Wu wei

From Academic Kids

Wu wei (trad. 無為 / simp. 无为) is an important tenet of Taoism that involves knowing when to act and when not to act. Wu may be translated as not have, Wei (2nd tone) may be translated as do, act, serve as, govern. The literal meaning of Wu Wei is 'without action' and is often included in the paradox Wei wu wei : 'action without action'. The pratice of Wu wei and the efficacity of Wei wu wei are fundamental tenets in Chinese thought and have been mostly emphasised by the Taoist school. The aim of Wu wei is to achieve a state of perfect equilibrium, or alignment with the Tao, and, as a result, obtain an irrestible form of "soft and invisible power" over things (the self, others, a country).



In the traditionnal (partly, Confucian) Chinese understanding of governance, a prince has only to sit at the right place, facing south, with a prince's traditionnal attributes, to effect a proper calendar in time and his country will be well governed. In Lun Yu II.1., Confucius compares a virtuous prince with the North Pole: he doesn't move and everything turns around him. There are magical justifications behind this idea of a power obtained by 'inaction'. It is the Chinese "correspondence", or "synchronicity" theory, where the macrocosm is reflected (or even duplicated) in microcosms. According to the theory, ordering the Emperor's palace is governing the country well: the palace is an homothetic reproduction of the country. Chinese history is full of examples of natural disasters cured by means such as the opening of a new door in the walls of the Imperial palace. Many philosophers, such as Wang Chong, have questionned this theory. However, it has curiously proven prophetic in certain modern research as fractal theory. A more pragmatic view may interpret this as a means to restrain the prince from abuse of power, enjoining him to 'do' as little as possible.

In the original Taoist texts, wu wei is often associated with water and its yielding nature. Although water is soft and weak, it has the capacity to slowly erode solid stone. Water is without will (i.e., the will for a shape), opposing wood, stones, or any solid material, that can be broken into pieces. It can therefore fill any container, take any shape, go everywhere, even into the smallest holes. When sprayed in thousands if small drops, water still has the capacity to reunite and eventually joins the endless sea. Furthermore, while always going downward, water rests in the 'dark valley'—where biological life is regenerated—an analogy to the female vagina.


Several chapters of the most important Taoist scripture, the Tao Te Ching, attributed to Lao Zi, allude to 'diminishing doing', or 'dimishing will', as the key aspect of the sage's success. Taoist philosophy recognizes the universe to already work harmoniously according to its own laws and as man exerts his will against the world he disrupts the harmony that already exists. This is not to say that man should not exert will. Rather, it is how he acts in relation to the natural processes already extant that is critical.

Wu Wei has also been translated as "creative quietude," or the art of letting-be. This does not mean a dulling of the mind; rather, it is an activity undertaken to perceive the Tao within all things, and to conform oneself to its "way".


As a person diminishes his doing—here 'doing' means those intentional actions taken to benefit us or actions taken to change the world from its natural state and evolution&mdask;he diminishes all those actions he commits against the Tao, the already present natural harmony. As such he begins to cultivate Tao, becomes more in harmony with Tao, and, according to another great ancient Taoist philosopher Zhuangzi, attains a state of Ming, or 'clear seeing'. It is in the state of Ming that the Taoist is in full harmony with Tao, and 'having arrived at this point of non-action, there is nothing that he does not do.' It is upon achievement of this Chinese equivalent to 'enlightenment', that a sage begins to perform Wei Wu Wei, or 'action without action.' He will be able to work in harmony with Tao, to accomplish what he needs and, since he works in perfect harmony with the Tao, he leaves no memory of having done it.

The ultiimate: harmony with the Tao

Taoists have long sought immortality and they saw working in perfect harmony with Tao as the way to achieve this. When one works in perfect harmony with Tao, he or she is not using more energy than needed; not doing things that cause the body or spirit to break down and they believe they can, in theory, live forever. Zhuang Zi proposed an illustration of this idea: a tree with a twisted trunk will not be cut by any lumberjack and will live its whole life in peace, thanks to its uselessness.de:Wu wei zh:道教


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