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Meditation Teacher Mark's Blog

Exploring the Tao Te Ching

Monday 27th September 2010

Recently I was discussing the Tao Te Ching with one of the people I help guide in meditation. As with all books they can only convey impressions and ideas, they can not reveal spiritual truth. But what they can do is to inspire a person to discover the truth for themselves through their own experiences and realisations.

One of my favorite verses from the Tao Te Ching is the following:

"We put thirty spokes together and call it a wheel,
But it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the wheel depends.
We turn clay to make a vessel,
But it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the vessel depends.
We pierce doors and windows to make a house,
And it is on these spaces where there is nothing that the usefulness of the house depends.
Therefore just as we take advantage of what is, we should recognize the usefulness of what is not."

For me this is really about meditation and the way that without stillness there can be no form. But what is really important is for you to ask the question "what do I understand by this?" because it doesn't matter what anyone else understands, only what you understand for yourself. Another person's realisations, no matter how profound will not free you from your own limits.

The first line shows not only how all form is made of other forms, for example a wheel is made of 30 spokes. But this line also shows how we (through our minds) ascribe labels to things. For example when you read the word "wheel" you have an idea of what that wheel would be like. But everyone's idea of the wheel may be different. Is it a bicycle wheel, a wooden wagon wheel, or a thick car wheel. Is it 30 cm across or 100 cm? So the label is not the thing.

Then the second line: "But it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the wheel depends" describes how it is the hole in the middle of the wheel that allows it to be "useful". The wheel by its very design has a purpose, to allow something to move. So it is the hole or absense of form that allows the wheel to carry out its function.

The following lines also carry on this theme of the formless allowing the form to function. It is a metaphor, a hint at meditation. Because in meditation our bodies, much like the clay vessel are our form and we focus our awareness on the "space" inside. This space you can also label as emptyness, stillness, neutrality, balance, inner peace, tranquility and Love. By being aware of this "space" we allow our vessel to realise the function of it's form. Without the "space" it is just another form. The last line brings the two together, unifying form and nothingness to say that one without the other has no use.

This idea that usefulness comes from balance between nothingness and form can be considered from the microcosmic to the macrocosmic; a personality and the stillness within, to the manifest creation and absolute Love.

It is the edges of the wheel that reveal, by contrast, the emptyness in its hub. Each exists, and without the other there is no contrast to recognise the other.

So I wonder what you understood as you read the above verse. But whatever it was, be prepared to change, because as we discover more of our truth by exploring this inner stillness through meditation, what we can understand evolves with our ability to be still. The stiller we get the more clarity and understanding though being we enjoy...


Tags: Tau Te Ching,

Posted by Mark Zaretti at 21:03

Helena Byles
11th October 2010 at 11:49

It is through yoga that I am starting to understand the importance of stillness, particularly of the mind, which I find particularly difficult.
When lying in a sweaty savasana trying not to think about work or home life I will think about the space.
Thank you,

Mark Zaretti
11th October 2010 at 15:06

Hi Helena, yes Yoga is a lovely demonstration of how form and stillness work together. Through using the body in a specific way such as yoga and breathing, a person can explore the function of the body and mind as yoga postures and movements and the disciplin of breathing are like the spokes of the wheel, in that they are structures and forms that allow us to more easily explore the stillness within, like the hole in the hub of the wheel. Ultimately Pure Energy meditation builds on this to take people beyond these physical levels of awareness to a state of being beyond thinking, which is absolute stillness, containing all form.
Keep up the yoga, enjoy exploring that as it's great preparation and has many health and well-being benefits.

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