Tao Te Ching 37: The Tao does nothing, yet leaves nothing undone


The Tao does nothing,

yet leaves nothing undone.


If rulers could centre themselves in it,

the whole world would be transformed.

People would be content

with their lives and free of desire.

When life is simple,

pretenses fall away;

our essential nature shines through.


When there is no desire,

all things are at peace.

When there is silence,

one finds the anchor of the universe

within oneself.


This verse is especially noteworthy for the famous phrase “the Tao does nothing, yet leaves nothing undone.” It’s a notion that bears contemplation. One of the key themes of the Tao Te Ching is  coming into alignment with the natural flow of life, and Lao Tzu frequently urges us to do this by observing and emulating the natural world.

Nature has no intention or desires of its own. It doesn’t set out to do anything. And yet through it, all things happen. There are cycles of birth and death, growth, expansion and contraction. All processes unfold of their own accord, fuelled by the subtle yet infinite intelligence of the Tao.

Perhaps from this we can learn to stop striving to make life conform to the image we have of how it ‘should’ be. When we instead relax, let go and trust, allowing life to be what it is, we find that things invariably take care of themselves anyway. Life becomes simpler, less stressful and we realise that everything is actually okay as it is, without us having to do everything. We do nothing, but life works through and around us, leaving nothing left undone.

What we often find is the moment we give up the desire for things to be more/different/better  – and the illusion that we have to continually do in order to somehow prop up the entire universe – we fall into a very natural, spontaneous sense of peace.

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