Daodejing: cultivating emptiness

Richard Brown
3 min readMar 28, 2024


Achieving a state of spiritual and mental emptiness has never been more important thanks to the firehose of information that is flooding our minds from multiple sources attempting to convince us to accept their version of reality. It is only by stripping away wave after wave of artificial knowledge and manufactured desires that you have any chance of reaching a state of clarity about what is truly happening in the world and what you need to do to make a positive contribution to it.

Although the Daodejing does not provide any magical bullets for achieving a state of emptiness, it does lay out the key principles and practices that you should follow. Reducing your desire for ever brighter and ever shinier new objects is at the core of them. The more you crave the trappings of wealth, status, and power, the more your selfishness, avarice, and envy make you lose sight of what is important. Removing such negative emotions helps you to reduce distractions, clear your mind, and clarify your thoughts, not to mention making you an easier person to get along with.

Cherish the plainness
Of undyed silk,
Embrace the simplicity
Of the uncarved block of wood,
Reduce selfishness,
Minimize desire.

Daodejing Chapter 19

Adopting a posture of openness and receptivity allows you to be more flexible and adaptable when faced with changing circumstances and to sweep away erroneous preconceptions and prejudices that cloud your judgment. The harder you try to deny reality, the more you risk being blown away by it.

An army that does not yield
Is bound to suffer defeat.
A tree that does not bend
Is bound to break.
The hard and strong fall.
The soft and weak rise.

Daodejing Chapter 76

It is only through quiet observation and reflection that you can sort the wheat from the chaff in your mind and gain deeper insights into the true nature of reality. The more you fill your head with unprocessed information, the less chance you have of understanding what is really happening.

You do not have to
Step outside your door,
To know all-under-heaven.
You do not have to
Look out your window,
To see the Dao of heaven.
The further you go,
The less you know.

Daodejing Chapter 47

No matter how fast you try to run, you are never going to be able to keep up with the deluge of data that the world is producing. Better take a different tack by cultivating a state of emptiness that allows you to gain a deeper understanding of the world by looking at it with greater clarity and calm.

Related Articles
Daodejing Chapter 19: back to nature or back to basics?
Daodejing Chapter 19 breakdown: undyed silk
Daodejing Chapter 47: the further you go, the less you know
Daodejing Chapter 47 breakdown: the Daoist knows without travelling around
Daodejing Chapter 76: soft and weak
Daodejing Chapter 76 breakdown: the hard and strong fall



Richard Brown

I live in Taiwan and am interested in exploring what ancient Chinese philosophy can tell us about technology and the rise of modern China.