A digression on today’s Tao quote

Today’s quote from the Tao was “for those who practice not doing, everything will fall into place.” The principle of non-action is essential to living in harmony with nature – the essence of Cynicism and Taoism both. This is why I quote the Tao on a Cynicism blog – Cynicism is the closest Western philosophy has come (as far as I know) to the nature-focused wisdom of Taoism. As a result, Taoism is a great Eastern teacher for the Western Cynic.

In Taoism the concept of non-action or non-being is known as wu-wei. When this state is achieved there is nothing left to be done, nothing to do. This is how a flower grows – the growth is happening, but it is not something the flower is doing. Blades of grass do not fret all day “oh geez, I really need to bend towards the sun a bit more.” They simply bend towards the sun. There is nothing contrived or unnatural in this state of non-doing; one simply is what one is and attempts nothing else.


Perhaps it is a stretch, but this reminds me of the anecdote about a young Alexander not-yet-the-Great paying a visit to Diogenes when both men were in Corinth. The story has been told many ways, but as it usually goes Alexander walks up to Diogenes and says something like, “I would like to do something for you, Diogenes.” Diogenes does not move to Alexander or even look at him and in so doing foregoes all of the contrived behavior that is expected of him when in the presence of a noble born prince and conqueror. Instead, Diogenes simply says, “you could move out of my light.”

In this anecdote Diogenes does not do anything other than react as a sunbathing mammal reacts when another mammal blocks the sun – “hey, move.” Having occasionally blocked the sun being laid in by my dog I can confirm that this is a wholly natural, dog-like response to the situation.


Perception creates reality. The perception that life is incomplete, that there is something I need to do that has not already been done and that is not driven by basic needs or natural instinct, creates a reality for the individual that feels as those things are missing; it creates the sense of something or other being out of place in life.

If one achieves wu-wei, a state of non-action, the perception is that there is nothing to do. This creates a reality of things being in place; it engenders a sense of harmony.

“For those who practice not doing, everything will fall into place.” Put it another way: If you achieve a state of non-doing, you will be freed from the illusion that things were ever out of place. 

About Diogenes

Cynic, digital cosmopolitan
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