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This and That

January 3, 2011

Tao Te Ching 11

Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub;

It is the center hole that makes it useful.

Shape clay into a vessel;

It is the space within that makes it useful.

Cut doors and windows for a room;

It is the holes which make it useful.

Therefore benefit comes from what is there;

Usefulness from what is not there.


Simply-stated, this is a lesson in Yin and Yang. In very brief terms, Lao Tzu offers examples of how single objects manifest two properties within themselves: the form and the space within the form. Without the form, the space inside is impractical, as there is nothing to hold things or keep things out of what the form holds. At the same time, it is the space within the form that makes it useful. A solid clay jug has no practical value because nothing can be held within it. A house with no doors or windows is worthless because a person cannot get inside to make use of the space and be protected from the things outside the house. A wheel serves no purpose if there is no hole in the center for an axle that it can spin on.

The more that we look at the things in life, the more we can see that objects have two properties – the form and the usefulness of what is inside the form. Even a cellular phone can be analyzed and appreciated the same way, as the plastic body, screen, and buttons can do nothing without the circuitry inside. Likewise, the electronics within the cell phone hold no value without buttons to direct them, a screen to allow the user to see what is happening, or the plastic body to protect the sensitive circuits from elements and impacts that would destroy them.

The lesson to be found here is that not everything in Yin and Yang, the balance of all things, work in opposition of one another. For many things, Yin and Yang work in complement to each other while maintaining the balance and need for one another. They are two different things, Yin and Yang, but wholly dependent upon each other in order to have usefulness and benefit.

A simple, brief passage from Lao Tzu that requires little more than a brief explanation here. When you look at the Ten-thousand Things, look at the other Ten-thousand Things that make those things useful.

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