Taoist concept usually translated as "action through non-action." The actual meaning is closer to "avoidance of meddling in the natural course of things."

Very similar to the Ninjutsu ideal of 'Let the Cosmos Decide'. In effect, one can try one's best to achieve happiness and safety, but you should first really master the skill of listening to the Universe; only in this way is it possible to follow nature, and indeed, all things become simple if the flow of nature is followed.

Wu-wei is one of those concepts incredibly difficult to translate into English, both because of the allusive nature of Chinese and because the philosophical concepts it embodies are so foreign to most post-Socratic Western thought. Non-action is the (relatively) literal translation, but that's caused a great deal of misconception about Taoist thought over the years. getzburg's translation of "avoidance of meddling in the natural course of things" is closer to the mark, but that still seems a bit off.

The best translation I can give of wu-wei is "minimal action" or possibly "action only within the Tao", but even that requires some backstory and explication. The basic ideal of the Taoist sage, as expressed in the Tao Te Ching was somebody who acted only when the time was exactly right, and did it in a way which was totally minimal, yet totally decisive, because his actions followed the course of the Tao. Nobody would even realize that he had acted, because his actions were so much in accord with nature. When the Taoist king acted, the people would say, "We did it ourselves."

If this still seems a bit foggy, consider the story Chuang Tzu used to illustrate the point. He described a butcher, who was so practiced in his art, and knew the anatomy of his stock so well, that whenever he made a cut, the meat immediately cleaved all the way through with one stroke. The butcher never needed to sharpen his cleaver, because it always cleaved through with the first stroke, and never encountered anything to dull it. This is wu-wei in a nutshell, action which is minimal, and seemingly requires the least effort, but at the same time it is totally effective and encounters no resistance.

A principle of Taoism, an ancient Chinese philosophy. Wu wei is achieved when things work in their own way, to produce results naturally, without combative effort, like water flowing around the rocks in its path.

Wu wei can be seen in T’ai Chi, the most effective and powerful martial art, where the opponent is worn down by sending his energy back at him. Never is force opposed by force, instead it is overcome by yielding. This principle can be shown by striking at a piece of cork floating in water. The harder you hit it, the more it yields and the harder it bounces back.

A Wu wei approach does not add to the conflict, it does not fight fire with fire but with water. So with the least effort and with the most fun you can achieve the greatest results.

Quoted in part from the Taoist Schollar Jez Harding.

A slightly different phrase which is used interchangeably from time to time in Taoist literature and whose translation is more telling is wei wu wei, the literal translation of which is "acting not acting." In light of this it is easy to see how Taoism (and its Japanese reflection Zen) have been misconstrued as advocating laziness and stagnation, however this is not the case. Annihilation of the self is not implicit in wu wei, in fact the opposite is true. Each of us is born infused with a temperament which will remain largely unchanged throughout our lives; if we misguidedly decide that an aspect of our temperament is undesirable and fight against it we are acting--pretending to be something we are not. Worse yet, whereas it may be necessary in some cases to undergo stress to cause a positive change (the breaking of a bad habit, for instance), fighting something which we cannot change will only acclimate us to conflict. By adding stresses to our lives which do not need to be there we remove ourselves even further from reality than our limited senses determine we must remain. What wu wei suggests we do is only that whatever we are doing at a given time we do it completely, as shaped by our closest approximation to our selves.

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