How Can a Square Have No Corners?

Reflections on Chapter 41 of the Tao Te Ching:


Great people listen to Tao attentively
and live accordingly.

Average people listen to Tao
and are one moment aware,
the next moment unsure.

Below average people listen to Tao and ridicule it.
If they did not laugh, it would not be Tao.

The illuminated way seems dull.
The quickest path to Tao seems slow.
The straight path to Tao seems rough.
The highest virtue seems like a great abyss.
The purest things seems tarnished.
Abundant virtue seems lacking.
Solid virtue seems frail.
True reality seems uncertain.

The perfect square has no corners.
The perfect vessel is not yet finished.
The perfect music is without sound.
The perfect form is without shape.

Tao is hidden, unnamed – yet always brings fulfillment.


How can a square have no corners?

This chapter was a little disturbing to me. No corners? We have  a definition of a square. We’ve defined a square as having four corners. That’s what makes a square. But a perfect square has it’s opposite. A perfect anything has it’s opposite.

If you are following the path of Tao and deeply searching for your spiritual roots, there won’t be a lot of other people on the same path. It’s a dedicated thing. Just like there are not a lot of concert pianists. I think that it is really good to recognize that. It is OK to be on any part of the path. It’s all perfect.

Great people are inquisitive.

If you look around, when you see someone who is really dedicated to their own personal development and they are really serious about it, there is a level of respect that is gained from that. I think that what he is saying is that people who are not respecting that will make fun of it. It is human nature to tease people about things that you are not comfortable with. There will be lots of people that will not understand what it is that you are doing in any deep work.

A lot of people feel more comfortable on the surface of things.

They don’t want to dive deeply into things. It feels uncomfortable to them. It is not saying that people that are not following a spiritual practice are not great. They may have their own practice of something else that is deep to them. Everyone has their own thing that speaks to them. They will go deeply into those things and people will make fun of them. If someone is really serious about ice skating and they ice skate five hours every day, someone will make fun of that. It is the nature of that depth of things.  People naturally do that. It comes out of a place of people being uncomfortable. Everyone wants to belong, everyone wants to be great. Everyone wants people to think well of them. If they are not really matching up, some people respond by poking fun.

Don’t let that deter you. 

Don’t let someone else’s sense of inadequacy put you off your path. Don’t let that happen. There are people out there that do understand what you are doing. Focus your energy there to gain strength. It is just a matter of finding those people and working together with them. The more you stand proudly in your space of depth, the more people will respect you for it.


What do you think? What did this chapter mean to you? Please tell us in the comments below.



  1. ‘A lot of people feel more comfortable on the surface of things’ which reminds me with where I feel I have been for the last little while. I have known that it’s time to dive into things deeper. When you reach I start reaching my comfort zone, a part of me wants more. It’s been painful at times to stay where I am on my comfy cushion. It’s a sure sign for me to dive in… easier said than done. But one where I know I will get brave enough to do one day, soon I hope.
    Suzanne McRae recently posted…The ritual of cleansing our spaceMy Profile

    • Everything has it’s time. I often dwell on the surface too. It just depends on my mood, the audience and what is going on around me. I think that it is a process to grow in your comfort to go deep, just like going to the gym or learning to play an instrument. You just keep practicing it. Thanks for visiting and commenting, Suzanne!

  2. Another beautiful post. I am grateful for your posts as a constant reminder in my life of living in this space. It takes a lot to look at things on a deeper level and your posts give me the opportunity to do this every day.. Thank you!
    Michele Bergh recently posted…Go For ItMy Profile

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  4. Rodrigo Cavalheiro

    The great square has no corners
    means not having peak corner, peak corners are spiked, can hurt.
    thats why many forniture are made with rounded corners.

  5. Hi. I can’t quite work out how to link my comment on my website to yours, so am just commenting here! (Just don’t have a computer brain!)
    Anyway,when I read this it also reminds me of alot in Buddhism. Superior(read great) people listen, reflect, meditate and put the teachings into practice in their daily life.
    Average people go backwards and forwards between belief and doubt.
    Ordinary people mock the teachings (the Way)
    The path can feel boring, difficult and we want a quicker result. We lose faith, get confused, misunderstand and the ground is unclear and we lose our way. Virtue falls by the wayside.
    What we take for granted in our ordinary life, like a square has corners etc. is totally challenged and nothing makes sense to us anymore.
    Following a deep spiritual path can be lonely and even though we have friends by our side sometimes on that path, really we have to be courageous enough to bring awareness to every moment, or at least try. This means facing ourselves, looking deeply in a mirror and dealing with all our hidden parts inside, some of which we would like to run away from. This we have to do alone at times. It all gets too much sometimes, so we choose to have time ‘on the surface’ before we dive deeply back into the essence of our journey.
    Life, Love, Process Psychology
    Sherry Marshall recently posted…Sydney Morning Herald Interview Is Commuting making you Miserable?My Profile

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