Action and Non-Action


Tzu, Chuang




Chuang Tzu was a Chinese Taoist philosopher of the fourth century BCE.  He was the author of the compilation of writings known as the "Chuang-Tzu," from which "Action and Non-Action" was taken.  This poem asserts a distinction between inaction and non-action, attributing the latter to the wise man and calling it "the root of all things."  This reading could be used to spark a discussion of the relationship between reflection or contemplation and action.  

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The Way of Chuang Tzu, translated by Thomas Merton.  New Directions, 1965.


Reading - Short Enough to Read Aloud.


Social and Political ChangeTeaching and LearningWisdom and Contemplation

Big Questions

What enables change? What gets in the way?What kind of change am I making? What kind of change does the world need?What are the qualities of a good teacher?How can contemplation change our actions?How do we become wise?What do we learn from silence?What does it look like to be truly present?What is wisdom? How do we learn how to make wise choices?


Hearing the Call Across Traditions

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. What is "non-action"? What distinguishes it from inaction?
  2. Chuang Tzu likens "the sage," who has mastered non-action, to "still water." How are they similar?
  3. What is the relationship between non-action and action? What does Chuang Tzu mean by calling non-action "the root of action"?
  4. As someone involved in service, do you find your own ways of thinking about action challenged or confirmed by this poem?
  5. How is non-action related to joy? Do you experience joy in your service? When does this happen?
  6. If you were to put this meditation on non-action into action, how would your life change?
  7. Do you see yourself reflected in this poem? What does it show you?
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