Study Guide

Tao Te Ching Philosophical Viewpoints: Wu Wei

By Lao Tzu

Philosophical Viewpoints: Wu Wei

You're probably saying, "Isn't all of Taoism a philosophical viewpoint?" Here's a nebulous answer (a shocker, we know: the Tao Te Ching is normally so cut and dried!): yes and no.

The idea of wu wei is one of the key concepts of the Tao Te Ching, and it's such a slippery concept that no other theme can quite contain it. It's been translated a bunch of different ways over the years as Westerners struggle to understand it. Unattached action, the action of non-action, effortless action—all these terms have been slapped onto the wu wei.

Basically (and we mean basic), when a Taoist achieves wu wei, s/he is at one with the flow of the Tao and can succeed in life without ripping his or her hair out over outcomes.

Questions About Philosophical Viewpoints: Wu Wei

  1. How is it possible to be actively non-active?
  2. In what ways is the idea of the wu wei similar and different to the philosophy of pacifism?
  3. How does the Tao Te Ching use the Tao itself as an example of wu wei?
  4. How does the theme of humility tie into the practice of wu wei?

Chew on This

Sometimes the wu wei is used as an excuse for sheer laziness, but that's not what it's about.

In the same way that the Tao achieves everything without effort, so too can we achieve everything through the wu wei.