Wei wu wei
It’s a taoist concept, translated as the action of nonaction. Lao Tzu describes it:
“Thus, the wise man deals with things through wu-wei and teaches through no-words.
The ten thousand things flourish without interruption. They grow by themselves, and no one possesses them.”
David Loy has written an interesting article about it in Philosophy East and West.He describes three possible interpretations of wei wu wei:
1. Doing nothing or as little as possible
2. Action that is natural
3. Nondual action; action where there’s no difference between agent and action. Action with no intention, no cause.
From his article it’s clear that he favours the third interpretation. The same goes for the author of the book I’m currently reading: “All else is bondage – Non-volitional living”.
Wei Wu Wei the author
Wei Wu Wei has written this book. Well, he would say he hasn’t because he doesn’t believe in I, nor in free will. Wei Wu Wei is the chosen name of a buddhist/taoist philosopher. There are eight books and on a website dedicated to his work, you may read the following warning:
“It is doubtful whether this site would be of use or interest to those seeking introductory material on Buddhism or Taoism.”
That sounds like a paradox. I have read a lot of introductions to buddhism and taoism. Quite often I think the important stuff is left out, namely, the reason to study some ancient wisdom from the East in 2013. It’s almost a taboo; Brad Warren called it the e-word. Wei Wu Wei describes it thus:
“In the East, liberation was elaborated into a fine art, but it may be doubted whether more people made their escape from solitary confinement outside the organised religions than by means of them.”
Solitary confinement. Living a reasonably healthy life in a rich country with access to the whole wide world by means of an I-Pad is the same as being in prison. If you have ever felt that way, you might want to read Wei Wu Wei.
In his book Fingers pointing at the moon, his answer to the question “What is Zen?” is clear and useful: Satori or nothing.To quote Wei Wu Wei:
“Zen represents the most direct method and the only one that rejects all dogma, all ritual, all devotion and all belief.”
Not everyone who practices zen might recognise this from personal experience, I certainly don’t. But I have a feeling that this is what zen should be.
Wei Wu Wei says oriental literature has sometimes been translated by ‘scholars whose knowledge of the language was greater than their understanding of the subject.’ Therefore, it might be useful to read someone who is familiar with western philosophy as well. These books were published between 1958 and 1974 and I recognise the language of that period. On the other hand, this adds some quirkiness to a sometimes difficult text. It’s a bit like hearing Alan Watts talk.
Still, I have no doubt that Wei Wu Wei knows what he’s talking about. He says:
“Detachment is a state, it is not a totalisation of achieved indifferences.”
Quite an important point to make.
From his perspective: “There seem to be two kinds of searchers: those who seek to make their ego something other than it is, i.e. holy, happy, unselfish…and those who understand that all those attempts are just gesticulation and play-acting, that there is only one thing that can be done, which is to disidentify themselves with the ego, by realising its unreality, and by becoming aware of their eternal identity with pure Being.”To do this, you have to understand what is really going on. First on an intellectual level, and then intuitively. My zen master would say bothering with the intellectual is a waste of time, but I like to read books and I have not yet given up on this kind of understanding. Wei Wu Wei attributes the mystery to obnubilation; an inability to perceive the obvious owing to a conditioned reflex which causes us persistently to look in the wrong direction.
So, if the answer cannot be reached by means of conceptual knowledge, might meditation be the answer? Maybe not:
The practice of meditation is represented by the three monkeys,
who cover their eyes, ears and mouth so as to avoid the phenomenal world.
The practice of non-meditation is to be the see-er, hearer or speaker,
while eyes, ears and mouth are fulfilling their function in daily life.
Two years ago I met a very kind man from Florida. He gave me his card, it read: “Rising Moon meditation. It’s not what you think.” He’s probably right.
With thanks to thelastteahouse for posting a short talk by Alan Watts. This helped me to find some interesting lectures by him on Youtube.
Comments are very welcome!