Over at the Log, Victor Mair’s post WU2WEI2: Do Nothing opens with a gorgeous photo of the throne room of the Forbidden City (n.b.: “wu” is on the right, “wei” on the left) and proceeds to a description of the Chinese phrase and related terms:
The grammarians argue over whether this is an injunction (“do nothing”) or a negative declarative sentence (“there is no action”). It is normally rendered in English as a noun. Regardless of the part of speech, WU2WEI2 has had an enormous impact on Chinese thought for the past two millennia and more.
In the Afterword to my Bantam translation of the Tao Te Ching / Dao De Jing, I pointed out a number of Sanskrit terms (e.g., AKRTA [non-action], AKARMA [inaction], NAISKARMYA [freedom from action or actionlessness], KARMANAM ANARAMBHAN [noncommencement of action] — diacriticals omitted here), especially numerous in the Bhagavad Gita, that mean essentially the same thing as WU2WEI2. The Indian notions, while equally subtle and elusive, are quite different in their moral implications. Whereas the Taoist concept is both ethical and socio-political, the Hindu complex of ideas is metaphysical and existential.
The comment thread has quotes from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and much discussion. Highly recommended.