Taoism > The Basics

What is Wu (Emptiness)?

One of the most important concepts in Taoism is Wu, usually translated as emptiness. But the meaning of this term is "nonbeing", "nonexistence". In the Taoist literature this term refers to many correlated features:

  • The emptiness opposed to the fullness (you);

Wheel as symbol of emptiness - picture
The wheel is one of Lao-tzu's preferred symbols to render the meaning of Wu (emptiness)
  • The void (nonexistance) which is the mother or root of everything in the universe (the "ten-thousand");
  • In the realm of humans, the state without desire that helps one to contemplate the Tao.
  • The open mind without discrimination preached by Hui Neng in his Sutra.

Emptiness in Tao-te ching

In chapter 11 of Tao-te ching we read the following description of the 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. (James Legge)

The usage of the wheel depends on the empty space (emptiness) of the axle. The same, the vessel's usage depends on the emptiness from inside and the apartment may be used only through the empty space within. Therefore emptiness gives a thing its usefulness. A strange idea fashioned by the thinking of Lao-tzu.

Emptiness as personal experience

About emptiness as a personal experience we treat mostly in our Level 3 of the Taoism initiation course - dedicated to the Taoist meditation - and in the Tao Practice in the Day to Day Life, a course dealing with the usage of the Tao teachings in our daily life.

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