Effortless Effort

Wu Wei
A term we’d like to discuss is wu wei – without effort, without forcing. Huston Smith describes wu wei as “creative quietude” and “pure effectiveness”, which he describes as the most efficient and natural way of acting. The person of wu wei operates in the naturalness, suppleness, and spontaneity of the flow of Tao, not forcing, not self-consciously “achieving” things. It can also be translated as “not doing” or “do-nothingness”, yet is the supreme activity, arising naturally when the deepest levels of the self are in tune with Tao. Eternal Tao doesn’t do anything, yet it leaves nothing undone. If you abide by it, everything in existence will transform itself. When, in the process of self-transformation, desires are aroused, calm them with nameless simplicity. When desires are dissolved in the primordial presence, peace and harmony naturally occur, and the world orders itself. -Tao Te Ching 37 The soft overcomes the hard in the world as a gentle rider controls a galloping horse. That without substance can penetrate where there is no space. By these I know the benefit of nonaction [wu wei]. Teaching without words, working without actions– nothing in the world can compare to them. -Tao Te Ching 43 In the pursuit of learning, every day something is added. In the pursuit of Tao, every day something is dropped. Less and less is done until one arrives at nonaction [wu wei]. When nothing is done, nothing is left undone. The world is won by letting things take their own course. If you still have ambitions, it’s out of your reach. -Tao Te Ching 48 The great Tao flows everywhere, both to the left and to the right. It loves and nourishes all things, but does not lord it over them, and when good things are accomplished, it lays no claim to them. The Tao having done everything, always escapes and is not around to receive any thanks or acknowledgement. Like water, the Tao always seeks the lowest level, which man abhors. It does not show greatness and is therefore truly great. -Tao Te Ching 34

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