The Taoist concept of Wu-Wei

The Taoist concept of Wu-Wei


"The Tao of the sage is work without effort."

Central to Taoist teaching is the concept of wu-wei. It is often translated as merely non-action.

"Practise non-action. Work without doing,"

Lao Tzu recommends in Chapter 63 of The Tao Teh Ching.

In their concept of wu-wei, the Taoists are not urging non-action in the sense of inertia, but rather condemning activity contrary to nature. It is not idleness they praise, but work without effort, anxiety and complication, work which goes with and not against the grain of things. If people practised wu-wei in the right spirit, work would lose its coercive aspect. It would be undertaken not for its useful results but for its intrinsic value. Instead of being avoided like the plague, work would be transformed into spontaneous and meaningful play.


Taken from Taoism and Anarchism



Thirty-seven

Tao abides in non-action,
Yet nothing is left undone.
If kings and lords observed this,
The ten thousand things would develop naturally.
If they still desired to act,
They would return to the simplicity of formless substance.
Without for there is no desire.
Without desire there is.
And in this way all things would be at peace.

Forty-three

The softest thing in the universe
Overcomes the hardest thing in the universe.
That without substance can enter where there is no room.
Hence I know the value of non-action.

Teaching without words and work without doing
Are understood by very few.

Forty-eight

In the pursuit of learning, every day something is acquired.
In the pursuit of Tao, every day something is dropped.

Less and less is done

When nothing is done, nothing is left undone.

The world is ruled by letting things take their course.
It cannot be ruled by interfering.

Fifty-five

... It is not wise to rush about.
Controlling the breath causes strain.
If too much energy is used, exhaustion follows.
This is not the way of Tao.
Whatever is contrary to Tao will not last long.

Eighty-one

... The Tao of the sage is work without effort.


From The Tao Teh Ching , by Lao Tzu, 6th Century BC.