EASTERN PHILOSOPHY: Wu Wei


‘Wú Wéi’ (无为) means, in Chinese, ‘non-doing’, or ‘doing nothing’. It sounds like a pleasant invitation to relax, or worse, fall into laziness or apathy. Yet this concept is key to the noblest kind of action, according to the philosophy of Daoism, and is at the heart of what it means to follow ‘Dào’ (道) – ‘the way’. According to the central text of Daoism, the ‘Dào Dé Jīng’ (道德经),the way never acts,yet nothing is left undone. This is the paradox of Wú Wéi : it doesn’t mean ‘not acting,’ it means ‘effortless action,’ or ‘actionless action’. It means being at peace, while engaged in the most frenetic tasks, so that one can carry these out with maximum skill and efficiency. Something of the meaning of Wú Wéi is captured when we talk of being ‘in the zone’, at one with what we’re doing, in a state of profound concentration and flow. Wú Wéi is closely connected to the Daoist reverence for the natural world, for it means striving to make our behaviour as spontaneous and inevitable as certain natural processes, and to ensure that we are swimming with, rather than against, currents. We are to be like the bamboo that bends in the wind, or the plant that adjusts itself to the shape of a tree. Wú Wéi involves letting go of ideals that we may otherwise try to force too violently onto things. It invites us instead to respond to the true demands of situations, which tend only to be noticed when we put our own ego-driven plans to one side. What can follow is a loss of self-consciousness, a new unity between the self and its environment. But none of this means we won’t be able to change or affect things if we strive for Wú Wéi. The Dào Dé Jīng points out that we should be like water, which is submissive and weak, and yet which can’t be surpassed for attacking what is hard and strong. Through gentle persistence and a compliance with the specific shape of a problem, an obstacle can be worked around and gradually eroded. The idea of achieving the greatest effects by wise, strategic passivity has been central to Chinese notions of politics, diplomacy and business. In the manuals on wisdom produced by Daoists, we are repeatedly told that rather than impose a plan or model on a situation, we should let others act frantically, and then likely adjust ourselves as we see the direction that matters have evolved in. In China’s Táng (唐) dynasty, many poets likened Wú Wéi to the best aspects of being drunk. It wasn’t alcoholism they were promoting, but the decline in rigidity and anxiety that sometimes comes with being a little drunk, and which can help us to accomplish certain tasks. One poet compared someone inspired by Wú Wéi to a drunk man who falls uninjured from a moving cart. Such is their spiritual momentum, that they are unaffected by accidents and misfortunes that might break those of a more controlled and controlling mindset. Theories of painting from the Táng period onwards made Wú Wéi central to artistic practice. Rather than labouriously attempting to reproduce nature as faithful copyists, the artist should find nature within themselves, and surrender to its calls. The painter’s task is not to imitate the external surface of things, but to present the ‘Guǐ (鬼)’ or ‘spirit’ of things like mountains, trees, birds and rivers, by feeling some of this spirit in themselves, and then letting it ‘flow out’ through the brush, onto silk or paper. It followed that Daoist thinkers revered not just the finished work of art, but the act of painting itself. It considered artist studios as places for applied philosophy. The Táng dynasty poet, Fú Zài (符载), described a big party that had been thrown to witness the painter, Zhāng Zǎo (張璪), in action. ‘Right in the middle of the room, he sat down with his legs spread out, took a deep breath and his inspiration began to issue forth. ‘Those present were as startled as if lightning was shooting across the heavens, or a whirlwind was sweeping up into the sky. ‘The ink seemed to be spitting from his flying brush. ‘He clapped his hands with a cracking sound. ‘Suddenly, strange shapes were born. ‘When he’d finished, there stood pine trees, scaly and riven, crags steep and precipitous, clear water and turbulent clouds. ‘He threw down his brush, got up and looked around in every direction. ‘It seemed as if the sky had cleared after a storm, to reveal the true essence of ten thousand things.’ Fú Zài added of Zhāng, whose works are sadly now lost, that he had ‘left mere skill behind’, and that his art was ‘not painting’, but ‘the very Dao itself’. A good life could not be attained by Wú Wéi alone, but this Daoist concept captures a wisdom we may at times be in desperate need of : when we’re in danger of damaging ourselves, through an overly stern and unyielding adherence to ideas which simply don’t fit the demands of the world.

100 thoughts on “EASTERN PHILOSOPHY: Wu Wei

  1. Wu wei is not wei, wei is doing with a purpose, wu wei is to not doing with a purpose, not doing nothing.

  2. Wu Wei being equal to being in the zone? Really?
    Wu Wei is figuring out the way things are going and acting in such a way that trends that have been building come to fruition – almost as of their own volition, and the person is supposed to be somehow transported by this flow of effect.

  3. Taoism is about the way.
    It's about the space that allows for the flow to take place.
    For exchanges to occur.
    It's about viability.
    Influx and outflow.
    And change.

  4. For some reason I can't stand his snotty tone of voice, so thanks for adding subtitles.

  5. Ὅτι ἐξ αὐτοῦ καὶ δι’ αὐτοῦ καὶ εἰς αὐτὸν τὰ πάντα· Rom 11:36
    Wu Wei and Christ according to Paul are identical. Period.

    Greetings and Christ from Germany!
    Something funny – you know, Wu Wei: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F3UGk9QhoIw

  6. What I did not hear was any recognition at all of morality or ethics….from this video I get the impression that the Tao would allow you to be a fascist in a fascist world because that would be the practical thing to be….I cannot say I am down with that kind of thinking.

  7. As an East Asian, I honestly confess. Until the Meiji Restoration in Japan in the 1800's, There was no science and no philosophy in East Asia. During the Cultural Revolution of Communist China, the Commie-Chinese had destroyed all their traditional heritage. Do you know why? Because they are all lies. During the Meiji Restoration in Japan, Japanese scholars went to Britain and made a English-Japanese dictionary for the first time. This was the first beginning of science and philosophy in East Asia. At this time, the words that are translated and newly created, are called "Wasei-kango(和製漢語)". The new words are such as 科學(Science), 哲學(Philosophy), 物理(Physics), 化學(Chemistry), 醫學(Medicine), 自然(Nature), 宇宙(Universe), 電力(Electricity), 歷史(History), … etc, Countless new words were created and have been used until now. Don't waste your time like these lies.

  8. Wow. This sounds fascinating. This is the first video that I am trying in this eastern philosophy series, and it looks like I chose the right one!

  9. Great video! Drunken Master isn't just a martial art discipline. Nor is "doing nothing" a weakness when things get tough.

  10. the idea is like swimming. Depending on the size of the pool the viscosity will vary. Finding the viscosity for the least effort when swimming will be less tiring than frantically splashing through. physics…

  11. Laozi老子 will lead people to Jesus Christ 。The most original version of morality, let me realize that Laozi is the Socrates of the East.

  12. Can you show me, where in the definition of Philosophy is part of that definition directions?

    Or people?

    Or particular things?

    The illiterate speaks.

  13. The school of stealing USA technology 😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😱😱😭😭😂😭😂

  14. The ones that dislike this lecture must be utter fools that really hate philosophy! Even Christ recommended this kind of non-action!

  15. It's all anxiety. Decrease the distance from where you are and where you want to be and you will start to find you are inseperable from your environment. Sometimes you have to remind yourself to keep going as not to be lost in awe.

  16. It seems to me that you are defining "Tao", just like to idiotic drunks you mention. Nature, per se, has nothing to do with 'Tao", as only a human can live Tao, and Tao, as you know, can not be defined.

  17. The video is a bit too eager to claim that Daoism isn't quitist or conservative. To me, nothing wrong with either. Still, I like more the idea that the philosophy is moderate, with the philosophy of Hume or Burke or Aristotle being comparable in Western Eurasian thought. Weber jumps to mind as well, especially with his notion of politics being the "strong and long boring of hard boards"; as does water bore. Weber rejected reaction and revolution. Lasting change, better defined as adaptation, is needed (see Nietzsche, "man is not a crab"), but must be achieved institutionally, gradually, and democratically. Also: So that's where the drunken-boxing style comes from!

  18. Never hurry.  Be peace in motion.  Just for now.  Just here.  With thanks to those leaving true teachings.  Thank you.

  19. That’s why they have not produced a single Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Einstein or any unconventional heretic in their thousands of years of history. But yet somehow they are powerful as a whole while lacking individualism. So they make useful employees but never unconventional leaders.

  20. These are good primers for actually getting into the topics. Most of these are too simplified and westernized though. Not a bad path at all thougj

  21. Confucianism emphasizes accession to the World , and Taoism emphasizes avoidance of the world, Finding the right philosophy is most important, and it has to do with your character

  22. Can I put growth oils and supplements for scruffititis in my pubic hair?
    Nice ad 👍

  23. I wrote a book in Japan on my experience about Wu Wei; it is on amazon : "Wu Wei Journey" by Leonardo Romanelli

  24. No, we do not have a "serene acceptance" of globalists looting the planet. They can FUCK OFF

  25. Yet when we refer to ourselves as a river that flows and follows it's path, how can we actively switch it to a new wei (get it) if we so desired, for this takes effort and isn't "effortlessness"¿

  26. My "Wu Wei" is a couple of beers and some smooth jazz.
    I tend to forget everything.

  27. At a spiritual level, to follow wu wei you need only 1 thing, and that's xin, called heart-mind. The product of the heart-mind is bodhicitta which means intuitive intelligence. Attaining wu wei by following the Dao requires a type of advanced intelligence based on the heart-mind complex. The best way to achieve this is metta (meditation on loving-kindness). This meditation literally generates gamma waves, which are the brain waves of intuition.

  28. Focusing Not on the Result But on the Process Is 無爲/無心/無私 http://blog.daum.net/moretolerance/8543854

  29. This guy got no idea of what he is talking about! We wei simply means without intent! It got zero to do with actions! You can do any action you want as long as you got no human intent, addiction to What you do.

  30. I like this concept a lot, it's difficult to apply this to life when we are conditioned to be in control all the time. It's even more difficult to slow down and enjoy life when the world is so demanding that everything needs to be done yesterday.

  31. Being in tune with mother nature's will, your will no matter how strong will be broken until you recognize the dao.

  32. The Wu Wei philosophy is about acceptance, creativity, self discovery and flexibility.
    Adjusting the mind to the changing world is what keeps us young and happy to be alive. We can lean a lot from this ancient wisdom.

  33. Doing nothing. I have been following this eastern philosophy for quite a long time now!

  34. Yes, I am eating cheetos on bed. I shall not work, and no work will be undone. Perfection, I love this philosophy!!!

  35. Taoism, the best chinese philosophy.
    Unfortunately, Confusianism has won the popularity war and east asia is nowadays more driven by order than diversity.

  36. When we say wu wei, it's not that achieve it but it comes to you. This is a temporary state. Find out who is experiencing this and is he real? You will find far greater than wu wei. Hint: I am unborn/Ytube. Peace

  37. 无为,translate into “doing nothing”? western people please ,just don't try to comprehend Eastern philosophy.

  38. 老子的无为,是说:彻底从人的运行中

    改换生命系统,走入与天地自然之运作

    这样的生命状态,自然比一般人类的生命要长

    只是活在无情无义,顺应天地之运行而了了不动

    快乐吗?

    快乐多了,且过患亦少多了!

  39. I love the irony of all the up tight westerners correcting the pronunciation of 'qi.'

  40. Is that what Alan Watts meant with "dancing" life?
    He mentioned the "washing the dishes" example and explained you only can wash one at the moment. It is – like many other activities – completely in the now. The ones you washed or will wash are not in the now.
    Concerning "dancing": If you whipe it with aggression you might not enjoy it as if you whiped in a somewhat dancing motion and suddenly feel some attraction to it. That was one example being in "the moment" by actually playing (a voluntary action) and not forcing things…

    A friend of mine wrote a song called "that's the way it goes" and that became a winged word in unexpected or even unwanted situation's outcomes and helps us to step back a little and take it not too seriously then.

    Doing "nothing" is may be the higher state of the school of life suggested stream of consciousness. Your inner thoughts movie plops up but now you can focus on it. In the western meditation way (as well school of life suggests) you may have the time to ask you the main questions like "what am i afraid of?", "who hurt me?" and "what drives me?"

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