The Dao takes no action,
But leaves nothing undone.
If princes and kings are able to stay true to it,
All things will be transformed of their own accord.
If, during their transformation, desire should arise within them,
I will calm them down using the nameless uncarved block of wood.
This will free them of desire.
Being free of desire, they will be tranquil;
And the world will find peace of its own accord.
Continue reading Daodejing Chapter 37: The Dao takes no action
Know the male,
But keep to the female.
Be a ravine to the world.
As a ravine to the world,
Constant virtue will never leave you,
And you will return to being an infant.
Know the bright,
But keep to the dark.
Be a model to the world.
As a model to the world,
Constant virtue will never be wanting,
And you will return to the limitless.
But keep to disgrace.
Be a valley to the world.
As a valley to the world,
Constant virtue will always be sufficient,
And you will return again to the uncarved block of wood.
When the uncarved block shatters, it is transformed into utensils.
The sage makes use of them,
And becomes the lord of all the officials.
Therefore, the deepest cut doesn’t sever.
Continue reading Daodejing Chapter 28: an uncarved block of wood
An excellent driver leaves no tracks.
An excellent speaker makes no slips.
An excellent accountant uses no tallies.
An excellent gateman needs no bolts to secure a door,
But nobody can open it.
An excellent binder needs no knots,
But nobody can untie the binding.
This is why,
The sage excels at taking care of everyone;
So abandons no one.
The sage excels at taking care of everything;
So wastes nothing.
This is called intuitive wisdom.
Therefore, those who excel are the teachers of those who don’t;
Those who don’t excel provide object lessons for those who do to learn from.
If you don’t value your teachers,
If you don’t care for your object lessons,
No matter how knowledgeable you think you are,
You are greatly deluded.
Such is the essential truth.
Continue reading Daodejing Chapter 27: intuitive wisdom
To yield is to be whole.
To bend is to be straight.
To be empty is to be full.
To be exhausted is to be renewed.
To have little is to gain.
To have too much is to be troubled.
That is why the sage embraces the one and sets an example to the world.
He does not show off and therefore shines.
He does not promote himself and is therefore revered.
He does not boast and is therefore honored.
He does not seek glory and therefore endures.
Because he does not contend,
Nobody in the world contends with him.
The ancient saying “to yield is to be whole” is indeed true.
When you are whole, all things will come to you.
Continue reading Daodejing Chapter 22: to yield is to be whole
The best leader is one whose presence is unknown to his people;
The next best is one who is loved and praised;
The next is one who is feared;
The worst is one who is despised;
When a leader has no trust in his people,
The people have no trust in him.
The best leader reflects and chooses his words carefully.
When his objective is achieved and the work is done,
The people all say, “We did it ourselves.”
Continue reading Daodejing Chapter 17: the best leader
Can you nurture your spirit and embrace oneness,
Without letting it go?
Can you concentrate your vital energy and reach a state of suppleness,
Like a new-born baby?
Can you polish and clean your mystery mirror,
So that you leave it untainted?
Can you love your country and care for your people,
With effortless action?
Can you play the role of the female,
Opening and closing the gates of Heaven?
Can you understand everything instinctively,
Without employing knowledge?
Bearing and nurturing;
Bearing without possessing;
Acting without taking credit;
Leading without dominating.
This is called mysterious virtue.
Continue reading Daodejing Chapter 10: Laozi throws down the gauntlet
Do not single out the gifted for praise,
To ensure that the people never contend;
Do not prize rare goods,
To ensure that the people never steal;
Do not display objects of desire,
To ensure that the people’s hearts will never be restless.
That’s why the sage rules his people by:
Emptying their minds;
But filling their stomachs;
Weakening their ambitions;
But strengthening their sinews.
Always keeping the people free from knowledge and desires,
To ensure that those with knowledge will never dare act.
By acting with effortless action,
There is nothing that he cannot govern.
Continue reading Daodejing Chapter 3: leadership through effortless action
When the whole world knows to regard beauty as beauty, there is ugliness.
When the whole world knows to regard good as good, there is evil.
Thus, something and nothing nurture each other;
Difficult and easy complete each other;
Long and short give form to each other;
High and low depend on each other;
Note and sound harmonize each other;
Front and rear follow each other.
That’s why the sage:
Conducts his affairs with effortless action;
Spreads his teaching without words;
Lets all things unfold without initiating them;
Lets them grow without claiming possession of them;
Gets things done without expecting any gratitude;
Achieves his goals without claiming any credit.
It is precisely because he does not claim any credit,
That it stays with him forever.
The Dao doesn’t place any arbitrary labels on anything. It draws no false distinctions between beauty and ugliness and good and evil. It simply allows everything to unfold, without ever attempting to intervene, in the knowledge that opposing natural forces will remain in balance. Continue reading Daodejing Chapter 2: effortless action
A spirited discussion about books at lunchtime inspired me to put together a short list of ones I would recommend from this year. Continue reading From Shoe Dog to Effortless Action: Favorite 2016 Books
Confucius said: “If there was a ruler who achieved order through effortless action it was Shun, wasn’t it? How did he do it? He composed himself with reverence and sat facing south. That was all.”
Effortless action (無為/wúwéi) is a term much more closely identified with Daoist teaching than Confucius, which is hardly surprising given that this is the only time it appears in the Analects. Continue reading Confucius on effortless action