Not Wanting and Not Doing, Two Keys in Oriental Philosophies

The keys in oriental philosophies are contained in the Tao, a book that has impacted many cultures, at different historical moments. Not doing and not wanting result in greater power and less suffering.


To the Westerners that of not wanting and not doing seems crazy to us. In fact, we live doing the opposite: active and eager. However, stillness and detachment are two keys in Oriental philosophies and, for that reason, they mark one of the great foci of difference with the Westerners.

For Zen and other currents of thought, not wanting and not doing are a source of power. On the contrary, the attachment and desire to influence everything, or react to everything, weakens noticeably. These two keys in oriental philosophies are sometimes misunderstood. They are confused with neutral passivity or conformism.

There are also those who feel that life without desires that invade people is not life. Or if it is, in any case it is very boring. Intense emotions are a goal for many Westerners, to the point that they invent ways to put themselves in danger just for the pleasure of being shocked inwardly. Faced with this, there is a question: how valid are these two keys to Eastern philosophies for a Westerner?

“Give birth, nourish,

carry and not have,

act and not own,

guide and not send:

this is the mysterious power.”

-Tao Te Ching-

Do not do and not want

Detachment and contemplation are key in oriental philosophies. This can be clearly seen in the Tao, a book that has been read and appreciated by all cultures, in different historical times. There it is affirmed: “The soul without desires sees the hidden thing, the soul that always wishes sees only what it wishes”. This synthesizes the Eastern perspective in the face of attachments.

For Westerners, desire is what drives action. This, in turn, is what gives rise to an achievement. And the achievement is equivalent to happiness. Why then is inaction one of the keys in oriental philosophies? As the Tao points out, Orientals think that desire distorts the perception of reality. It leads to self-deception and enslaves. In a way, reality seems to be right. As you wish, you act and you achieve, then there is a void that puts the desire itself in question.

Faced with inaction, another key in Oriental philosophies, the Tao states: “Can you keep the water still and clear so that it reflects without disturbing?” It means that not doing allows reality to manifest itself in a more diaphanous Let it become visible. Action, on the other hand, interferes with that natural flow of things. Therefore, we arrive more expeditiously at the truth when we contemplate reality and let it be.

Not wanting, one of the two keys in oriental philosophies

For oriental philosophies the absence of desire grants great power. Whoever wants something, in one way or another, becomes a slave to that appetite, or goal, or desire. It subordinates your life to having or achieving what you want. Also to not lose it, or keep it.

This is in itself a situation that leads to anguish. That not to want of the orientals is analogous to the western phrase that says: “Rico is not the one that has more, but the one that less needs”.

The power to renounce gives great strength to the human being. Neutralizes or cancels all forms of conditioning based on the fear of losing something. Much of our Western anxiety is precisely those fears that things do not go as we want, that we do not achieve what we want or, perhaps, that the undesirable happens. And the undesirable is undesirable, because it supposes the deprivation of something that we classify as important for us.

Do not do, a true source

Not doing Orientals does not mean staying frozen in the face of all circumstances. Rather it is a non-doing related to allowing each of the realities to follow its own course. This is based on the conviction that each reality of the universe has its own dynamics and should not be interfered with.

Not doing is one of the keys in oriental philosophies, because it is established that what must happen will happen. We can intervene, but this will not alter the essential course of events. They are energies spent uselessly, which will not change reality in a significant way.

Not wanting and not doing are ways to get to the truth. This is a truth about ourselves and the universe that alsoin dwells within us. They allow us to capture everything in a more transparent way and contribute to our being freer. That is why it is about faculties that the Orientals call to cultivate, mainly to avoid suffering.