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About Abstinence from Action


    Therefore the sage, in the exercise of his government, empties their minds, fills their bellies, weakens their wills, and strengthens their bones. He constantly (tries to) keep them without knowledge and without desire, and where there are those who have knowledge, to keep them from presuming to act (on it). When there is this abstinence from action, good order is universal. (Tao-te ching, chap. 3, Legge's version).


The key of this fragment is the emphasis placed on the "abstinence from action" which is the Taoist nonaction or nondoing. Nondoing  is one of the most important concepts in philosophical Taoism (tao-chia). Lao-tzu invites us to practice the abstinence of action, or the nonaction, and this seems to be better than wanting to have much knowledge and acting on it.

Still the word "knowledge" is not to be mistaken to the universal knowledge or the scientific one. It refers merely to the ideal of Confucians who developed a social philosophy based on the study the ancient Chinese culture and nurture one's personality in order to act in accord with what is right. Lao-tzu opposes his view that disregards the Confucians and their specific social involvement.

In his words, one must act without thinking of what is right or wrong from an ethical point of view.

Commentary by Jhian


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