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!

Nature? Who Me???

Adam and Eve by Lucas Cranach the Elder.Photograph:

The Bridgeman art library/Getty from the Guardian

I confess.  The image above which I saw at the Guardian did get my attention.  I find the colors and the composition most appealing.  And in a rare moment, I did not react in revulsion at the sight of the serpent.  In fact, it hardly looks serpentine!  On the contrary, it appears as an innocuous bystander.  Nice change.

Yes, the image has all the elements of the Genesis/Creation story bar God of course.  A conspicuous absence.  Ah, trick, trick.  So, where is God?  Well, the answer I had as a child was:  God is everywhere.  I was raised Catholic and therefore Creationist by default.  I also did a degree in Science and felt compelled to embrace evolution/Darwinism.  Have I resolved the creation-evolution debate within me?  Absolutely.  My position is – I don’t know.

I mean, once you dispense with the anthropormorphic God, created in man’s own image, then it seems to me that anything is possible.  I mean, whatever position you may be in on the line of this debate, does it not make you ask the same question:  What is the source?  The ultimate reality?  I just happen to give that source, that ultimate reality the name ‘God’.  Actually, truth be told, I give it various names depending on whom I’m speaking to.  I want to give us a cognitive space which we can share and if that happens to be the word ‘God’ or ‘Brahman’ or  the ‘Nameless’ or ‘Allah’ or ‘Love’ or ‘Spirit’ or ‘Tao’ or the ‘Way’, so be it.

Lao Tze talks about this:

The Way is a limitless vessel

Used by the self, it is not filled by the world

It cannot be cut, knotted, dimmed or stilled

Its depths are hidden, ubiquitous and eternal;

I don’t know where it comes from

It comes before nature

And then he says in Verse 5

5. Nature

Nature is not kind

It treats all things impartially

The Sage is not kind

And treats all people impartially

Nature is like a bellows

Empty, yet never ceasing its supply

The more it moves, the more it yields

So the Sage draws upon experience

And cannot be exhausted.

Translation variously sourced and compiled at

Which prompted me to write this verse:

I look at a tree and I think


A bird


An ocean


A rainforest


A sunset


A mountain


I look at myself and I think

What a mess my hair is

God, I do look old!

I am not attractive

I am a failure

My kids have no interest in me

Why don’t I look at myself and think


If I did look at myself and think ‘nature’, would it help me to be as ‘impartial’ as Nature, the way Lao Tze describes it?  Would it make me ‘not kind’?  And would it enable me to treat all things ‘impartially’?  And if so, would that be a good thing?  I mean to be ‘not kind’ still leaves room for being ‘gentle’ and ‘helpful’ and ‘loving’ and ‘thoughtful’ and ‘wise’ and ‘responsible’, or doesn’t it?  Matter of interpretation, would you say? 🙂

I know one thing from experience:  When I let go of any resistance, whether to an idea or to a person and their beliefs and actions, I find it freeing.   I find myself in a place where my behaviour is not contingent upon what is thought, believed, said or done.  Instead my words and actions spring from an undefined place…could it be that ‘limitless vessel’ that Lao Tze describes?

Michelle Obama and the beauty-free Tao

I happened to read a post on the CNN blog about Michelle Obama appearing in Vogue magazine. More interesting to me than the post itself, however, were the comments that followed and there were a lot of them.

Many said that MO is a beautiful, gorgeous, young and intelligent first lady. A few, however, stated in no uncertain terms that ‘beautiful’ she is not while several mentioned her inner beauty. One comment stood out from all the rest for me because it appeared to provide a compelling argument. The gist of it was this:

If you described MO as beautiful, then how would you describe the likes of Halle Barry? You’d have to go off the scale to find something beyond the superlatives for them.

Wow! What a clever argument! I mean, we don’t have the means, linguistic or imaginative, to accommodate every face in our current bandwidth of ‘beautiful’. And since we don’t, let’s just admit that some people are simply not beautiful.

Oops, now that I’ve said that, it does sound rather small-minded, doesn’t it? It sort of reflects my limitations in thinking and perceiving rather than the first lady’s beauty or lack of. I mean, seriously, it’s all happening in my mind, isn’t it, this business about whether she is beautiful or not? It’s my judgment, isn’t it? And quite independent of Michelle, I might add. I mean, do you think she’s aware that I’m sat here in my little apartment, continents apart, Down Under, looking out into a rainy morning, making judgments about her beauty or otherwise?

But hey, I know just where to turn to in moments like this, moments where I become blindingly aware of the limitations of my mind, conditioned as it has been by the capricious beliefs and values of its environment.  Here’s Verse 2 from the Tao Te Ching:

2. Abstraction

When beauty is abstracted
Then ugliness has been implied;
When good is abstracted
Then evil has been implied.

So alive and dead are abstracted from nature,
Difficult and easy abstracted from progress,
Long and short abstracted from contrast,
High and low abstracted from depth,
Song and speech abstracted from melody,
After and before abstracted from sequence.

The sage experiences without abstraction,
And accomplishes without action;
He accepts the ebb and flow of things,
Nurtures them, but does not own them,
And lives, but does not dwell.

Translation variously sourced and compiled at

You’ve got to hand it to Lao Tzu and others like him. It’s our tendency to discriminate through judgment that sets up the polarities/abstractions of good and bad, beauty and ugliness.

We have a habit of looking for differences within the immanent properties of naturally occurring things – nature, progress, contrast, depth, melody, sequence. We have this habit of abstracting, building ideas or concepts out of an event, an instance, a moment in time just as I was doing before with Michelle O.

But the sage, (and I am aspiring to sagacity me self J) doesn’t abstract. The sage simply experiences, accepting things as they occur. The sage has no need to see things in terms of good or bad, right or wrong, beautiful or ugly. The sage ‘lives, but does not dwell’ which means she moves freely along with the life stream and is not stuck or attached to anything, physical, mental or emotional. How absolutely freeing that must be!

Michelle, I thank you for giving me cause to recognize my mental foibles. And you did this by simply being a thought in my mind…Power to You, I say! Actually, the thought was mine, in my head…you didn’t do anything at all apart from just being…hmmm…

‘The Way that can be experienced is not true’


I’ve noticed I get excited when I approach the Tao Te Ching. It’s because I know that I’m likely to encounter profound conundrums that have very practical implications. I mean, this is not esoteric stuff. It is hard-core reality!

For instance, Lao Tze says:

‘The Way that can be experienced is not true’

Huh?  Okay, after the initial koan-ic shock I relax and allow meaning to flow through.  So my first take on this is that my mind, conditioned by this life and possibly many others, typically experiences  ‘things’ as other, as separate from itself. I can assure you from years of personal human experience that it’s not the most useful way of perceiving things. It gives rise to all sorts of separation anxieties – too much separation from those people and things I love and not enough separation from those things I don’t. And it’s always comparing, comparing, comparing and judging, judging, judging, neither of which leaves me feeling particularly good about myself or others.

I mean, imagine one of my elbows comparing itself with one of my eyes.

“You’re luckier than me. You get to see so much more than I do. I’m always having to see things after you’ve had a first look in. And you don’t get nearly as many bruises and bumps as I do…”

“Are you kidding??!!” exclaims the eye with utter incredulity. “If you saw some of the things I did, you’d be more than grateful you had a rear seat facing backward! Besides, everyone’s always peering into me as if there was something wrong with me, not to mention how much harder I have to work especially when she lies or cries. That’s something you just don’t want to have to do…”

You get my point, I hope. I mean, they could see that they are all of the same body you know and just enjoy theirs and each other’s experiences instead of finding reasons to be dissatisfied. Actually, just enjoy regardless of whose experience it is.

So, yes, this mind of mine that sees you as separate from me and the people fighting in Gaza as even more separate isn’t doing me any real favors. I mean, I’m almost always preoccupied with looking after myself because if I don’t who will? And meanwhile a lot of people and things (plants, animals and the world in general) get hurt while I’m more concerned about my wellbeing than I am of theirs. I remember this line which I’ve been told is from a song:

When a mother sees her son as more important than another mother’s son, war happens.

I’m not sure if it’s the exact words, but that’s the gist of it.

So anyway, that’s one of the things about the mind seeing things as separate to itself. And it does that by being the ‘experiencer’ of that thing. But the Way or the Tao is beyond experiencing, so that anything that can be experienced is not the Way/Tao.

I get that. There’s another layer of reality, you know, that has no sense of separation, no sense of experiencer or experienced or experiencing. I think some people describe it as non-duality or some such stuff.

But get that as I might, there is something else about that line that really gets me excited. It really does. I mean, here it is. If what is being experienced is not true, then all the stuff that I do experience is not true! I mean just contemplate that possibility for a moment.

The implications are tremendous especially when it comes to all that awful stuff we experience. Briefly, and for some reason I think brevity is the only way one can deal with something so profound. I mean, I would even suggest silence but that would make this blog thing a bit of a waste of time, wouldn’t it? And we are here with some spare time on our hands right?

So, briefly, what it suggests to me is that there is a point or place or state of mind in which all the stuff of life is no longer true and that point or place or state is the Way!

Beyond the gate of experience flows the Way,
Which is ever greater and more subtle than the world.

Now all I need to do is to slip through that ‘gate of experience’ beyond which flows the Way and just flow with it. And you know what? I’m sure I’ve done it. Many times. It happens when I am present, aware, right in the moment. Trouble is, I keep slipping back into the land of nod, I mean experiences.

Thanks for reading and drop me a line won’t you? Oh by the way, here’s the entire verse from Chapter 1.

1. The Way

The Way that can be experienced is not true;
The world that can be constructed is not true.
The Way manifests all that happens and may happen;
The world represents all that exists and may exist.

To experience without intention is to sense the world;
To experience with intention is to anticipate the world.
These two experiences are indistinguishable;
Their construction differs but their effect is the same.

Beyond the gate of experience flows the Way,
Which is ever greater and more subtle than the world.

Translation variously sourced and compiled at