Taoism and Wu Wei: Action, Non-Action

by | Dec 22, 2010 | Taoism, Taoist Meditation | 4 comments

Wu wei is a very fundamental concept in Taoism, similar to wu wei wu, which means action, non action. Wu means nothing and wei means action.

In the West most people have clear agendas and they set out to accomplish specific goals. However, in Taoism one of the central themes is not acting until the timing is right.

In fact Taoists say that until the time is right nothing will happen anyway, so a large part of wu wei is the ability to be as connected as possible to the universal flows of the TAO. When all of a sudden it becomes obvious that the time has arrived, only then do you take action.

Action is determined by the time, places and forces that all come together at a unique moment in time. You can envision an outline and stages of progress for any action, but you may actually thwart bigger messages coming through if you push your agenda too much.

The idea of non-action is that instead of having the conscious will, intention or demand that something happen deliberately, you have the inclination, willingness or preference for that something to happen. The pre-supposition is that by not being attached to a specific end result, you can allow what is actually motivating and generating your actions–not your own personal agenda or ego–to occur and the larger purpose is therefore served.

This does not negate the ability to plan. Winston Churchill said, “Planning is important. Plans are worthless.” Maybe you can see something that needs to be done 20 years in advance; then again, maybe you can see that something needs to be done three seconds ahead of schedule yet you still may not be moving with the flow. So, this whole concept of deciding between action and non action is very tricky.

Action has two implications: the first is that you’re going to do something–walk across the street, for example. However, there is also the space that is more about wu wei wu, or action, non-action: you simply wait until whatever that universal force is flowing through you says “do” or “go now.” In that process you effectively lose the sense of self and simply follow the universal flow. After you’ve taken some action, whether it succeeds or not, you are then essentially at peace and whole within yourself.

The TAO is extremely mysterious. The forces of the Universe flowing through you may not actually have anything to do with you and may be part of a much larger chain of events.

You can become tuned in and actually synchronize with the flows of the Universe, but that does not always mean that you will understand why it’s happening or why you’re engaging in a particular action.

One of the hallmarks of genuine non-action is that there is no sense of internal resistance whatsoever. It’s an extremely difficult concept to embody and it requires the absolute ability to be non-attached, to be in Fourth Time.

All the practices of wu wei or wu wei wu are completely based upon a person having found their center. You first need to have found a place of peace or emptiness–something beyond your own personal sense of me, myself or I. All of your attachments will go with your identities.

The doctrine of action and non-action requires an immense amount of personal courage because you have to give up a sense of control. You have to be able to admit that you do not know. You also have to be able to identify when you’re operating in essentially an emotional, mental or psychic state of non-action.

So, truly embodying the principle of wu wei wu is an art form. If you are in a complete state of emptiness and do something deriving from that state, with no intrinsic planning or motivation behind it, then there is no sense of ego.

You are connected to the flow of the Universe that is moving inside you.

Stay good, Bruce


  1. Tai Chi Thomas

    I find it interesting how often when one is considering something a question perhaps one comes across some lines of text which fits the space of an answer perfectly and how much more common this is when one is reading about taoism 🙂

  2. Martin

    Great read! Thanks.

    • Marcy

      This was a REALLY good explanation of this concept. One that I was looking for. Thank you!

  3. George O'Masta

    Thank you for the articke. I have a pretty good understanding of the concept of wu wei wu, but know I feel I have a better way to practice. Letting go (of the urge to act), paying attention and waiting until the time is right.and then let it happen. Giving up control of what you want yo do is the hard part. Taoisim is so profound. Thank you agsin.



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