Chapter 3

Chapter 3 explicitly introduces the central tenet of Taoism, wu-wei. As with many Chinese symbols the two symbols for wu-wei can be translated as "not doing." It is this translation that probably lead to the high school text book where I first met Taoism to summarize Taoism as the "do nothing religion." Which as high school text books will often do, completely misses the point.

As I now understand it, wu-wei is not so much about doing nothing as it is about doing the natural thing.  The modern Western concept of "flow" is closer to the mark. When I participated in team sports, when someone was using all of their abilities effortlessly we always said that they were "unconscious."  This is more the sense of wu-wei.  This is more the sense of what Taoism means, letting the action to be taken to arise naturally from your nature and the nature of the situation.  The Wikipedia says this about wu-wei: "The aim of wu wei is to achieve a state of perfect equilibrium, or alignment with the Tao, and, as a result, obtain an irresistible form of "soft and invisible power" over things (the self, others, a country)."

This is hardly "doing nothing" in the sense of laying in a hammock all day.  Trust in your self, your nature Lao-Tzu says over and over again.

If you overesteem great men,
people become powerless.
If you overvalue possessions,
people begin to steal.

(S. Mitchell Translation) 

 We see this in the United States right now.  The Presidency has become an office of a "great man" rather than the servant of the people that the Founders envisioned.  Fewer people vote or participate in the political process.  A nation of TV watchers who have to be "protected" by having all of our phone call monitored.  The world's most powerful nation whose people cower in fear.  And the second sentence is too obvious to even comment on.

The Master leads
by emptying people's minds
and filling their cores,
by weakening their ambition
and toughening their resolve.

Exactly the opposite of what modern leaders are doing!  This of course does not mean "emptying their minds" in the sense that TV does, but rather in the sense that meditation does.  The empty mind in this sense is clear of unimportant things, so that a person can think clearly about what is important.  

Practice not-doing,
and everything will fall into place.

Not-doing here is wu-wei.   Perhaps the most striking metaphor that is often used for wu-wei is that of a river.  In a sense, a river doesn't do anything, it simply follows the path of least resistance.  But in following that path it can eventually wear away the hardest rock.  In Taoism the river simply follows its own nature to the sea, sometimes overcoming and sometimes merely avoiding the "obstacles" in its way.

This is hard for Westerners.  We are told we need to be something.  Often our profession defines us.  I feel the need to just be and let my nature define itself. 


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Filed under Self Improvement, Tao Te Ching Translations, Taoism

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