Don’t try to be good. Don’t try to do the right thing. When you do, you are already feeling pride in your superiority and separation from others who you perceive as making a lesser effort. The way of conscious striving toward virtue is fundamentally a path of self-aggrandizement, and is bound to come in conflict with 道.
My greatest happiness consists precisely in doing nothing whatever that is calculated to obtain happiness…If you ask ‘what ought to be done’ and ‘what ought not to be done’ to produce happiness, I answer that these questions do not have answer.
If one is in harmony with 道, then one will act appropriately when the time comes to act, and this will be without struggle, without ambivalence, without even a willful choice. The divine and spontaneous mode of 无为 is the mode of action of 道 itself, and is the source of all good.
Great knowledge sees all in one.
Small knowledge breaks down into the many.
When the body sleeps, the soul is enfolded in One.
When the body wakes, the openings begin to function.
They resound with every encounter
With all the varied business of life, the strivings of the heart;
Men are blocked, perplexed, lost in doubt.
Little fears eat away their peace of heart.
Great fears swallow them whole.
Arrows shot at a target: hit and miss, right and wrong.
That is what men call judgment, decision.
Their pronouncements are as final
As treaties between emperors.
O, they make their point!
Yet their arguments fall faster and feebler
Than dead leaves in autumn and winter.
. . .
Early and late we meet the “that”
From which “these” all grow!
If there were no “that”
There would be no “this.”
If there were no “this”
There would be nothing for all these winds to play upon.
So far can we go;
But how shall we understand
What brings it about?
道 is transliterated as Dao or Tao, and sometimes translated as “the way”. It is a noun but carries a feeling of motion. The character is part of the Chinese words for “road” and “reason” and “smell”. If it is “the way” then think of it as “the way of the world” rather than “the path to righteousness” or “the way to happiness” or any such thing.
无为is transliterated as wu-wei. Wu is well-translated as “without”, but wei, in this context is more elusive. The combination “Weile” means “for the sake of”. I suggest “purposelessness” as an appropriate approximation to 无为.