Tao Te Ching Chapter 11 - emptiness and pure potentiality

Tao Te Ching Chapter 11: Emptiness, Peace, and Pure Potentiality

The Tao Te Ching chapter 11 attempts to describe something almost impossible to describe: the timeless, silent essence within. By understanding this verse, we can learn to incorporate its deeper meaning into our daily lives.

Let’s take a look at interpretations of The Tao Te Ching Chapter 11:

Here is Dr. Wayne Dyer’s interpretation:

“Thirty spokes converge upon a single hub;
it is on the hole in the center that
the use of the cart hinges.

Shape clay into a vessel;
it is the space within that makes it useful.

Carve fine doors and windows,
but the room is useful in its emptiness.

The usefulness of what is
depends on what is not.”

Tao Te Ching Chapter 11 talks about the void at the center of a wheel. Thirty spokes surround a central area. These thirty spokes meet at one hub. The wheel's hub is one of the empty spaces referred to by Stephen Mitchell in his translation. Photo by <a href="https://unsplash.com/@clintmckoy?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditCopyText">Clint McKoy</a> on <a href="https://unsplash.com/photos/9oYHSMxt7tg?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditCopyText">Unsplash</a>

Next, let’s check out Stephen Mitchell’s translation of Tao Te Ching Chapter 11:

“We join spokes together in a wheel,
but it is the center hole
that makes the wagon move.

We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.

We hammer wood for a house,
but it is the inner space
that makes it livable.

We work with being,
but non-being is what we use. “

The external form of windows, doors, and walls are only meaningful because of the empty space inside. The house depends on it. Photo by <a href="https://unsplash.com/@brina_blum?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditCopyText">Brina Blum</a> on <a href="https://unsplash.com/photos/nWX4pKwzLoE?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditCopyText">Unsplash</a>

And lastly, here is Kari Hohne’s translation of the Tao Te Ching Chapter 11:

Thirty spokes share the hub of a wheel;
yet it is its center that makes it useful.
You can mould clay into a vessel;
yet, it is its emptiness that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows from the walls of a house;
but the ultimate use of the house
will depend on that part where nothing exists.

Therefore, something is shaped into what is;
but its usefulness comes from what is not.


So, it’s the nothingness that gives rise to everything else. These interpretations urge us to find value and comfort in the emptiness of the pure space within.

While exploring this concept, I’m referencing some of my favorite spiritual teachers and similar ideas they teach.

They express the same idea in different ways:

Verse 11 of the tao te ching by lao refers to emptiness - the kind of emptiness of a hole in a flute. Photo by <a href="https://unsplash.com/@polarmermaid?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditCopyText">Anne Nygård</a> on <a href="https://unsplash.com/photos/aiTo3fIOGJ0?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditCopyText">Unsplash</a>

For instance, Echart Tolle calls it ‘inner spaciousness.’

“I am the hole on the flute that God’s breath flows through.” – Eckhart Tolle.

Tolle’s words inspired a massive awakening when his book A New Earth became the subject of a multi-week series Oprah launched on television.

One of his principal teachings about the concept of inner spaciousness opens our awareness to connecting with a deeper, timeless part of ourselves.

He says: 

“It is like the cloudless sky. It has no form. It is space; it is stillness, the sweetness of Being and infinitely more than these words, which are only pointers. When you can sense it directly within yourself, it deepens. So when you appreciate something simple — a sound, a sight, a touch — when you see beauty, when you feel loving kindness toward another, sense the inner spaciousness that is the source and background to that experience.”

Dr. Wayne Dyer also describes it here:

“A composer once told me that the silence from which each note emerges is more important than the note itself. He said that it’s the empty space between the notes that allows the music to be music—if there’s no void, there’s only continuous sound.”

These teachings of chapter 11 of the Tao Te Ching offer an upending change in perspective. Instead of focusing so much on the apparent subject of our attention, we can shift our focus to the awareness that serves as a witness. And we can appreciate the emptiness around the experience as being as important as the experience itself.

Lao Tzu suggest inner space. Abraham Hicks calls it a vortex. Non existence that comes before all manifestation. All are referred to in Tao Te Ching Chapter 11. Photo by <a href="https://unsplash.com/@lmoisao?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditCopyText">L Moisao</a> on <a href="https://unsplash.com/photos/5cnWvU-ui04?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditCopyText">Unsplash</a>

And Abraham Hicks refers to it as the vortex.

According to Abraham, the vortex is a non-physical realm that holds all your desires, as described by the joy within.

Abraham Hicks says:

“It is our intention to help you remember that you are an extension of Source Energy; that you are blessed, loved Beings; and that you have come forth into this physical time-space-reality to joyously create.”

The metaphorical vortex can be described as a space that holds all of our dreams and desires. And we are here to ‘joyously create’ our world by vibrationally aligning with them and calling them forth.

Read my favorite Abraham Hicks quotes here.

When emptiness inside becomes form - verse 11 of Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu. Photo by <a href="https://unsplash.com/@photoholgic?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditCopyText">Photoholgic</a> on <a href="https://unsplash.com/photos/xvaWIYCqJe4?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditCopyText">Unsplash</a>

Lastly, Deepak Chopra calls it the law of pure potentiality.

According to Chopra.com:

“The source of all creation is pure consciousness . . . pure potentiality seeking expression from the unmanifest to the manifest. And when we realize that our true Self is one of pure potentiality, we align with the power that manifests everything in nature.”

Chopra urges us to recognize who we truly are – the field of pure potentiality.

Getting caught up and lost in the endless self-concept we’ve created is so easy. But, in truth, we are much more. We can align with who we are.


Remember, the untouchable essence of who you are is filled with love and kindness.

Dr. Wayne Dyer states:

“Take the time to shift your attention to the so-called nothingness that is your essence. What does it beckon you toward? The space emanates from the invisibleness responsible for all creation, and the thoughts that emerge from your inner self are pure love and kindness.”

Acknowledging this state of pure potentiality, or vast inner spaciousness, may seem overwhelming. It’s such a radical shift from what we’ve identified with over time.

Yet, this is why you can turn to your inner wise woman as a source of wisdom and love when needed. The unchangeable essence of who we are is so pure and beautiful that we would weep with relief if we could only see it.

This space is also grounding. We can witness what’s happening in our world while remaining connected to inner peace. 

Tao Te Ching Chapter 11 teaches us to get still. Meditation is a key to connecting within.

So, how do you practice the timeless messages of the Tao Te Ching chapter 11?

Practice the teaching of Tao Te Ching chapter 11 by meditating.

Dr. Wayne Dyer says, “Meditation is a wonderful tool to help you feel the bliss that
accompanies your connection to your inner void, where you experience the way of the Tao.”

Experiment with various meditations. One of my favorites, the ‘inner body meditation’ with Kim Eng, can be found on my go-to list here.

Connecting to your inner void may take practice. The more consistently I practice, the easier for me to slip into this space of nothingness. And, as I’m not a master in any sense, it’s different every time.

I hope to continue practicing to see how far I can go.

I am also taking the time to connect with nature. There is a silence to be discovered while walking through a forest. You can almost sense the profound stillness and power while taking the time to connect with natural elements all around you.

It’s fascinating to remember how long ago the Tao Te Ching was written and how resonant the messages remain today!


So, what do you think? What works for you? Please let me know in the comments below.


And would you like to learn more?

Read my thoughts and research on the Tao Te Ching Chapter 10 here.

Or, learn about ‘the beauty of enough’ in Chapter Nine here.

And learn to treat all people the same in Chapter Five.


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