What is the Uncarved Block?

The “uncarved block” is a frequently recurring image in many translations of the Tao Te Ching. On first reading it, many find it confusing, but — like an uncarved block — it is surprisingly simple.

The uncarved block is a metaphor representative of potential and possibility, and a warning against self-imposed limits.

An uncarved block of wood could be made into anything, but…

Carve it into a clock and it is good for nothing but telling time.

Carve it into a toy and it is good for nothing but amusement.

Carve it into a bowl and it is nothing but a receptacle.

In turning it into something specific, you are destroying everything that it could have been.

The metaphor isn’t perfect, of course. Some would object that an uncarved block is good for nothing, whereas a carved tool is valuable. The implication, however, is not that you should never change or be useful, but that no change should be permanent or irreversible. Adapt to any situation, but always return to simplicity.

At all times you should be like the uncarved block, like material waiting to be shaped to the use at hand.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: