This one has stumped me!


11. Tools

Thirty spokes meet at a nave

Because of the hole, we may use the wheel

Clay is molded into a vessel

Because of the hollow, we may use the cup

Walls are built around a hearth

Because of the doors, we may use the house

Thus tools come from what exists

But use from what does not.

Translation variously sourced and compiled at

This one has stumped me.  Tools are material and have form.  Uses, on the other hand, are immaterial and, from the examples Lao Tze gives us here, fulfill or make use of potential.  In all these examples, the potential is found in space. Yet, space is everywhere.  Some space is occupied by material and visible things.  But there is a lot of space that is not occupied by material or visible things.

Even when you get into the subatomic level, much of what has been traditionally described as ‘matter’ is in fact made up of space.  Is Lao Tze therefore talking about the potentiality that is always present?  Of creative energy that is always present and that we might be pointed to again and again with each new ‘thing’ that we create? Because each new thing, each tool, holds potential?

I wonder.  Do you have any idea?

Lucy Lopez

Learning to live the wisdom of the Tao post by post!