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About Abstinence from Action

Quote

    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, ch. 3, Legge's version).

Commentary

The key of this fragment is the emphasis placed on the "abstinence from action" which translates the Taoist wu-wei (nonaction or nondoing). Nondoing  is one of the most important Taoist (tao-chia) concepts. 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 for the spiritual or scientific knowledge. It refers merely to the ideal of Confucians who developed a social philosophy based on the study of the ancient Chinese cultural tradition.

The aim of this philosophy is the creation of the noble man, the one who is called to lead the country. This philosophy provides one with rules and must-to in order to shape one's moral and ethical character. Lao-tzu opposes this view by claiming the rejection of knowledge as well as the action innspired by it.

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Commentary by Jhian

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