Not-doing LO997

David E. Birren, MB/5, 608.267.2442 (
Mon, 1 May 1995 10:03 CST

Replying to Charles Barclay:

>Gia fu Feng's translation translates poorly into english:

>> Verse Forty-eight of the Tao Te Ching
>> In the pursuit of learning, every day something is acquired.
>> In the pursuit of Tao, every day something is dropped.
>> Less and less is done
>> Until non-action is achieved.
>> When nothing is done, nothing is left undone.
>> The world is ruled by letting things take their course.
>> It cannot be ruled by interfering.

I very much like this verse/chapter. If someone has a better translation,
or can offer a better sense of what is meant by the original, I'd like to
see it.

>When nothing is done, nothing is left undone, is nonsensical.

It's just a paradox. Understanding the paradox is to see that "doing" has two
meanings. To "do", in the sense of human controlling behavior, can change
natural systems with effects that we can't foresee. These systems have their
own ways of operating ("doing") that are beyond our limited awareness. So by
leaving things alone we can allow them to function in the ways they are
designed for.

Of course, this verse isn't a universal prescription. But in the course
of our lives, and especially the lives of our leaders, it is well to bear
in mind that we (and they) often function best in small roles rather than
large ones.

I'd suggest that if the reader doesn't agree with this chapter of the Tao,
he should read more of it, particularly editions that offer insights into
the underlying philosophy. And if it still doesn't make sense, just keep
reading it more. You will eventually just "know" its message.

>Anything not done is left undone. Think about it--its like the
>sound of one hand clapping--try it, its not as loud but it still
>makes sound when it occurs.

If you're listening for a sound, your ears aren't open enough.

>Taoists are peculiar people, I know a few and they are extremely
>powerful with what they know--they are hardly non-doers. They are
>instead controllers of natural forces unknown to most people. The
>good ones are healers and teachers. Luckily, I haven't met evil

"Evil Taoists"? This is a remarkable oxymoron.

David E. Birren Phone: (608)267-2442
Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources Fax: (608)267-3579
Bureau of Management & Budget Internet:
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
"To know, and not to act, is to not know."
--Wang Yang Ming, 9th-century Chinese general