Many religions use stories as a way of teaching people how to live. Here is a Taoist story.
An old man was walking with friends by a swift-flowing river when he stumbled and fell into the water. He was swept downstream through a set of fierce rapids, dashing among the rocks. Then he plunged over the edge of a steep waterfall. His friends, fearing for his life, rant to the pool below the waterfall. To their amazement the old man came to the edge of the pool, unharmed.
“Old man,” they cried, “how could you have survived both the rapids and the waterfall?”
“I cannot tell you,” he answered. “I only know that I did not try to fight the water, but allowed myself to be shaped by it. I accommodated myself to the stream, and the stream carried me without harm.”
What do you think is the message of this story?
Wu wei, or “action through inaction,” can be used in many ways. For example, if someone treats us with anger or with hatred, we should not respond in the same way. This will just make things worse. A Taoist story shows this principle at work.
There was once a great warrior who, though old, had never been beaten. One day a young warrior challenged him. The young man was not only strong, but also skilled at spotting any weakness in an opponent. He would let the opponent make the first move, thus revealing his weakness. Then the young warrior would strike and defeat his opponent.
The old warrior accepted the challenge and the two stood facing each other, prepared for battle. For a long time, neither man moved. Then to provoke the old man, the young man began hurling insults at him. He threw dirt at him and spat in his face. But the old warrior merely stood there. Unable to provoke the old warrior into showing any weakness, the young warrior finally acknowledged that he was beaten.
How did the old man use wu wei in this fight?