Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
Search Quotes Search Sages Search Chapters

Emptiness

Emptiness became a foundational concept explicitly in Buddhism and Taoism, implicitly in the mystical traditions of the other religious and philosophical traditions. It also seems to increasingly penetrate scientific understanding. The basic idea of emptiness points toward our direct experience undiluted by cultural, political, religious, and personal filters. The field of evolutionary psychology provides fascinating insights into the degree self-deception constantly colors our world-views trapping us into dogmatic certainties, rigid and unrealistic ethical standards, and polemical political and social norms. Understanding the sense instead of believing in the words epitomizes a consequence of experiencing emptiness.

Read More

Quotes (82)

“All rivers run into the sea and yet the sea is not full.”

King David 1000 – 920 BCE
"The baffled king composing Hallelujah!"
from Book of Psalms

Themes: Emptiness

“He who feels punctured must once have been a bubble.”

Lao Tzu 老子 604 BCE - via Witter Bynner
(Lǎozǐ)
from Way of Life According to Lao Tzu

36. The Small, Dark Light

“Without an empty mind, people are useless.”

Lao Tzu 老子 604 BCE - via Shan Dao, chapter 11
(Lǎozǐ)
from Tao Te Ching 道德经 Dàodéjīng

“Only by holding on to the formless and substance-less energy at the root of creation can one attain the Tao.”

Yin Xi 關尹子 536 – 596 BCE via Watson, 1968
Lao Tzu’s first disciple and Taoist patriarch

Themes: Emptiness

“When the great river quits flowing, waves no longer stir. When conceptual consciousness ceases, forms do not arise.”

Buddha गौतम बुद्ध 563 – 483 BCE via Red Pine
(Siddhartha Shakyamuni Gautama)
Awakened Truth
from Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra

Themes: Emptiness

“Those who relinquish all forms are called Buddhas, Enightened Ones.”

Buddha गौतम बुद्ध 563 – 483 BCE via Hui Hai
(Siddhartha Shakyamuni Gautama)
Awakened Truth
from Diamond Sutra

Themes: Emptiness

“All things have no inherent existence.”

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

Themes: Emptiness

11. Appreciating Emptiness

“Existence arises from nonexistence, and the Full emerges from the Empty. . . . The Way is the oneness from which all beings arise.”

Wenzi 590 – 530 BCE
"Authentic Presence of Pervading Mystery.”

“To die is only not to be
Fallen from peace. All that men praise us for...
The thoughts of mine own heart, I craved no more.”

Euripides 480 – 406 BCE via Andromache (tr: Will Durant)
Ancient humanitarian influence continuing today
from Trojan Women

Themes: Emptiness

“What doesn’t exist’ refers to the Tao. The Tao has no form or substance… We don’t see it do anything,and yet the ten thousand things are transformed and completed.”

Heshang Gong 河上公 202 – 157 BCE
(Ho-shang Kung or "Riverside Sage”)

Themes: Emptiness

43. No Effort, No Trace

“Balance is the beginning of the Way. Emptiness is the heart of the way.”

Liú Ān 劉安 c. 179–122 BCE
(Huainanzi)

2. The Wordless Teachings
4. The Father of All Things

“Sages do not need authority to be noble, do not need wealth to be rich, and do not need power to be strong. Peaceful and empty, they are not subject to outside influences; they fly freely with evolution.”

Liú Ān 劉安 c. 179–122 BCE via Thomas Cleary
(Huainanzi)
from Huainanzi

81. Journey Without Goal

“Nothing exists but atoms and the void”

Lucretius 99 – 55 BCE via Will Durant
(Titus Carus)
from De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things)

Themes: Emptiness

“Unless you become like little children, you cannot know the meaning of Life, for your minds must be cleared of the falsehoods of this realm if you are to be taught Eternal Truth.”

Jesus 3 BCE – 30 CE via Didymos Thomas
from Gospel According to Thomas

55. Forever Young

“Whoever sees the nature of one thing sees the nature of everything because the emptiness of one thing is the emptiness of everything.”

Āryadeva འཕགས་པ་ལྷ། 3rd C. CE
(Kannadeva)
from Four Hundred Verses on the Yogic Deeds of Bodhisattvas

Themes: Emptiness

2. The Wordless Teachings
4. The Father of All Things

“Those who seek the Tao seek to return to emptiness and nothingness. When something is done, something is left out. When nothing is done, nothing is not done.”

Wang Bi 王弼 226 – 534 CE

Themes: Wu Wei Emptiness

48. Unlearning
4. The Father of All Things

“From the infinitesimal all things develop. From nothing all things are born.”

Wang Bi 王弼 226 – 534 CE via Red Pine

Themes: Emptiness

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

Wang Bi 王弼 226 – 534 CE

Themes: Emptiness

21. Following Empty Heart
11. Appreciating Emptiness

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

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

Themes: Emptiness

11. Appreciating Emptiness

“There’s never been a single thing;
Then where’s defiling dust to cling?
If you can reach the heart of this.
Why talk of transcendental bliss?”

Huineng 惠能 638 – 713 CE
(Huìnéng, Enō)
The Sutra of Hui Neng

Themes: Emptiness

16. Returning to the Root, Meditation

“Form not separate from me, nor yet a part of me; the phenomenal appearance of empty space.”

Kaṅkāripa ཀངྐཱ་རི་པ། 8th C. CE
(”The Lovelorn Widower”)
Mahasiddha #7

Themes: Emptiness

1. The Unnamed

“Loosed, and it flows through the galaxies
A fountain of light, into the very mind –
Not a thing, and yet it appears before me.”

Han Shan c. 730-850 CE
(Cold Mountain)

Themes: Emptiness

25. The Mother of All Things
11. Appreciating Emptiness

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

Layman Pang 龐居士 740 – 808 CE

Themes: Emptiness

11. Appreciating Emptiness

“It is not mind, it is not Buddha, it is not things.”

Nansen, Nanquan Puyuan 南泉普願 749 – 835 CE

Themes: Emptiness

“Every fleeting experience of phenomena has blended into the continuum of emptiness.”

Tantepa 8th century CE

Themes: Emptiness

“‘If I haven’t anything in my mind what shall I do?’ Joshu replied: ‘Throw it out.’ ‘But if I haven’t anything, how can I throw it out?’ continued the questioner. ‘Well,’ said Joshu, ‘then carry it out.’”

Joshu, Zhàozhōu Cōngshěn 趙州從諗 778 – 897 CE

Themes: Emptiness

19. All Methods Become Obstacles

“There is no buddha, no dharma, no training and no realization - what are you so hotly chasing?”

Rinzai Gigen 臨済義玄 ? - 866 CE via Irmgard Schloegl
(Línjì Yìxuán)
from Zen Teachings of Rinzai (Record of Rinzai), Irmgard Schloegl translation 1976

Themes: Emptiness Desire

29. Not Doing

“At the moment of my realization, my mind basked in the radiance of its own emptiness. Even Buddha became a meaningless label.”

Kirapālapa ཀི་ར་པཱ་ལ་པ། 8th century CE
(Kirapalapa, "The Repentant Conqueror")
Mahasiddha #73

“Dwelling upon nothing means that the mind is not fixed upon good or evil, concentration or distraction, inside or outside… original mind, a bright mirror, utter stillness, Buddha-Mind!”

Hui Hai 大珠慧海 788 – 831 CE
from Essential Gate for Entry Into Sudden Enlightenment (Tun-wu ju dao yao-men)

Themes: Emptiness

“The intrinsic nature of all things is infinite space.”

Dukhandhi དུ་ཁངྡྷི་པ། 798 – 898 CE via Keith Dowman
("The Scavenger")
Mahasiddha #25
from Masters of Mahamudra

Themes: Emptiness

35. The Power of Goodness

“The Bodhisattva’s mind is like the void, for he relinquishes everything… all action is dictated purely by place and circumstance, subjectivity and objectivity are forgotten... no hope of reward is entertained.”

Huangbo Xiyun 黄檗希运 ? - 850 CE
(Huangbo Xiyun, Huángbò Xīyùn, Obaku)

51. Mysterious Goodness

“Every phenomenon that exists is a creation of thought; therefore I need but empty my mind to disover that all of them are void… all the Buddhas of the whole universe do not in fact possess the smallest perceptible attribute.”

Huangbo Xiyun 黄檗希运 ? - 850 CE
(Huangbo Xiyun, Huángbò Xīyùn, Obaku)

Themes: Emptiness

25. The Mother of All Things
11. Appreciating Emptiness

“The ultimate principle of emptiness arises spontaneously with every movement of the mind.”

Kanhapa ནག་པོ་པ། 9th Century CE via Keith Dowman
("The Dark-Skinned One")
Mahasiddha #17
from Masters of Enchantment

Themes: Emptiness

16. Returning to the Root, Meditation

“With wisdom as needle and compassion as thread, sew together the complete realization of emptiness.”

Kantalipa ཀནྟ་ལི་པ། 800 – 900 CE via Shan Dao
("The Ragman-Tailor")
Mahasiddha #69

Themes: Emptiness

“Know that emptiness is the most sublime pleasure.”

Jālandhara ཛཱ་ལནྡྷ་ར་པ། 888 CE – via Keith Dowman
("The Ḍākinī's Chosen One")
Mahasiddha #46

“The world within worlds within it dissolved.”

Ajogi ཨ་ཛོ་གི་པ། 9th Century CE via Keith Dowman
("The Rejected Wastrel")
Mahasiddha #26
from Masters of Mahamudra

Themes: Emptiness

21. Following Empty Heart

“The unsurpassable protection of emptiness is to see the manisfestations of bewilderment as the four kayas.”

Atisha ཨ་ཏི་ཤ་མར་མེ་མཛད་དཔལ་ཡེ་ཤེས་ 980 – 1054 CE
(Atiśa Dīpaṃkara Śrījñāna)

Themes: Emptiness

12. This Over That

“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 1039 – 1112 CE via Red Pine
(Su Zhe)
Great writer of the Tang and Sung dynasties
from Tao-te-chen-ching-chu

Themes: Emptiness

11. Appreciating Emptiness

“One moment in annihilation's waste,
One moment of the Well of Life to taste—
Starts for the dawn of Nothing—Oh, make haste!”

Omar Khayyám 1048 – 1131 CE
Persian Astronomer-Poet, prophet of the here and now

from Rubaiyat

Themes: Emptiness

“Discover the source of all duality; nondual space is without substance.”

Mekopa མེ་ཀོ་པ། 1050 CE – via Keith Dowman
("Guru Dread-Stare")
Mahasiddha #43

“The holy truths are empty”

Yuanwu Keqin 圜悟克勤 1063 – 1135 CE via J.C. and Thomas Cleary
(Yuánwù Kèqín)
from Blue Cliff Record, Biyan lu 碧巖錄

“In the end, you should know that there is nothing else to do like a shepherd whose flocks have been driven off by his enemies.”

Gampopa སྒམ་པོ་པ། 1079 – 1153 CE via Matthieu Ricard
(Sönam Rinchen, Dakpo Rinpoche)
from Journey to Enlightenment

Themes: Emptiness

57. Wu Wei

“In the interlaced net of principle and phenomena, true emptiness appears. Shining to obliterate the fundamental delusion.”

Hóngzhì Zhēngjué 宏智正覺 1091 – 1157 CE
(Shōgaku)

48. Unlearning
59. The Gardening of Spirit
4. The Father of All Things

“What is it that resides prior to emptiness and form?”

Hóngzhì Zhēngjué 宏智正覺 1091 – 1157 CE
(Shōgaku)
from Book of Equanimity

“Empty, cold and thin, simple and genuine.. when you turn within and drop off everything completely, realization occurs… Every detail clearly appears before you. Sound and form, echo and shadow, happen instantly without leaving traces.”

Hóngzhì Zhēngjué 宏智正覺 1091 – 1157 CE
(Shōgaku)

43. No Effort, No Trace

“Even a good thing isn't as good as nothing.”

Mumon Ekai 無門慧開 1183 – 1260 CE
(Wumen Huikai)
from The Gateless Gate, 無門関, 無門關

Themes: Emptiness

23. Nothing and Not

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

Rumi مولانا جلال‌الدین محمد بلخی 1207 – 1283 CE
(Rumi Mawlānā Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Balkhī)
from Masnavi مثنوي معنوي‎‎) "Rhyming Couplets of Profound Spiritual Meaning”

Themes: Emptiness

13. Honor and Disgrace
11. Appreciating Emptiness

“‘Like this cup,’ Nan-in said, ‘you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?’”

Mujū Dōkyō 無住道曉 1227 – 1312 CE
from Shasekishū (Sand and Pebbles)

Themes: Emptiness

“‘Empty’ means ‘empty like a bowl.’ The Tao is essentially empty and people who use it should be empty too. To be full is contrary to the Tao. ‘Deep’ means ‘what cannot be measured.’”

Wu Cheng 吴澄 1249 – 1333 CE via Red Pine
"Mr. Grass Hut"
from Tao-te-chen-ching-chu

Themes: Emptiness

4. The Father of All Things

“The most marvelous teaching is just that whatever depends on causes and conditions is empty of intrinsic reality.”

Tsongkhapa ཙོང་ཁ་པ། 1357 – 1419 CE via Shan Dao
(Zongkapa Lobsang Zhaba, "the Man from Onion Valley")

Themes: Emptiness

“There is no air or water, no creation or creator, no earth, air or space, no guru or disciple, no easy or difficult path.”

Kabīr कबीर 1399 – 1448 CE via Linda Hess and Shukdeo Singh
from Bijak of Kabir

Themes: Emptiness

2. The Wordless Teachings

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

Deqing 1546 – 1623 CE
(Te-Ch’ing)

Themes: Emptiness

11. Appreciating Emptiness

“People only know the work of working. They don’t know that the work of not working is the greatest work of all… If they knew that something came from nothing, they would no longer enslave themselves to things.”

Deqing 1546 – 1623 CE
(Te-Ch’ing)

40. Returning

“Through wood and dale the sacred river ran, then reached the caverns measureless to man”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge 1772 – 1834 CE
from Kubla Khan

Themes: Emptiness

6. The Source

“From the beginning, mind is emptiness without concrete existence and—like ice melting and becoming water—all of the external world and all sentient being mingle inseparably with this same emptiness.”

Shabkar Tsokdruk Rangdrol ཞབས་དཀར་ཚོགས་དྲུག་རང་གྲོལ། 1781 – 1851 CE via Erik Pema Kunsang, Shan Dao
from Flight of the Garuda

Themes: Emptiness

“I had a dream, which was not all a dream...
The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave,
The moon, their mistress, had expired before;
Darkness had no need of air from them --- She was the Universe.”

Lord Byron 1788 – 1824 CE
(George Gordon Byron)
The first rock-star style celebrity
from Darkness (1816)

Themes: Emptiness Dream Moon

“Cut off the self-grasping consciousness and realize emptiness”

Jetsun Rinpoche, Shugsep ལོ་ཆེན་ཆོས་ཉིད་བཟང་མོ། 1852 – 1953 CE

Themes: Emptiness

“All ethics, politics and philosophies are pure assumptions, built upon assumptions. They rest on no sure basis. They are but shadowy castles-in-the-air erected by day-dreamers, or by rogues, upon nursery fables”

Arthur Desmond 1859 – 1929 CE
from Might Is Right

Themes: Emptiness

11. Appreciating Emptiness

“It is important to have a secret, a premonition of things unknown... A man must sense that he lives in a world which in some respects is mysterious... Only then is life whole. For me, the world has from the beginning been infinite and ungraspable.”

Carl Jung 1875 – 1961 CE
Insightful shamanistic scientist
from Memories, Dreams, Reflections

Themes: Emptiness

“Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balance.”

Kahlil Gibran 1883 – 1931 CE
from The Prophet

Themes: Emptiness

“Whatever you say it is, it isn’t.”

Nisargadatta Maharaj 1897 – 1981 CE via Maurice Frydman
Householder guru of non-duality
from I Am That

Themes: Emptiness

“From emptiness, everything comes out. One whole body of water, or one whole mind, is emptiness. When we reach this understanding we find true meaning to our life.”

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi 1904 – 1971 CE

2. The Wordless Teachings
4. The Father of All Things

“Because emptiness has no limit and no beginning, we can believe in it… If you really understand this, tears will flow.”

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi 1904 – 1971 CE via Trudy Dixon
from Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

Themes: Belief Emptiness

“Emptiness is the garden where you can't see anything. It is the mother of all.”

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi 1904 – 1971 CE via David Chadwick

6. The Source

“Moment after moment, everyone comes out from nothingness. This is the true joy of life… activity which is based on nothingness… Without nothingness, there is no naturalness – no true being.”

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi 1904 – 1971 CE

Themes: Emptiness Wu Wei

37. Nameless Simplicity

“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

14. Finding and Following the Formless Form
11. Appreciating Emptiness

“If you let your thoughts free, they will vanish into emptiness.”

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche དིལ་མགོ་མཁྱེན་བརྩེ། 1910 – 1991 CE via Matthieu Ricard
"Mind" incarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo
from Journey to Enlightenment

Themes: Emptiness

“Mind in its natural state is radiantly void. The sense of a permanent ego dims this inner light.”

Freda Bedi, Sister Palmo 1911 – 1977 CE

“all things are different appearances of the same emptiness”

Jack Kerouac 1922 – 1969 CE
from Some of the Dharma

Themes: Emptiness

“There is beauty where there is no ‘me’”

Toni Packer 1927 – 2013 CE
A Zen teacher minus the 'Zen' and minus the 'teacher.’

Themes: Emptiness Beauty

13. Honor and Disgrace

“The best ones always connect nowhere with nowhere.”

Robert M. Pirsig 1928 – 2017 CE
from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Themes: Emptiness

“Whenever we stay in the extreme of nihilism or in the extreme of eternalism, we divide phenomena from emptiness, and because of our division habit, we cannot go beyond in the pure light secret essence of the elements.”

Thinley Norbu གདུང་སྲས་ཕྲིན་ལས་ནོར་བུ 1931 – 2011 CE
(Kyabjé Dungse)
from Magic Dance (1981)

“Good and bad, happy and sad, all thoughts vanish into emptiness like the imprint of a bird in the sky”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE via Nalanda Translation Committee
from Sadhana of Mahamudra

“Form is empty of our preconceptions, empty of our judgements… Form is empty if we see it in the absence of our own personal interpretations of it.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE

Themes: Emptiness

2. The Wordless Teachings

“We cut our ground and have a frightening – terrifying – sudden glimpse of groundlessness… no one is standing on any ground, so communication can take place quite freely”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE
from Illusion's Game

28. Turning Back

“Every month the moon effortlessly shows us that something comes from nothing.”

Red Pine 1943 CE –
( Bill Porter)
Exceptional translator, cultural diplomat
from Lao-Tzu's Taoteching

Themes: Moon Emptiness

“Gazing intently at a pure white canvas… Nothing is painted there yet, but it’s more than a simple blank space… various possibilities congeal into a perfect clue.. The moment when existence and nonexistence coalesce.”

Haruki Murakami 1949 CE –
from Killing Commendatore

Themes: Emptiness

“The primary realization of insight is emptiness.”

B. Alan Wallace 1950 CE –
(Bruce Alan Wallace)
from Buddhism with an Attitude

Themes: Emptiness

“The blackness (emptiness) between the senses - an eternity that never changes but contains the seeds of all change...”

Peter Kingsley 1953 CE –
from A Story Waiting to Pierce You

Themes: Emptiness

“Her hands were filled because they grasped the meaning of empty.”

Louise Erdrich 1954 CE – via The Antelope Wife

11. Appreciating Emptiness

“By understanding emptiness, you lose interest in all the trappings and beliefs that society builds up and tears down—political systems, science and technology, global economy... you become like an adult who is not so interested in children's games anymore.”

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche རྫོང་གསར་ འཇམ་དབྱངས་ མཁྱེན་བརྩེ་ རིན་པོ་ཆེ། 1961 CE –
(Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche)
"Activity" incarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo
from What Makes You Not a Buddhist

11. Appreciating Emptiness

“There is no emptiness without appearance, and there is no appearance without emptiness. That is what we call the interdependent nature.”

Dzogchen Pönlop 1965 CE –

Themes: Emptiness

11. Appreciating Emptiness

Comments (0)

Please log in or create an account to comment.