Understand Nonbeing

Back to Center of Life


Learn to distinguish between being (有)and nonbeing (无) -- and experience the power of Tao.

Being, in the context of Tao, means 'something'.  Non-being, on the other hand, means 'nothing'.

They are in existent in all things we know.

It is a manifestation of yin yang. It is a central concept of Tao Te King of Lao Tze.

cup and nonbeing

To understand what the two words mean, look at a drinking cup.

In the cup, being is the physical presence.  It is in the something that you can see -- including the body of the cup, its handle and so on.

What we often over look, however, is the non-being, as it is something we cannot see.

It is nevertheless the most important part of the existence. 

Ask yourself this question, “What is the purpose of you having the cup?”

Most likely you’d say you want the cup to hold your drink – be it tea, coffee or anything else.

A cup that cannot hold water is no longer a cup, right?

Then, look closely at the cup.  Which part of the cup do you find the drink?

It is not the handle. It is not the cup body. It is not the being.

It is the space within the body.  Something you cannot see, and appears to be empty.

It is the non-being.  

So although the cup – or the something -- is what you own, it is the space – the nothing – that you use.  You own the being -- the cup -- for the non-being -- the space.

Knowing this helps us to stay close to reality.

Now, let's look at the house that you live in. Apparently, the house is a being. It has pillars, walls and furnishings.

What's the use of the house?

The use of the house is not in the being -- the pillars, the walls, nor the furnishings. It is in the non-being, i.e. the space. A house without space is useless, however fine the pillars and the rest are.

They apply to what you do as well.

Do you, for example, say ‘good morning’ to your love ones because of the words, or something in addition to the words?  On the other hand, if your love your love ones, do you just embed your love in the heart?  Have you forgotten to say ‘good morning’?

To regain the center of your life, and find the meaning of the things you do, don’t just see the being.  See the non-being!

Being aware of the concepts helps us to have clear mind. It cut through noises and go to core of reality.

As Lao Tze puts it:

”Spokes are connected to make a wheel;
yet it is the hole within the hub that moves the wagon.
Clay is molded to shape into pot;
yet it is the emptiness within that makes it an utensil.
Doors and windows are cut to make a room;
yet it is the inner space within that makes it livable.
Therefore, advantage comes from what is;
usefulness comes from what is not.” (11)


What are the ‘being’ and ‘nonbeing’ associated with a car?

Suggested answer:

The physical parts of the car like the body, upholstery and steering wheel are beings. Its non-being is space in it, movement and speed. Both serve their purposes, but the non-being is what we are really after.

Related articles:

More articles about Tao

Home page.