The Usefulness of the Useless


useless

The Chinese have a saying about “the usefulness of the useless.” (See What is Commonplace About? for a discussion of how this inspired this blog).

Nothing better describes the usefulness of the useless than the following:

Hui Tzu said to Chuang Tzu:
“All your teaching is centered on what has no use.”

Chuang Tzu replied:
“If you have no appreciation for what has no use,
You cannot begin to talk about what can be used.

The earth for example, is broad and vast,
But of all this expanse a man uses only a few inches
Upon which he happens to be standing.

Now suppose you suddenly take away
All that he actually is not using,
So that all around his feet a gulf
Yawns, and he stands in the Void
With nowhere solid except under each foot.
How long will he be able to use what he is using?

Hui Tzu said: “It would cease to serve any purpose.”

Chuang Tzu concluded:
“This shows the absolute necessity
Of what has ‘ no use.”
Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu 

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