I heard some things recently that triggered a little invoice inside me to scream, “No!  That’s not the way it is.”  Here’s what I heard:

  1. Buddhist teaching is “Letting things happen as they will.”   “Que sera, sera.” in Spanish.  Or “Balaha na,” in Tagalog.
  2. I also heard someone refer to wu wei (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wu_wei) and my impression was that the intended meaning of this was, “non-action.”

This reminds me of the following joke:

A Buddhist phones the monastery and asks the monk, “Can you come to do a blessing for my new house?”
The monk replies “Sorry, I’m busy.”
“What are you doing? Can I help?”
“I’m doing nothing.” replied the monk. “Doing nothing is a monk’s core business and you can’t help me with that.”
So the next day the Buddhist phones again, “Can you please come to my house for a blessing?”
“Sorry,” said the monk, “I’m busy.”
“What are you doing?”
“I’m doing nothing,” replied the monk.
“But that was what you were doing yesterday!” said the Buddhist.
“Correct”, replied the monk, “I’m not finished yet!”
~ Ajahn Brahm

I think my little voice inside wanted to scream “No!  That’s not the way it is.”  Buddhist teaching does not promote determinism or fatalism.  But it’s easy to see how this misconception can come to be.  If you immerse yourself in Buddhist teaching, you will likely hear about being in the moment, without dwelling in the past or worrying about the future.  You’ll hear that the past doesn’t exist anymore and that the future doesn’t exist yet, so be present in the present moment.  You will also hear talk of not being attached to any future outcome.  I’ve also heard someone say that Zen Buddhism is like a leaf floating down a river, swept effortlessly by the current, offering no resistance, without a struggle other than to flow with the current.

This is not the Buddhism I know.  This is the Buddhism I know: