How useful it is to be useless


How useful it is to be useless.

I was reading Joseph Goldstein's book, The Experience of Insight, when I learned that my long-waited-for-and-dreamed-about project to become a full time yoga teacher was about to become reality. We were moving to Limoges where my only job will be to give yoga classes.

When starting a new project, it is good to be reminded some basic truth such as the one Joseph Goldstein points out in the text below.

Enjoy the reading or just listen!



There is an ancient Taoist story about a tree. The tree was old and crooked; every branch twisted and gnarled. Somebody walking by that old and crooked tree commented to Chuang Tzu what a useless tree it was; because the trunk and branches were so crooked the tree served no purpose at all.

Chuang Tzu replied:

The tree on the mountain height is its own enemy… The cinnamon tree is edible: so it is cut down! The lacquer tree is profitable: they maim it. Every man knows how useful it is to be useful. No one seems to know how useful it is to be useless.

The uselessness of the tree is what protected it. Nobody wanted it for anything, so they didn’t cut it down, and it lived to be very old, fulfilling its own nature.

“No one seems to know how useful it is to be useless.” What does it mean to be useless? It means being empty of striving to become something, to be anything special, freeing the mind from that kind of gaining idea. To become useless is to settle back and allow our own nature to express itself in a simple and easy way.

There’s a famous monk in Thailand who summed up this attitude of mind, and indeed the whole Dharma, in a very short saying. He said: “There is nothing to be, nothing to do, and nothing to have.” Nothing special. Everything is impermanent, everything is in flow, in constant transformation. If we can free ourselves of the striving to be someone special, to be a certain way, or to have certain things – free of that desire to do or to be or to have anything at all – we can settle back into the natural unfolding of Dharma.

Joseph Golstein, The Experience of Insight, Shambala Dragon Editions, p131