“Do nothing and there is nothing left undone” is a pearl of ancient Chinese wisdom inspired by chapter 48 of the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) written by Lao Zi (Lao Tsu)
The Dao De Jing is considered one of the most important classics in all of Chinese culture. The book has been utilized by Taoists, Buddhists, Confucians, philosophers, mystics, rulers, generals and just about everyone else.
The concept of “doing nothing” (無為 Wu Wei) is sometimes miss-interpreted to literally mean “don’t do anything”. At the extreme some might go so far as to say “Why get out of bed in the morning since life is illusion and there is no point in doing anything? That is what all these philosophies teach.”
But nothing could be further from the truth.
Wu Wei is actually a call to action of the highest and most decisive sort. It is the Taoist method of “Achieving all under Heaven.”
From nothing comes something.
Likewise, from stillness comes motion.
When you do nothing, it is like sitting in stillness.
From this extreme stillness, something stirs. This something is action. In internal alchemy (Nei Dan), it is motion inside you. From the extreme stillness – Yin, Yang is created. When this happens in internal alchemy, it is a sign you need to go see your teacher. You now have something to do.
Likewise, the Sage waits in inaction. Only when the time is right, does he act.
To the uninitiated, it looks like the Sage is doing nothing, then suddenly things are done.
His actions look natural and effortless. This is because he does not do anything unnatural, he follows the natural law. He follows Tao.
The Tao of action is to act when action is needed. When it is not needed, do not act.
How do you know when action is needed? In short, you will know if you truly sit in stillness and listen to the Tao.
The Taoist, Buddhists, and Confucians all say you should just sit. Sit and listen to the Tao. Then you will know when to act and when not to act.
Ultimately, there is no difference between action and non-action.
It takes time, but if you start with a little sitting every day, you might surprise yourself with how fast the wisdom of Wu Wei accumulates.