Sunday, November 11, 2012

Discovering Wei Wu Wei

Photo borrowed from
I'm a self-admitted Amazon troller. Always on the lookout for new Buddhist authors, I read Amazon book reviews, scan the 'suggested authors' side bar, and single-handedly keep online booksellers in business. Most of the time the search is fruitless, but occasionally I stumble upon a gem.

I recently discovered an amazing author, one whose name I have seen at least half a dozen times, but never took the initiative to explore. Wei Wu Wei, the pen name of British Terence Gray (1895-1986), is an amazing author. Although his adopted name suggests a Taoist perspective, his writing primarily explores Buddhism, and Zen in particular, with a few obligatory head nods to Ramana Maharshi, with whom he personally studied for a period.

Wei Wu Wei, as his name suggests (it's Chinese for non-volitional action), was interested in nonduality. In order to break free from the delusion of a separate self, Wei Wu Wei offers us the teachings of the great Chinese and Indian masters. As he teaches, if we can practice non-action (not inaction), or non-intentional action, then we can close the false gap between us and the rest of the universe.

To clarify, it's not that the I does not exist, for that is nihilism or annihliationism. It simply doesn't exist the way we think it does--autonomously, independently, as a thing or object. That sense of self is a complete fiction. The truth, according to Wei Wu Wei and other nondualists, is that the sense of I that we identify with as ourselves, is absurd, for by definition a self is something concrete, distinct, and separate--an ontological impossibility. What we are is formless, impossible to locate (in time or space), not separate from anything else; in short, nondual. This demolishes our notion of 'things,' for no such phenomena exists. When he says that the self is 'no-thing,' he means just that--it is not a thing. He isn't discounting experience, for there is experience; it's just not a noun.

There is no thing called an I which experiences. That's dualistic, as are any notions, including existence and nonexistence, loss and gain, here and there, etc.

According to Wei, it is the delusion of intention that creates this phenomenon we call 'I.' The false sense of will is the agent that creates our impression of separation from others, so if we can just see through it, by acting without intention, then we can free ourselves from the false bifurcation of self and other.

Throughout his work, Wei Wu Wei launches an unrelenting assault on the absurdity of the notions of self, other, subject, object, and all other dualistic concepts.

I can't attest to his personal insights (I don't know anything about his personal practice), but I can vouch for his dialectical mastery of the subject. In a via negativa approach similar to Buddhist Madhyamaka, Wei Wu Wei negates all mental categories in order to reveal the true, nondual thusness of the present moment. Or 'this-ness' as he calls it, as opposed to 'that-ness' that we ordinarily suffer from--a world of objects. And that's Wei Wu Wei's central focus: the fact that we objectify everything, including ourselves.

All that we know are objects. Even our sense of self is an object. Anything that can be 'known' in the traditional sense, as an object of mind, falls into this category. The solution is not some form of super subjectivity--some transcendental I, whether it be a soul, spirit, or Godhood--for that is simply the other half of the subject/object dualism. That perspective has fallen into the exact inverse trap that most of us inhabit in our world of objects.

The true path is beyond the subject/object duality altogether. That's Zen. That's what koans, huatous, and meditation aim at--the obliteration of the central duality of self and other.

At freedom.

Wei Wu Wei is one of those extraordinary writers that too few people have read. If you haven't read his work, by all means, dig right in. Like many authors, his work evolves, so I recommend some of his later material. I started with All Else is Bondage and loved it; it's short, handy, and refreshing.

Give yourself a treat this fall and winter, and check him out.


  1. You might be interested in "Free Will" by Sam Harris.
    I will try "All Else...."