Daodejing Chapter 63 breakdown: tackle the difficult when it is easy

Richard Brown
3 min readSep 21, 2023

Chapter 63 provides the most cogent description of the concept of wuwei (無為), often translated as effortless action, non-action, or non-doing, in the Daodejing.

As the chapter illustrates, wuwei does not mean doing absolutely nothing at all. It entails becoming so immersed in the natural flow of the world that you can identify potential problems and challenges in time to resolve them before they get out of control. By practicing mindful management, embracing humility, and fostering your inner strength, you can navigate life’s complexities effortlessly and wisely.

Section 1
Act with effortless action.
Manage without interfering.
Taste without tasting.


The first three lines of the chapter neatly encapsulate the essence of Daoist philosophy. Instead of forcing outcomes through excessive effort, Laozi suggests that you allow your actions to flow naturally in accordance with natural rhythms. This is not a call for passivity but rather a reminder to live and work in harmony with the world and refrain from unnecessary resistance against and interference in what is happening around you.

By advocating that you “taste without tasting,” Laozi is cautioning you against becoming overly attached to sensory pleasures so that you can avoid being ensnared by desires and aversions that distort your inner balance and perspective.

Section 2
Treat the great as small
And the many as few.
Repay injury with inner power.
Tackle the difficult when it is easy.
Tackle the great when it is small.
All difficult tasks in the world,
Begin with the easy.
All great tasks in the world,
Begin with the small.

By approaching every matter with a detached and balanced perspective, you can avoid being overwhelmed by the complexity of the situations you face and manage them in the most effective and timely manner.

Instead of seeking revenge or retaliation when someone moves against you, stay calm to maintain your composure and conserve your strength. Focus on what you can control rather than allow yourself to be distracted by external circumstances.

Prevention is the key to wuwei. Even if a problem appears to be trifling, take care of it immediately. If you procrastinate or underestimate seemingly minor tasks, they can easily spiral into more significant challenges that will consume much greater resources to resolve than were initially required.

Section 3
The sage never strives to be great.
So, he accomplishes greatness.
A promise made lightly
Should not be trusted.
Things considered easy
Often turn out to be difficult.
The sage treats everything as difficult.
So, he never encounters any difficulties.

By focusing on doing the right thing rather than pursuing personal glory, you can achieve true greatness. That means keeping yourself fully grounded, working with people you can trust, and never underestimating the scale and complexity of any obstacle you may encounter.

With a mindset that regards everything as potentially challenging, you remain prepared, adaptable, and capable of handling everything that life throws at you with equanimity and ease. Rather than having to deal with a constant procession of crises, you can sleep peacefully at night and wake up in the morning ready to make the most of the day ahead.

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Daodejing Chapter 63: act with effortless action

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Richard Brown

I live in Taiwan and am interested in exploring what ancient Chinese philosophy can tell us about technology and the rise of modern China.