This blog is an interpretation of the Tao te Ching "Tao Virtue Book" which is attributed to Laozi "Lao Tze" a Chinese philosopher who lived circa 600 b.c.

Please remember always that this is the description of the Tao and not the experience of the living Tao. Hopefully, this blog will not serve as analysis or commentary but as a window into the Tao. You are encouraged to disagree with this interpretation, involve yourself in self-study, and ultimately leave all concepts behind and so experience the living Tao.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Chapter 43: The Benefit of Non-Action (Wu Wei)

For this chapter we will use Legge's translation:

The softest thing in the world dashes against and overcomes the hardest; 

That which has no (substantial) existence enters where there is no crevice.

I know hereby what advantage belongs to doing nothing (with a purpose). There are few in the world who attain to the teaching without words, and the advantage arising from non-action.

Tao te Ching Chapter 43


This chapter returns to the concept of Wu Wie, the idea that inaction is often the best action.

The first stanza can be seen to be describing the action of water which, though it has no form of its own can overcome or wear down anything having a set form.

The second stanza curiously parallels quantum physics which has discovered a range of massless or near massless particles capable of passing through solid matter as if it were transparent.  The same can be said to a lesser extent of radio signals, x-rays and other massless energy forms.

The third stanza suggests that non-action results in the ability to penetrate seemingly intractable problems.  Can you think of an example where direct opposition to a problem was ineffective but waiting would have created an opening?
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  1. For me, the key point to the concept of wu wei involves the word, purposeful. Purposeful action is based on certain expectations and those expectations are rooted in our desires. Our desires typically run counter to the flow of life.

    Consequently, if we can learn to temper our desires, we will have fewer expectations and fewer expectations will allow us to go where the flow of life takes us.

  2. Thank you Trey. I agree that desire is a large problem as Buddha observes. I am often puzzled in the Tao teh Ching that desirelessness is advocated yet means of accomplishing goals are often put forward. Do you have insight into this apparent paradox?

  3. Desirelessness is an ideal -- not something we can actually attain and still participate in the world writ large. That's why I chose the word "temper" in my initial response.

    It's a difficult thing to strive toward a goal without heaping too many expectations on the desired outcome. For me, though, that's the crux of what the Taoist Masters were suggesting...if that makes any sense. ;-)

  4. That makes a lot of sense. Thanks Trey.