Chapter 7: On the Utility of Not-Being
Writing on the utility of not-being, Lao Tzu says:
Thirty spokes unite around the nave;
From their not-being (loss of their individuality)
Arises the utility of the wheel.
Mold clay into a vessel;
From its not-being (in the vessel’s hollow)
Arises the utility of the vessel.
Cut out doors and windows in the house (wall);
From their not-being (empty space)
Arises the utility of the house.
Therefore by the existence of things we profit.
And by the non-existence of things we are served.
The deepest core of being is non-being. The foundation of isness is nothingness. And when I say nothingness I don’t mean nothing-ness. I only mean no-thingness.
Form exists on the base of the formless. The form comes out of the formless just as waves come out of the sea, and then the form drops, dissolves into the formless again. The name arises out of the nameless, falls back, returns to the original source, becomes nameless again. Life arises out of death and moves to death again. The very basic thing to remember is that these opposites are not opposites, they are complementary. Death is not against life, nonexistence is not against existence, non-being is not against being. They are two polarities of the same phenomenon, which transcends all understanding.
Sometimes it expresses itself as being and sometimes as non-being, but it is the same that expresses in both. This has to be understood as deeply as possible because your whole sadhana, the whole effort towards ultimate understanding, will depend on it. Unless you are ready to become non-being you will never become a real authentic being. It looks like a paradox.
Jesus says to his disciples: Unless you lose yourself you will not gain yourself; if you cling to yourself you will be destroyed, if you don’t cling you will be saved. He is saying that if you move into non-being, only then is the being saved.
In India there exists a very old and very beautiful parable in the Upanishads:
A great sage, Uddalaka, was asked by his son, Svetketu, “Father, who am I? What is it that exists in me? I try and try, I meditate and meditate, but I cannot find it.”
Svetketu was a small child but he raised a very very difficult question. Had somebody else asked the question, Uddalaka could have answered easily, but how to help a child to understand? And he was asking the greatest problem that exists.
Uddalaka had to create a device. He said, “You go there, yonder, where you see the nigrot tree and you bring a fruit from it.”
The child ran; he brought a small fruit from the nigrot tree.