The Wilderness Where Nothing is Lost

If you visit a city and fall in love with it, you may well marvel at how lovely the buildings are, how clean it is, how all the people are bustling around with their personal lives and yet they all fit together as the residents of a well-run city. You might inquire about the government, hear about the wise mayor, the city council, and the efficient municipal services. The vendors in the colorful markets have their permits, the street cleaners keep every lane spotless, and the public transportation is on time and takes you wherever you want to go. Your enjoyment of the city is enhanced by marveling over its brilliant organization.

If you go out into the wilderness, however, this same inquiry does not apply. From the Taoist viewpoint, no one runs nature. Nature runs itself. No one is in charge, no one has to make any effort to make it happen. Nature as a whole is self-organizing and makes no use of forethought or planning.

That is another perspective on wuwei: it is pure action. The “no” in wuwei can be seen as no thought. Nature has no intentions, no preconceived goals, no reasons in the sense that we humans need them. It is pure action with no-thought.

Human beings lament loss. We understandably weep over the death of loved ones. We are sad if we lose our wallets, our jobs, our lovers. We are bent to the breaking if we lose our children. Even our science has to cope with loss by accounting for entropy.

In nature, nothing is lost, for all is conserved. Everything is in motion, cycling and recycling. Apparent loss is only the prelude to apparent gain. Ultimately, though, there is only motion, with gain and loss being illusory. To be Taoist is to be like nature.

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