Sunday, June 29, 2008

Wu Wei (Doing by Not-Doing) and Nothingness

I found this wonderful explanation of "doing" and "not-doing" or "doing by not-doing" and feel I can not explain this basic concept of wisdom any better. Many thanks to this unknown author. This should add yet another major piece to the puzzle I am trying to complete so anyone interested just might have a great awakening to the understanding of who we are, what is our purpose, and how do we achieve it. The greatest and wisest beings to walk this earth (Jesus, Lao Tsu, Chuangtsu, Siddhārtha Gautama (Buddha as he is better known), to name the most well known) were all describing the same wisdom in hopes that we would understand and follow their "Way". Though the terminology obviously be different, the "Way" that each taught is identical.

"To attain knowledge add something every day, to attain wisdom remove something every day." This ancient Chinese proverb illustrates the value that the Chinese culture places on nothingness. In Chinese art the space in a picture is as important as the painted area - and in meditation and martial arts an empty mind is viewed as the ultimate attainment. This is really just a logical application of the theory of yin and yang - the yin side (emptiness and nothingness) is just as important as the yang side (movement and action.) Those following the Taoist path are advised to empty out their minds until nothing remains.

But why bother? Well, a mind that has no preconceptions or rigid plans is far more flexible. A person who constantly labels, analyses and ponders can become stuffed up with intellectual ideas that stop them from seeing what's there. The 'empty vessel' of Taoist writings can act spontaneously as the situation demands because they are not tied to any particular set of actions. In martial arts, a fighter with a perfectly clear mind can react instantaneously to any attack, and spotting a weakness, exploit it without hesitation. A fighter who already plans his next attack will miss the opportunity.

As well as emptiness the Tao teaches the benefit of nothingness. It is when we practice doing nothing that our body and mind relax and we feel at peace, so nothingness is brought into everyday life in the idea of Wu Wei. Wu Wei translates as 'not doing' or 'doing without doing' and like much of Taoist thought it goes against the way many things are done in our society. Really, the idea is to go with the flow around you and not struggle against the tide. When someone advances, yield. Be pliant and patient, and wait until you are in a strong position before advancing. The image of the 90s man or woman is one of a hard working hard playing businessperson who gets things done by being vigorous and aggressive, managing social life, family and work with the same overzealous approach. This very yang attitude is highlighted by marketing departments to sell us the painkillers, mobile phones and ready meals which we all need in 'todays hectic world'. What we really need is a good holiday, and a few moments to rest each day, and we need to ask - 'is this really what I want?'. The modern Taoist says no, and tries to bring the yin back into the balance of his life.

Wu Wei is often the Taoist concept that people have most trouble grasping. This is not really all that surprising since it seems to do away with the rigid notion of causality that the Western world-view is based upon. Typically, in order to get something done, it is considered that you must work at it. The more work and effort that is put in, the quicker it will happen. However, this is not the Wu Wei approach. This is not 'doing without doing' it is simply 'doing'. To use Wu Wei is to have a kind of Taoist patience - it is to allow things to unfold in their own way, in their own time. This does not imply a complete lack of energy expenditure - just a recognition of the flow and cycles of the world around us. Acting at the appropriate time with the appropriate amount of force is the key. By appreciating at a more subtle level what is happening around him, holding onto nothing, and acting with simplicity the Taoist can flow with the Tao, and will always be in the right place at the right time. The Taoist master becomes like the Tao itself - he does nothing, yet nothing is not done

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