Teachers: Doing and Being

by | Mar 11, 2021 | Essays on Awakening

I’ve been very lucky in my life to have had many wonderful teachers. One of my teachers was a Taoist teacher; I spent three years with him and learned so much. He was a teacher of form. Most teachers in the world are teachers of form, as were my Tibetan Buddhist teachers. They taught certain forms called “practises;” so I did prostrations, learned different mantras, visualizations of deities and different practices of emptiness. These were all useful in their way. Almost all teachers have a form and a practise in order to master the teacher’s form through discipline and countless hours of attention. When you can execute the form as well as the teacher, then you have become a master of that form. In Sanskrit you are called a guru, which means teacher.

There is a tension between learning a form in order to do something, and being. All of ego is a force for doing and all of our culture is based on doing. When I was in Berkeley in the 1970s, I remember walking down the street and seeing some graffiti on the wall that really impressed me, I still remember it:

To do is to be – Sartre

To be is to do – Lao Tzu

Do be do be do – Sinatra

Sartre, having the existentialist view, believed that doing is being: I am what I do. I am my career, I am my art, I am my relationships. Whatever it is I do, that’s who I am. That’s what we are trained to believe, and it has been a successful survival strategy. Our drive to survive as animals leads to lives as successful doers. Accumulating wealth, accumulating family, accumulating relationships, accumulating power, doing art…. Whatever it is, there’s a sense that if I do it right, if I do enough, I’ll be happy and fulfilled. Yet, while it may lead to successful survival, it never leads to happiness and fulfillment. This is the dilemma at the heart of Sartre’s existential black hole of existence.

If you are sensitive enough and perhaps deep enough it may lead to an existential angst, a sense that there’s something missing, that even though you have been so successful in whatever it is that you have done, you are not happy nor fulfilled. Doing is never enough, because doing never leads to Being. It just simply doesn’t work that way.

With a Satguru, or teacher of awakening, there is no form. There is nothing to practice—there is nothing to copy. You can’t do it the way the teacher did it. There’s no way of being yourself; there’s no form you can follow. Anything that you learn as a form, as a practice, you will lose eventually, either when you die or when you stop practising it. The Satguru, through the very depth of one’s own realization, transmits the living possibility.

Realization is not something that can be won or lost or practiced. The sole purpose of life at this stage is to directly realize the truth of reality and Being. True realization is the fruit of the willingness to lose everything that can be lost in the desire for freedom and truth. Then true Being is realized to be the ground where doing arises. Everything seems to choicelessly flow when doing arises without the pressure and control of ego.

So the question is: are you, the doer reading this, ready to surrender in the search for love and fulfillment?

The person identified as “the doer,” is the veiling of being. “I did it, I want it, I, I, I.” This ‘I,’ that wants and needs and is successful and is sad and is happy—that ‘I’ is the one that suffers with the burden of imagining oneself to be in control and doing things. Perhaps you are visualizing prosperity or enlightenment, or trying to be in the moment or practicing meditation or yoga. That is the personal identity that veils Being. That egoic identity is what has to be seen through. That idea of yourself as somebody is the one that surrenders.

That’s the one that says: I must return to the source, I must realize the truth of myself no matter what. Doing just makes me tired, wears me out and doesn’t lead me to fulfillment.

In this return, there is a surrender of control, to return back to the source. Out of that surrender of a false identity based in suffering and a giving up of egoic control, there naturally arises the next line: to be is to do. Being yourself, quite naturally, doing happens. It happens without the sense that “I am doing it.” It becomes a natural expression of Being. Then the world is right side up.

Once the world is right side up, then as Sinatra sang, “Do be do be do.”


“When you can recognize who you are not, then there is a possibility to wake up and discover who you really are.”