Posts tagged ‘wu wei’

Wu wei (pronounced “woo-way”) is an important principle in Taoism. Wu wei is the process by which we can come closer to the Tao, or Way.

It has been described as “action through inaction” or “creative quietude.” It does not mean that we do nothing and wait for things to fall into our laps. Rather, it means studying life so that we can accomplish things through minimal action.

We can see this in action in martial arts such as judo, where defence consists of using an attacker’s own force against him or her, rather than fighting against it.


Water is often described as having the virtues of wu wei. Think about water in different forms: as a stead drip, as a river, as a waterfall. How does it show the virtues of “action through inaction”?

Wu wei, or “action through inaction,” can be used in many ways. For example, if someone treats us with anger or with hatred, we should not respond in the same way. This will just make things worse. A Taoist story shows this principle at work.

There was once a great warrior who, though old, had never been beaten. One day a young warrior challenged him. The young man was not only strong, but also skilled at spotting any weakness in an opponent. He would let the opponent make the first move, thus revealing his weakness. Then the young warrior would strike and defeat his opponent.

The old warrior accepted the challenge and the two stood facing each other, prepared for battle. For a long time, neither man moved. Then to provoke the old man, the young man began hurling insults at him. He threw dirt at him and spat in his face. But the old warrior merely stood there. Unable to provoke the old warrior into showing any weakness, the young warrior finally acknowledged that he was beaten.


How did the old man use wu wei in this fight?

A person who lives according to the Taoist principle of wu wei, or “action through inaction,” is able to achieve things without strain.

Wu wei is like floating in saltwater: if we give ourselves up to the water, we can achieve our goal – floating – without effort. But if we fight against the natural action of the water – for example, by trying to dive deep – we have to struggle to achieve our goal.


Describe a time when you acted in accord with wu wei, achieving your goal without strain.

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