Pǔ or the uncarved block


The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff famously plays on the similarity between the Uncarved Block (Pu) and that “silly old bear” (Pooh)

Very often, translators render the Chinese word  into English as “the uncarved block.”

The term refers to a state of pure possibility (what the Greeks mean by DYNAMIS). This describes the original condition of the mind before the happening of any experience.

In the way that it is utilized most often by Laozi and his followers,  signifies perception without presupposition or prejudice. That is, Laozi seeks to move beyond habitual prejudgments that limit or diminish the fullness of experience.

Thus, dualistic distinctions that preestablish assessments–e.g. good/bad, right/wrong, black/white, beautiful/ugly, etc–must be overcome. Without letting go of these presuppositions, there can be no alignment with the Great Way (Dào).

Of course one of the major ways that we fall into these positions of “already decided” or “determined before” is in how we conceptualize or objectify what we are doing in our lives. We tend to respond to the world by ordering through language: a way of categorizing by the terms. And we do this without thinking, meaning without pause or mindlessly.

We fall into calling things this or that.

Such “giving word” carves out an experience, whittles it down to what fits the definition of the term. Achieving silence is a way of being like  or the uncarved block.

This is actually illustrated in a story about Laozi going out for a walk every morning, He would wander out in the pure silence of dawn allowing himself to flow with the world.

Now, he never wanted company because he realized that the majority of people actually cannot be quiet. This would certainly disturb his walk and the silence that marked the fullness of his experience.

But Laozi’s neighbour  once did dare to request for an old friend, “Please, venerable sir, let this man join you during your morning walk. It seems such a lovely experience for him to have whilst visiting. And he promises to be absolutely silent.”

Laozi agreed just for this once and allowed the neighbor’s friend to come along.

They walked in the stillness of the morning, into the Yingke Pines, alongside each other without saying one word. Ever deeper they penetrated into the woods. At last, they came to a lake that was surrounded by the highest trees which reflected wonderously upon the water.

The sun shone through the branches, leaves, and needles, making amazing patterns upon the water. Truly, it was a most phenomenal vision.

The friend’s jaw dropped and he shouted emotionally: “Oh, how beautiful the Sun!” Remembering his solemn promise to speak not even one word, quickly he covered his mouth with both of his hands,

Laozi continued on in silence never even acknowledging the words of his morning companion. They turned back after awhile and returned home in silence.

Back at his neighbor’s cottage, Laozi said to his neighbour: “Once, good  neighbor. That is all. Not again. Your friend talks too much.”

10 thoughts on “Pǔ or the uncarved block

  1. I’ve enjoyed your post on the Dao, and the above story about Laozi is perfect. As a kid, I grew up reading the Pooh books, and Benjamin Hoff’s book my first intro to the Dao… As one of my Chinese friends told me years ago when talking about the Dao, it is not a difficult concept and there are Daoist in the world who have never even heard of Laozi or the Dao. I look forward to reading more of your blog. Cheers!

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