“Practice not-doing and everything will fall into place” (Chapter 3). In Taoism this is the concept known as “wu wei”. Wei wu wei is the practice of doing and not-doing. This concept comes from the theory of the Yin and Yang. The Yang, along with wei, is the practice of doing. The Yin, along with wu wei, is the practice of not-doing. One compliments the other, and each cannot exist alone. The Tao tells people to practice not-doing because it will bring happiness in their life.
By not-doing, the Tao means not performing actions, which are unnecessary and uncalled for. People should just take things as they come in life and they will live a life full of happiness and pleasure. If you don’t interfere with the Tao and let things take their natural course, everything will work out in your life (Chapter 10). “If powerful men and women could remain centered in the Tao…all people would be at peace…” (Chapter 32).
If you work against your Tao, you will never find happiness. The Sage practices wu wei. He teaches without words and performs without actions (Chapter 43). He knows and therefore does not speak (Chapter 56). Many people mistake conceptual knowledge for the map to the territory. The Sage is our map to the Tao. He points his finger to show us the way, but does not really tell us what to do and how to practice Taoism.
Lao Tzu’s concepts of the Tao can be a guide to rational living. If one follows these beliefs he is guaranteed happiness in his life. However, it is very difficult to follow the Tao, even though the teachings are said to be easily understood and easily put into practice (Chapter 70). The reason the Tao is so difficult to grasp is because you cannot know that you are practicing it. The Tao is beyond all words. If you give it words, it does not exist. It is unnamable. If you concentrate on the Tao, you will never understand it. You cannot think about it, you must just do it. This is very difficult because people always think about what they do, but this does not work with the Tao (Chapter 1). You cannot look for the Tao; you cannot listen for the Tao. You must just accept the idea that it is always there, omnipresent, and you can’t see it. This is all very important because if one cannot understand these first simple steps in Taoism, they will be lost the rest of the way.
In personal life, you should never define yourself. When you define yourself, you are actually putting limits on yourself. If a man defines himself as a doctor, he is limiting himself to science. If a man defines himself as a singer, he is limiting himself to music. By limiting yourself, you are not allowing yourself to experience life fully (Chapter 24). Also, you should never define any object because they will always have an opposite. If you define something as “good” then its opposite is defined as “bad”, when in reality it might not be (Chapter 2). When a man is about to buy a car, he will want to buy a company with a “good name”. He has defined one car as “good” and the rest are “bad”. When he realizes he cannot afford the “good” car he is unhappy. He has to buy a “bad” car. While driving his “bad” car, he thinks about what people will say. He worries that they will not approve of his new purchase. If the man had not originally set such high expectations of buying a “good” car, he would not be upset with his situation. By caring about other people’s approval he becomes their “prisoner” (Chapter 9). If you see things as they are, then you will be happy with whatever you have. If you see things through other’s eyes then you will never achieve the high goals you are setting.
“In family life, be completely present” (Chapter 8). All family members should always be there for each other. You should be completely present for the rest of your family, this way other members can talk to you whenever necessary. This gives a sense of security to the rest of the family. Parents should always be there for their children, children should always be there for their parents, and siblings should always be there for each other. “Because (the Sage) has nothing to prove, people can trust his words” (Chapter 22). The Sage and the parental figures of a family should have this in common. Parents have nothing to prove to their children and therefore children always believe what their parents tell them. Parents do not have to impress their children and can therefore set an example. If parents cannot have this connection with their children, there is a guarantee of failure in the family.
“In work, do what you enjoy” (Chapter 8). Most people hate their job. If you like what you do, you can wake up every morning with a smile, looking forward to the day of work that lies ahead of you. At your job you should not try to hold all the power. By not trying to be powerful, you are truly powerful (Chapter 38). Also, in you work you cannot chase after money. You must do your work because you like it, not because you want the money. If you chase after money “your heart will never unclench” (Chapter 9). When you have no desire for the money, you are at peace (Chapter 37). You must “be content with what you have, rejoice in the way things are” (Chapter 44). You mustn’t expect too much because you will never get what you want. “When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you” (Chapter 44).
“In governing, don’t try to control” (Chapter 8). As a leader, it is best if the people hardly know that you exist. As a leader, you must not be bossy and try to have all the power because the people will hate you and will not obey you. You must lead, not control (Chapter 17). By pointing people in the right direction you are helping them. By telling them where to go, you aren’t letting them think for themselves. The best leader listens to her people (Chapter 68). As a leader you must govern with tolerance and you must not have high expectations of your people because you will never get what you expect (Chapter 58). You must govern a country with moderation for the best results (Chapter 59). If you have weapons, your people will be insecure. If you have laws, your people will break them. If you do not desire common good it will become as “common as grass” (Chapter 57). If a nation does not get involved with the affairs of others, it will be well respected by all other nations (Chapter 61).
“If you overesteem great men, people become powerless. If you overvalue possessions, people begin to steal” (Chapter 3). Society should not define things because bad things will happen. If you overvalue possessions it is obvious that people will steal them because they are worth something to society. If everything had none or equal value, no one would steal anything because nothing would be more important than everything else. This is an extreme suggestion however, it is the only way for society to come together as a whole and have no one steal from others.
“Let the Tao become present in your life and you will become genuine. Let it be present in your family and your family will flourish. Let it be present in your country and your country will be an example to all countries in the world. Let it be present in the universe and the universe will sing.” (Chapter 54).
Mitchell, S. (1988). Tao Te Ching. New York: HarperCollins.
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