Paddy field with lines of water showing between lines of paddy.

Nature's Grain

By non-activity [wu-wei] he can administer the empire and yet have energy to spare

Chuang-Tzu (c. 300 BCE)

...the notion of “nonaction” or wu-wei does not denote literal inaction but presupposes something like the possibility of an unforced acting with the grain of things, and that presupposes that it is possible to become attuned to that grain while in a state of awareness that is not cluttered by distorting conceptual oppositions.

David Wong (2014)

In the picture the grain of the field is patent; and once seen is not easily unseen. A water boatman might reach the far end of that highway unimpeded. But if the insect were to strike off at an angle its effort would be far greater. If we follow the highways nature offers, Daoism (in this case in the Chuang-Tzu) suggests we can have energy to spare, however, if we ignore the order found in nature, and fight our way through where there is no path, we dissipate energy. Life is not as simple as that paddy field. Wong indicates the morass of conceptualizations that we ourselves have introduced, and which are not at all part of nature, but isn’t there an underlying truth: there is a grain, a flow, a way, which bids us work with nature, not against her.


The quote comes from Chapter 13 of the Chuang-Tzu (Zhuangzi), the above translation being from Fung Yu-lan’s A History of Chinese Philosophy p. 331. David Wong has written an article in the online Stamford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entitled Comparative Philosophy: Chinese and Western from page 2 of which this quote comes. The photograph was taken towards dusk in Bắc Kạn Province, northern Vietnam.


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