The Wisdom of “Under-Doing”


The Wisdom of “Under-Doing”

Lao Tzu is the author of Tao Te Ching (
道德經), an ancient Chinese classic on human wisdom, one of the most translated books in world literature. The book, written more than 2, 600 years ago, is a beautiful collection of wisdom poetry. The language is simple and concise, and the wisdom is profound and intriguing.

Lao Tzu's eternal wisdom has five major components:

  • No ego-self
  • No Expectation
  • No Judgment
  • Living in the Present
  • Under-Doing
Having no ego-self or separate-self is the essence of Lao Tzu's wisdom. As a matter of fact, all the components are inter-connected, but no ego-self is the focal point of all.

Living in this material world. we all strive to create an identity, a separate-self. We all want to be different from others, and that is why we all have a name. An ego-self is the beginning of pride, which is the first of the Seven Deadly Sins, and the cause of the fall of man. With an ego-self, we begin to set goals in our lives to define our identities, to distinguish us from others. Once the goals are set, we expect to meet them, as well as to meet the expectations from others around us. With expectations, we tend to judge. Judgment means choosing what we want and rejecting what we do not want; we begin to like and dislike, because we want to accomplish our goals that will satisfy the ego-self. Throughout this process of judgment, we no longer live in the present moment, because our minds are preoccupied with thoughts of the past (e.g. repeating our success and avoiding our failure) and projections of the thoughts into the future (e.g. imagining the accomplishment of our goals). Not only are we not living in the present, we are all "over-doing" everything in order to get what we want to satisfy the ego-self.

Lance Armstrong, the once-celebrated-but-now-disgraced cyclist who won his prizes using enhancing-performance drugs, best illustrates all the components of Lao Tzu's wisdom. You want to be the best cyclist in the world (ego-self). You expect yourself to work hard to meet the expectations of others, including yourself (expectation). You may begin to choose what is best to achieve your goals, including doping (judgment). You are no longer concerned about the health or the legal issues of doping (not living in the present). You over-do everything, including practice, doping, and manipulating other cyclists (over-doing).

Lao Tzu emphasizes the importance of "under-doing" or "non-doing." It does not mean that you don't do anything at all; rather, it implies that you do your best, and let God do the rest; you take the stress out of expectation and judgment, and you attain the wisdom to see the right path for the right action. After all, who is really in charge of human affairs? You or your Creator?

According to Lao Tzu, everything in this world will return to its origin: life is followed by death, high is followed by low, and success is accompanied by failure. The wisdom in living is to embrace what life has to offer, and live it to the fullest, which is living in the present moment. "Over-doing" prevents you from living in the present, and it always comes with a hefty price.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© 2018 by Stephen Lau

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