of the late Professor Cheng Man-ching for 9 years. He was one of Dr. Marshall’s primary teachers.

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