Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Chapter 11
Appreciating Emptiness

Without an empty hub,
Wheels are useless.
Without an inside emptiness,
Pots and bowls are useless.
Without an empty space for doors and windows,
Houses are useless.
Without an empty mind,
People are useless.

Commentary

“All things have no inherent existence.”

The Buddha गौतम बुद्ध via Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche
(Siddhartha Shakyamuni Gautama)
563 – 483 BCE
Awakened Truth

Themes: Emptiness

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“Prisoners to the world of objects, they are pressed down and crushed by fashion, the market, events, public opinion… never do they recover their right mind.”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 via Thomas Merton
(Zhuangzi)
369 – 286 BCE

from Zhuangzi

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“Forget the years, forget distinctions. Leap into the boundless and make it your home.”

Chuang Tzu 莊周
(Zhuangzi)
369 – 286 BCE

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“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.”

Plutarch
(Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus)
46 – 120 CE

Themes: Mind Inspiration

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“Only when we take emptiness as our virtue can our actions accord with the Tao.”

Wang Bi 王弼
226 – 534 CE

Themes: Emptiness

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“You must be emptied of that with which you are full, so you may be filled with that whereof you are empty.”

Augustine ɔːɡəstiːn via David Loy
(Saint Augustine, Saint Austin, Augustine of Hippo)
354 – 430 CE

Themes: Emptiness

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“The image of thirty spokes converging on a hub shows how less is the ancestor of more.”

Xuanzong 武隆基
(Hsuan-Tsung or Wu Longji)
685 – 756 CE

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“Regard everything as empty, don’t give substance to that which has none.”

Layman Pang 龐居士
740 – 808 CE

Themes: Emptiness

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“Emptiness has no form. It takes on the form of the ten thousand things. If emptiness had its own form, it could not form anything else. Thus sages have no mind of their own. They take on the minds of the people and treat everyone the same.”

Su Che 呂洞 via Red Pine
1039 – 1112 CE
from Tao-te-chen-ching-chu

Themes: Emptiness

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“Become nothing, And He'll turn you into everything.”

Rumi مولانا جلال‌الدین محمد بلخی
(Rumi Mawlānā Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Balkhī)
1207 – 12783 CE
from Masnavi مثنوي معنوي‎‎) "Rhyming Couplets of Profound Spiritual Meaning”

Themes: Emptiness

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“Our usefulness depends on our empty, shapeless mind.”

Deqing
(Te-Ch’ing)
1546 – 1623 CE

Themes: Emptiness

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“Chasing after words, pursuing phrases, when will you ever be done?”

Bankei 盤珪永琢
(Bankei Yōtaku)
1622 – 1693 CE

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“Our action is based on knowledge and therefore time, so man is always a slave to the past.”

Krishnamurti
(Jiddu Krishnamurti)
1895 – 1986 CE
from Core of the Teaching

Themes: Slavery

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“because of the Taoist insistence on the positive value of non-being that empty space has been utilized as a constructive factor in Chinese landscape painting.”

Wing-tsit Chan 陳榮捷
1901 – 1994 CE
from Way of Lao Tzu

Themes: Art

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“We have to believe in something that has no form and no color – something that exists before all forms and colors appear… By enlightenment I mean believing in nothing.”

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi
1904 – 1971 CE

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“All thoughts are completely without substance… Once you recognize this, they can no longer fool you.”

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche དིལ་མགོ་མཁྱེན་བརྩེ།
1910 – 1991 CE
"Mind" incarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo

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“Lao Tzu is… explaining a profound and difficult truth here, one of those counter-intuitive truths that, when the mind can accept them, suddenly double the size of the universe.”

Ursula Le Guin
1929 – 2018 CE

Themes: Paradox

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“the result of anything aimed at enriching the ego is destruction, complete confusion, perpetual confusion.”

Chögyam Trungpa
1939 – 1987 CE
from Illusion's Game

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“Lao-tzu’s ‘existence’ and ‘nonexistence’ are tantamount to yang and yin.”

Red Pine or Bill Porter
1943 CE –

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  1. Shan Dao
    Le Guin describes the potential impact of this chapter as doubling the size of the universe. Given how tiny our conception of the universe compared to how vast it really is, this seems like a gross understatement. Doubling may be the best analogy though for depicting the expansion our narrow focus on objects to include the immeasurable realms of emptiness because it goes from half to whole, from yang to both yang and yin together.