Many have heard the advice “just go with the flow”, and that habits and alike require “balance”. What does this truly mean though, and where do these philosophies come from? Well, these ideas are from the philosophy of Daoism. Daoist inspired images, such as Yin Yang, are used throughout this blog. This is of course no accident, and is not because I feel this is somehow a trendy thing to do. I find that the Daoist philosophy promotes many ideals worth respecting, and deserve great consideration. For this reason, the philosophy of Daoism will be heavily discussed throughout this blog and pursued in my personal life.
Daoist pursue understanding of the 道(Dao) which, essentially is “the way” or can be described as the way of nature, the universe, etc. Understanding how nature flows supposedly grants great life satisfaction and the ability to achieve what you desire. I think another way of saying this is: if you understand how yourself and how life works, you can better maneuver through it; an idea that I think many of us have had before.
Daoist use a term 无为 (WuWei), which roughly translates to “nonaction” or “effortless action”1. This term is meant to represent the ideal way of living, and how one lives in accordance with the Dao. Some scholars feel a better use of the term is “non-coercive action”1. I find the concept to be extremely powerful. Yet, many times It seems counter intuitive to our traditional western philosophies. In the West, we create this framework that we must actively do something in order to achieve a target goal. Of course, this is true, but only from a certain point of view. It is the question of what to do that becomes important to consider.
Earlier, I made a post discussing the relationship between economics and ethics (you can find that post here). In this article, I attempt to explain that if you wish to help the world, one of the best things you can do (from an economic point of view) is simply be a person who abides by the non-aggression principle. In essence, don’t initiate aggression against anyone, and live peacefully within society. By doing so, you are performing actions that greatly benefit the world around you. The world will become economically more prosperous, and this will inevitably lead to less suffering and higher standards of living for all. To me, this is an example of WuWei. It illustrates how doing something almost looks like simply doing nothing. This “nothing” is characterized by just living your life peacefully, and not causing any violence or aggression. I think this also highlights how to improve the world; one should look within rather than without. This form of “effortless action” is also famously promoted by the great Bruce Lee, a famous Daoist, in his movie Enter the Dragon where he states that his form of fighting is “fighting without fighting”.
The concept of WuWei is difficult to describe, and I am certainly not doing the idea enough justice here. Often are Daoist ideas seemingly easier to articulate through imagery and poetry. If you would like an example of this, watch this video of Bruce Lee promoting the idea to “be like water”. You will get a sense of how these ideas are permeated:
Of course, even within the DaoDeJing, the book of Daoism written by 老子(LaoZi), the Dao is described as being something indescribable. The entire book is a collection of poetry meant to permeate the essence of the concept, rather than explaining it directly.
Nonetheless, what I find most fascinating about this Daoist philosophy is that to arrive to these opinions, the Daoist seem to use different methods compared to myself. As previously stated, I personally have found that through studying economics, I have arrived to a deeper understanding of WuWei. I arrived there through logical and analytical thinking. However, for Daoists, meditation is claimed to be the avenue that grants understanding of the Dao. It seems to be the claim that through the quieting of the mind, focusing on the present moment, the body, and the self’s orientation within the large context of one’s surroundings, etc (all of the aspects of meditation), one develops an understanding of Dao. This perspective is of extreme interest to me. While debating philosophy with my friend in college one night, I remember discussing how language and logic may have their limits in understanding the universe. If this is true, then how can humans enhance their understanding of the universe even further? At that time, we thought it might be through cybernetic enhancement of our brains. However, now my hypothesis tends more toward meditation, though I am definitely not certain.
Either way, this concept of Daoism and meditation will both be concepts that I aim to explore further. I have no idea where these ideas will lead me, but of course that aimlessness is what the philosophy is about.
1. Laozi (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Published 20018. Accessed April 8, 2021. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/laozi/