A dispute concerning the confusion
in interpreting Taoist concept of wu-wei

- see also the paper "Taoism, or the Way"

Tao Quest   We have found in a web site dedicated to Taoism* the following dialogue to which we'll add the necessary thrashings. But here is first the question and the answer to it from the web site pages:

Q: What is Taoist "Inaction" or "Actionless Action"?

A: Inaction or wu-wei does not mean that one literally does nothing (although more often than we think actually doing nothing is the best policy). Rather, it means that one avoids unnatural action. This is most often forced or aggressive or obsessively fussy action. It also means, that one performs all one's actions with a natural, unforced attitude. The Taoist remembers that sand will settle out of water in time if the water is left undisturbed, and that no one person can do everything. Above all the Taoist avoids fussing. Excessive excitement over trivial matters is an annoyance to both self and others. The Czech philosopher Comenius expressed the idea in his motto: "Omnia sponte fluant; absit violentiarebus" "Let all things spontaneously flow; let there be no violence to things". Wu-wei is also related to tolerance: one does not insistently interfere in the lives of others unless they themselves are interfering with someone. This letting alone of others is a form of respect and non-violence, and is akin to the modern notion of human rights.


An usual interpretation error of the wu-wei concept.

Everybody sees in wu-wei a kind of reservation, of removing of forced action or of one based on violence. In fact, wu-wei cannot be conceived without his corollary, merely wei. So that this concept could be expressed more exactly like this: wei-wu-wei. This is about the alternation moving-resting, which emulates the Heaven's movement (or Heaven's will) and adapts itself to the temporal conditions. A visual expression of the wu-wei formula is the Yin-Yang or the t'ai-chi diagram that perfectly shapes the idea of an alternation moving-resting.

Unhappily, neither one of those who write about Taoism or pretend to practice Taoism hasn't understand this aspect which entirely contradicts the classical and modern interpretation given to the wu-wei concept (even the Chinese people who pretend to be experts in Tao ignore this matter). The consequence of this collective error is the fact that they imagined a Taoist way of life or attitude, which is thought to embrace the wu-wei position - the nondoing - in every context or in every circumstance. This is why the nowadays "Taoists", as well as the former ones, rather seem to be, when they praxes wu-wei, some marionettes that illiberally and stupidly obey to some artificial, external life rules, which, obviously run counter to the genuine Taoism!

*The excerpt proceeds from the site Rational Taoism, section Introduction and FAQs (http://www.Crosswinds.net/~bvm3/tao)

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