Lao Tzu > Wu

What is Wu?

One of the most important concepts in Taoism is wu (translated emptiness, void). The significance of the Chinese word "wu" is "lacking of perceptible qualities of a thing", "nonbeing", "emptiness". In the Taoist literature this term refers to many aspects:

The Philosopher's Path, Kyoto. Photo by Kenneth Arnold
The Philosopher's Path, Kyoto. Photo by Kenneth Arnold
1. Emptiness represents the opposite of fullness, and is one of the characteristics of the Tao.

2. Emptiness, as inner realization, represents that specific state "without desire", mentioned by the entire Taoist literature including Tao Te Ching.

3. Integration of emptiness equals a spiritual openness of mind that can relate us to Tao. In other words, we call this the mind without prejudices, that is, the empty mind.

  • Emptiness in Tao Te Ching

In chapter 11 of Tao Te Ching we read a short description of emptiness:

    The thirty spokes unite in the one nave; but it is on the empty space (for the axle), that the use of the wheel depends. Clay is fashioned into vessels; but it is on their empty hollowness, that their use depends. The door and windows are cut out (from the walls) to form an apartment; but it is on the empty space (within), that its use depends. Therefore, what has a (positive) existence serves for profitable adaptation, and what has not that for (actual) usefulness. (Legge)

The utility of the wheel, as of everything in the Universe, depends also on its empty space as everything is made of emptiness and fullness. This is the philosophical view on the Universe taught by the Taoist masters.

Read also:
What is Tao
Introduction to the Tao Te Ching
- See our course on
Lao Tzu and Tao Te Ching where empines is further explained.

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