The concept of “wu wei” in Taoism emphasizes the practice of not-doing. This concept stems from the theory of Yin and Yang, where “wei” represents doing and “wu wei” represents not-doing. These two practices are interconnected and cannot exist independently. The Tao encourages people to practice not-doing in order to find happiness in life. Not-doing refers to refraining from unnecessary and uncalled for actions. By accepting things as they come, individuals can lead a joyous and fulfilling life. If one allows things to follow their natural course without interfering with the Tao, everything will fall into place. In chapter 32, it is mentioned that if powerful individuals center themselves in the Tao, peace would be achieved for all. Happiness cannot be attained by going against one’s own Tao. The Sage exemplifies wu wei by teaching without words and acting without actions. The Sage possesses knowledge but chooses not to speak. Many people mistakenly believe that conceptual knowledge provides a complete understanding, but it is through observing the Sage that we learn the path of Taoism. The Sage guides us without explicitly instructing us on how to practice Taoism.
Lao Tzu’s teachings on the Tao serve as a roadmap for rational living, leading to a life filled with happiness. However, embracing the Tao proves challenging despite its apparent simplicity and practicality (Chapter 70). The difficulty arises from the fact that one cannot actively perceive or label the Tao; it defies verbalization and remains nameless. Engaging in deep contemplation or trying to comprehend the Tao only leads to confusion. Instead, one must simply act in accordance with it. This poses a significant challenge as people naturally tend to analyze their actions, a mindset incompatible with the Tao (Chapter 1). Searching for or attempting to listen for the presence of the Tao is futile. Accepting its eternal and unseen nature is crucial. Mastering these fundamental principles of Taoism is crucial, as they pave the way for further comprehension.
It is important to avoid defining oneself in personal life, as it imposes limitations and restricts one’s experiences. Defining oneself as a doctor confines one to the field of science, while defining oneself as a singer restricts one to music (Chapter 24). Similarly, when objects are labeled or defined, they will always have an opposite. For example, labeling something as “good” automatically defines its opposite as “bad,” even if this doesn’t accurately reflect reality (Chapter 2).
When purchasing a car, many people seek a vehicle from a reputable company. By doing so, they define one car as “good” and all others as “bad.” However, if they cannot afford the “good” car, they become unhappy and settle for a perceived “bad” car. During their ownership of this car, they worry about others’ opinions and fear disapproval. The man’s initial expectations of buying a “good” car have now made him dependent on others’ approval (Chapter 9).
True happiness lies in perceiving things as they are and being content with what one has rather than constantly setting high goals based on others’ perspectives.
In Chapter 8, the text underscores the significance of being fully engaged in family life. It emphasizes that all family members should always be accessible to one another, facilitating effective communication and nurturing a sense of security. This pertains to both parents and children, as well as siblings.
Chapter 22 highlights that the Sage, or parental figure, does not require validation to earn trust. Likewise, parents can establish trust with their children by demonstrating rather than attempting to dazzle them. Establishing this bond is crucial for averting dysfunction within the family.
“In work, do what you enjoy” (Chapter 8). Many people dislike their job. However, if you find joy in your work, you can wake up each day with a smile, eagerly looking forward to the tasks ahead. It’s important not to seek ultimate control in your job. By embracing the lack of power, you actually gain true power (Chapter 38). Additionally, it’s crucial not to prioritize money in your profession. Instead, pursue your work out of genuine passion and not just for financial gain. If you obsess over money, your heart will always be tense and constricted (Chapter 9). Finding contentment and peace is possible when desires for wealth no longer drive you (Chapter 37). Accepting and finding satisfaction in your current circumstances is vital. Learn to rejoice in how things are and be content with what you have (Chapter 44). Having excessive expectations will inevitably lead to disappointment as it’s impossible to attain everything you desire. Recognizing that nothing is lacking allows a sense of ownership over the entire world (Chapter 44).
“In governing, don’t try to control” (Chapter 8). It is best for a leader to remain inconspicuous, as being bossy and power-hungry will lead to people hating and disobeying them. Instead of controlling, leaders should guide and empower their followers (Chapter 17). By directing people towards the right path, leaders assist them without depriving them of independent thinking. The most effective leader is one who attentively listens to their people (Chapter 68). Leaders must practice tolerance and refrain from setting high expectations, as expecting too much will only result in disappointment (Chapter 58). Moderate governance yields the best results for a country (Chapter 59). Possessing weapons breeds insecurity among the people, while laws are bound to be broken. Failing to prioritize the common good diminishes its value (Chapter 57). A nation that refrains from interfering in other nations’ affairs will earn respect from all other countries (Chapter 61).
In Chapter 3, it is stated that if great men are overesteemed, people become powerless, and if possessions are overvalued, people start to steal. Society should refrain from defining things because it leads to negative consequences. When possessions are highly valued, people are inclined to steal them as they hold significance in society. However, if everything were to have equal or no value, theft would cease as nothing would be deemed more significant than anything else. Although this proposal may seem extreme, it is the only means for society to unite and prevent theft from occurring.
“Genuineness arises when the Tao is present in one’s life, flourishing in one’s family, setting an example for all countries when present within a nation, and causing the universe to sing when existing in its entirety.” (Chapter 54).
Mitchell, S. (1988). Tao Te Ching. New York: HarperCollins.