Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Chapter 57
Wu Wei

Use conventional wisdom to rule a country,
Use deception to win a war
But only non-action, not meddling, letting go, doing nothing …
Will win your world.

See how this is true by watching how:
The more laws and prohibitions,
The poorer the people;
The more experts,
The more confusion;
The more weapons,
The more trouble;
The more clever the schemes,
The more people lose;
The louder the call for law and order,
The more thieves and con artists.

For these reasons wise leaders
Don’t meddle and the people transform themselves;
Don’t preach and the people naturally improve themselves;
Don’t create new economic schemes and the people prosper on their own;
Don’t chase ambitious goals and the people return to a good and simple life.

Commentary

“Beware lest you lose the substance by grasping at the shadow.”

Aesop
620 – 546 BCE
Hero of the oppressed and downtrodden
from Aesop's Fables, the Aesopica

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“Most problems, if you give them enough time and space, will eventually wear themselves out.”

The Buddha गौतम बुद्ध
(Siddhartha Shakyamuni Gautama)
563 – 483 BCE
Awakened Truth

Themes: Problems

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“Perfect truthfulness though unmoving, creates change; though taking no action, brings about completion; though making no display, becomes manifest.”

Zisi 子思 via Daniel K. Gardner, Shan Dao
(Kong Ji or Tzu-Ssu)
481 – 402 BCE
Confucius' grandson and early influence on Neo-Confucianism
from Doctrine of the Mean, Maintaining Perfect Balance, Zhongyong 中庸

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“Sail with the stream, and follow fortune’s tack, steer not your ship of life against the tide, since chance must guide thy course.”

Euripides
480 – 406 BCE
Ancient humanitarian influence continuing today
from Trojan Women

Themes: Letting Go

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“Where you find the laws most numerous, there you will find also the greatest injustice.”

Arcesilaus Ἀρκεσίλαος
316 – 241 BCE

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“Amateurs built the ark; professionals built the Titanic.”

Anonymous
-800 to present
Freedom from the narrow boxes defined by personal history

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“A person's worth is measured by the worth of what he values.”

Marcus Aurelius
121 – 219 CE

Themes: Meaningfulness

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“Prohibitions are intended to put an end to poverty, and yet the people become poorer. Tools are intended to strengthen the country, and yet the country becomes weaker and more chaotic. This is due to cultivating the branches instead of the roots.”

Wang Bi 王弼
226 – 534 CE

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“You know of the how, but I know of the how-less.”

Rabia Basri رابعة العدوية القيسية‎‎
(Rābi‘a al-‘Adawīyya)
714 – 801 CE

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“Where conscious effort and striving are present, the Buddha is absent.”

Kukkuripa ཀུ་ཀྐུ་རི་པ།
("The Dog Lover")
915 CE –
Mahasiddha #34

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“Change your attitude and relax as it is.”

Atisha ཨ་ཏི་ཤ་མར་མེ་མཛད་དཔལ་ཡེ་ཤེས་ via Chögyam Trungpa
(Atiśa Dīpaṃkara Śrījñāna)
980 – 1054 CE
from Seven Points of Mind Training, Lojong བློ་སྦྱོངས་དོན་བདུན་མ;

Themes: Change

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“Don’t recall, don’t imagine, don’t think, don’t examine, don’t control, rest.”

Tilopa
988 – 1069 CE

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“Don’t control what you experience. Just rest in how things are.”

Niguma
11th C. CE

Themes: Control

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“Directness can be used in governing, but nowhere else. Deception can be used in warfare, but that is all. Only those who practice non-action are fit to rule the world.”

Wang Anshi 王安石
1021 – 1086 CE

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“In the end, you should know that there is nothing else to do like a shepherd whose flocks have been driven off by his enemies.”

Gampopa སྒམ་པོ་པ། via Matthieu Ricard
(Sönam Rinchen, Dakpo Rinpoche)
1079 – 1153 CE
from Journey to Enlightenment

Themes: Emptiness

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“This is the time and place to leap beyond the ten thousand emotional entanglements of innumerable kalpas. One contemplation of ten thousand years finally goes beyond all the transitory, and you emerge with spontaneity.”

Hóngzhì Zhēngjué 宏智正覺
(Shōgaku)
1091 – 1157 CE

Themes: Contemplation

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“All of creation God gives to humankind to use. If this privilege is misused, God’s justice permits creation to punish humanity.”

Hildegard of Bingen
1098 – 1179 CE

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“Life is the only thing worth living for.”

Mumon Ekai 無門慧開
(Wumen Huikai)
1183 – 1260 CE
from The Gateless Gate, 無門関, 無門關

Themes: Meaningfulness

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“All works which come from within us are spontaneous… pleasant, whereas all those works which arise due to an external
cause are constraining and enslaving. If these works did not arise due to something outside us they would not happen at all, and therefore they are constraining, enslaving and bitter.”

Meister Eckhart
(Eckhart von Hochheim)
1260 – 1328 CE

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“Let us give Nature a chance; she knows her business better than we do.”

Montaigne
1533 – 1592 CE

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“Their utter honesty enables others to see. Hence they cannot be abandoned. They are content and free of desires. Hence they cannot be helped. They dwell beyond life and death. Hence they cannot be harmed.”

Deqing
(Te-Ch’ing)
1546 – 1623 CE

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“All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts.”

William Shakespeare
1564 – 1616 CE
from As You Like It

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“intelligence… lets the first impulse pass by and waits for the second, or even the third.”

Balthasar Gracian
1601 – 1658 CE

Themes: Patience

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“Enlightened awareness is within each one of us, right at this moment… without effort rest naturally as the Unborn Mind, as a living Buddha.”

Bankei 盤珪永琢
(Bankei Yōtaku)
1622 – 1693 CE

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“Whenever we endeavor to bring about our own perfection, or that of others, by our own efforts, the result is simply imperfection.”

Madame Guyon Jeanne-Marie Bouvier de la Motte-Guyon via Thomas Taylor Allen
1648 – 1717 CE
from Autobiography of Madame Guyon

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“The art of medicine consists of amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.”

Voltaire, François-Marie Arouet
1694 – 1778 CE

Themes: Health

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“Neither trust, nor contend, lay wagers, nor lend; and you’ll have peace until your life's end.”

Benjamin Franklin
1706 – 1790 CE
from Poor Richard's Almanack

Themes: Strategy Peace

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“One never goes so far as when one doesn't know where one is going.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
1749 – 1832 CE

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“Make yourself at home in the natural state of pure presence, just being, not doing anything in particular.”

Jamgon Kongtrul the Great འཇམ་མགོན་ཀོང་སྤྲུལ་བློ་གྲོས་མཐའ་ཡས། via Judith Hanson
(Jamgön Kongtrül Lodrö Thayé)
1813 – 1899 CE
from Torch of Certainty

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“Others will enjoy the wealth we as misers kept. Even our body we hold so dear will be left behind.”

Jamgon Kongtrul the Great འཇམ་མགོན་ཀོང་སྤྲུལ་བློ་གྲོས་མཐའ་ཡས།
(Jamgön Kongtrül Lodrö Thayé)
1813 – 1899 CE
from Torch of Certainty

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“The common eye sees only the outside of things, and judges by that, but the seeing eye pierces through and reads the heart and the soul, finding there capacities which the outside didn't indicate or promise, and which the other kind of eye couldn't detect.”

Mark Twain
(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)
1835 – 1910 CE

Themes: Illusion

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“I have convinced myself (for the moment) that we had better leave these great changes to what we call great blind forces: their blindness being so much more perspicacious than the little, peering, partial eyesight of men.”

Robert Louis Stevenson
1850 – 1894 CE

Themes: Change

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“The term wu, ‘non-existence,’ is not annihilation but denotes absence of concrete particularity or of materiality.”

Paul Carus
1852 – 1919 CE
The Teachings of Lao Tzu

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“All good men are Anarchists… all just men are Anarchists. Jesus was an Anarchist.”

Elbert Hubbard
1856 – 1915 CE
from A Message to Garcia and Thirteen Other Things

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“Think like a man of action, act like a man of thought.”

Henri-Louis Bergson
1859 – 1941 CE
from Creative Mind: An Introduction to Metaphysics

Themes: Middle Way

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“Those who cannot renounce attachment to the results of their work are far from the path.”

Mahatma Gandhi
1869 – 1948 CE

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“Out of intense complexities, intense simplicities emerge.”

Winston Churchill
1874 – 1965 CE

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“Let life happen to you. Believe me: life is in the right, always.”

Rainer Maria Rilke
1875 – 1926 CE
Profound singer of universal music
from Duino Elegies

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“What did these people do in order to achieve the progress that freed them? As far as I could see they did nothing (wu wei), but let things happen… The art of letting things happen, action in non-action, letting go of oneself as taught by Meister Eckhart, became a key to me with which I was able to open the door to the ‘Way.’”

Carl Jung via Introduction to Secret of the Golden Flower
1875 – 1961 CE

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“Some of us think holding on makes us strong but sometimes it is letting go.”

Hermann Hesse
1877 – 1962 CE

Themes: Letting Go

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“Don't underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can't hear, and not bothering.”

A.A. Milne
(Alan Alexander Milne)
1882 – 1956 CE
from Winnie the Pooh

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“think not you can direct the course of love. If it finds you worthy, it directs your course. Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself.”

Kahlil Gibran
1883 – 1931 CE

Themes: Love

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“Successfully (whatever that may mean) or unsuccessfully, we all overact the part of our favorite character in fiction.”

Aldous Huxley
1894 – 1963 CE

Themes: Success Illusion

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“One must have an extraordinary sense of energy which has no cause, which has no motive, which has the capacity to be utterly quiet, and this very quietness has its own explosive quality.”

Krishnamurti
(Jiddu Krishnamurti)
1895 – 1986 CE
from Awakening of Intelligence

Themes: Ordinary Mind

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“I should have judged her according to her actions, not her words. she perfumed my planet and lit up my life.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
1900 – 1944 CE

Themes: Appreciation

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“But pretense was impossible. There was a quality in the air of Shangri-La that forbade one the effort of counterfeit emotion.”

James Hilton
1900 – 1954 CE
from Lost Horizon

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“When you try to do something, you lose it because you are concentrated on one out of 1000 hands - you lose 999.”

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi via David Chadwick
1904 – 1971 CE

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“Since all things are naked, clear and free from obscurations, there is nothing to attain or realize.”

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche དིལ་མགོ་མཁྱེན་བརྩེ།
1910 – 1991 CE
"Mind" incarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo
from Maha Ati

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“Come into my parlor said the spider to the specialist.”

Marshall McLuhan
1911 – 1980 CE

Themes: Livelihood

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“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius -- and a lot of courage -- to move in the opposite direction.”

E. F. Schumacher
1911 – 1977 CE
from Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered

Themes: Simplicity

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“You don't try. That's very important: not to try, either for Cadillacs, creation or immortality. You wait, and if nothing happens, you wait some more.”

Charles Bukowski
1920 – 1994 CE

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“I have no routines or personal history. One day I found out that they were no longer necessary for me and, like drinking, I dropped them.”

Carlos Castaneda
1925 – 1998 CE
from Journey to Ixtlan

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“wei wu wei – not a statement susceptible to logical interpretation, or even to syntactical translation into English; but it’s a concept that transforms thought radically, that changes minds.”

Ursula Le Guin
1929 – 2018 CE

Themes: Reason

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“It’s not a matter of transmitting teachings, but of working unbounded, unhindered, free from traditions, directly with whatever you have.”

Gesshin Myoko Roshi
1931 – 1999 CE

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“If as Sun Tzu says, ‘Deception is the art of war,’ it follows that being genuine and authentic is the art of peace.”

Shan Dao 山道
1933 CE –

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“this destruction is taking place because we have allowed ourselves to believe, and to live, a mated pair of economic lies: that nothing has a value that is not assigned to it by the market; and that the economic life of our communities can safely be handed over to the great corporations.”

Wendell Berry
1934 CE –

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“when we do let go, how wonderful. We discover that the darkness is actually full of light.”

Jakusho Kwong
1935 CE –
from No Beginning, No End: The Intimate Heart of Zen

Themes: Letting Go

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“The Buddha’s principal message that day was that holding on to anything blocks wisdom. Any conclusion that we draw must be let go.”

Pema Chödrön
(Deirdre Blomfield-Brown)
1936 CE –
First American Vajrayana nun

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“Just fully being skillful involves total lack of inhibition. We are not afraid to be. We are not afraid to live… like a tiger in the jungle.”

Chögyam Trungpa
1939 – 1987 CE
from Myth of Freedom

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“It’s actually not trying to do anything at all (even relax). That’s the whole point.”

Chögyam Trungpa
1939 – 1987 CE
from Illusion's Game

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“It’s okay. Everything is okay… Don’t rush; everything is going to be okay… Just cool it. You don’t have to do a complete job, all at once. If you go too far, if you are too hungry, you could become a cosmic monster. That message is very courageous, but very few people have the courage to say that.”

Chögyam Trungpa
1939 – 1987 CE
from Journey Without Goal

Themes: Patience Desire

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“We are lured by the expectation that… one day we will reach ‘happily ever after’ … We believe our grand performance is yet to come, so we do not live for today.”

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche རྫོང་གསར་ འཇམ་དབྱངས་ མཁྱེན་བརྩེ་ རིན་པོ་ཆེ།
(Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche)
1961 CE –
"Activity" incarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo
from What Makes You Not a Buddhist

Themes: Here and Now

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“People are masks, with masks under those masks, and masks under those, and down you go.”

David Mitchell
1969 CE –

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“Just to simply relax and rest in your own natural state is all that you need to do.”

Karmapa XVII ཨོ་རྒྱན་འཕྲིན་ལས་རྡོ་རྗ
(Orgyen Thrinlay Dorje)
1985 CE –

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