Tao Te Ching #11: “Thirty spokes join at the hub”

Thirty spokes join at the hub:
their use for the cart
is where they are not.
When the potter’s wheel makes a pot,
the use of the pot
is precisely where there is nothing.
When you open doors and windows for a room,
it is where there is nothing
that they are useful to the room.
Therefore being is for benefit,
Nonbeing is for usefulness.

– Thomas Cleary


Thirty spokes converge on a hub
but it’s the emptiness
that makes a wheel work
pots are fashioned from clay
but it’s the hollow
that makes a pot work
windows and doors are carved for a house
but it’s the spaces
that make a house work
existence makes a thing useful
but nonexistence makes it work

– Red Pine


Thirty spokes join the wheel nave
And make of void and form a pair,
And a wagon’s put to use.
Clay is thrown to shape a vase
And make of void and form a pair,
And a vessel’s put to use.
Door and window vent a room
And make of void and form a pair,
And a room is put to use.
Thus the value of what is
Depends for use on what is not.

– Moss Roberts


6 replies »

  1. At the same time, I wonder if those who know the original are that much better off, or can make better sense of the text than those who don’t. Someone once said the Gospel of John didn’t become a work of literature until the King James Bible came along. The best we can do I’m sure is just persevere & love the disparity, as you say.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes. I thought about the ancient Middle Eastern languages as well. I’m just not as interested in what they had to say. Their message has been lost in time as well as translation. The Tao is so much more relevant today.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I dunno that I’d dismiss the three Abrahamics & their surrounding polytheisms with one swoop. I get yr preference totally, but everybody’s got their wisdom & their folly, even the Tao wd be a disaster if implemented like a government, or anything beyond personal guidance.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I find a base of Eastern philosophy supplemented with some of the more profound instances of human insight found in the Bible goes well together, at times. Alan Watts, who’s library I happen to be working my way through at the moment, explains the Tao, and Buddhism, with a mix of La Tsu and Jesus, which I find helps since we’re so ensconced in a Hebraic-Platonic Christianity mind set here in the West. It makes sense that sometimes Jesus is called the Second-Coming of Buddha. Or theories that Jesus may have spent his missing years in India, learning Eastern mysticism. The wisdom is there in his teachings. It’s when the Bible is exerted as a force for governing and repression that we see the harm it does. It has been corrupted through mistranslations, I’m sure, as I imagine the ancient text of Confucius and Lao Tsu must be. The difference, I think, is that the Chinese texts aren’t used to oppress, but to enlighten. They were written to help the emperors govern, I know, and to instill order and rule of law, but they don’t threaten eternal damnation as the only alternative to obedience.


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