The last part of Chapter Two is as follows

是 以 聖 人
處 無 為 之 事 ,
行 不 言 之 教 ﹔
萬 物 作 而 弗 始 ,
生 而 弗 有 ,
為 而 弗 恃 ,
功 成 而 不 居 。
夫 唯 弗 居 , 是 以 不 去 。

Therefore, the sage, 
makes not acting his thing
and not speaking his religion,
makes myriad things, but without initiating,
gives birth without taking possession,
acts without imposing

gets results without laying claim.
Precisely because he lays no claim, he is not deserted.


The sage is effective yet unobtrusive, gets things done, but with a minimum of fuss. This is the Taoist ideal, to do things but claim no credit.

When it says, "not acting" and "not speaking", what is meant is not endless silence and inactivity, but rather not posing, bragging or doing anything artificial, especially not drawing attention to oneself.The sage has no wish to be the centre of all that happens. He is interested in being of service in ways that facilitate wholesome change and growth, but he has no blue print for others or for how the world should be. He trusts the natural unfolding of things.

無 為 wu wei is a key term in Taoism. It is often translated as "non-action" but a better rendering is probably "not acting", as in acting on the stage. Taoism is about being natural and free from affectation. It sees this not just as a virtue, but more especially as the best way of getting things done, and done in a manner that does not carry within it the seeds of the undoing of what has been done.

In this way, the sage is somewhat like a force of nature that has its effect and then flows on without looking back. This is also the spirit of classicism. Works of skill and beauty are generated, but the author disappears. Lao Tzu would consider we modern people to be obsessed with personality, both our own and that of others. He would have found the creation of celebrities immature and foolish.

The sage does not lay claim to anything, but for this very reason things are drawn to him. People feel safe with him. Therefore, he is not deserted. What he needs comes naturally. Here there is an aspect of trusting in providence. So this is a path that involves little or no calculating, and especially not the calculating of personal advantage. The sage does not ask what is his own personal profit. What comes, comes. Yet because he makes no demands on others, much come naturally.

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This seems much like Amida Buddhist practices where there is less emphasis on agency, a way of acting that draws no attention to the self as the actor. But there seems to be no metaphysical "other" in this teaching. 

Yes.  I guess that the "other" in that sense is, here, Heaven, or "heaven and earth", the great powers whose way is Dao with which the sage naturally harmonises by avoiding affectation. 

I'm really struck by how often in American Zen with associate Zen with Buddhism but rarely connect it to Taoism. Certainly, Chan was enriched by Mahayana Buddhism, but it was also shaped in many ways by Taoism, which in some ways might have actually been a kind of rebellion against Buddhism itself. What a paradox this is!

Alan Watts' The Way of Zen was one of the first to highlight the Daoist connection.

Yes. In fact his book, Psychotherapy and Zen was the first book I ever read on Zen. That was a long time ago.

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