An empty vessel makes the loudest sound. This popular expression is in reference to the minds or individuals who boast and brag about every single detail in their lives that they find relevant. It could also be taken to mean that the minds of those who don’t think a lot or reason make silly statements about any and all things.
It is a disparaging statement about the blabbers – empty headed (nothing between the ears) but always arguing with everybody about everything.
The Gurbani compares a fool (Moorakh) with an empty vessel.
- ਸੰਤਨ ਸਿਉ ਬੋਲੇ ਉਪਕਾਰੀ ॥ ਮੂਰਖ ਸਿਉ ਬੋਲੇ ਝਖ ਮਾਰੀ ॥੨॥ ਬੋਲਤ ਬੋਲਤ ਬਢਹਿ ਬਿਕਾਰਾ ॥ ਬਿਨੁ ਬੋਲੇ ਕਿਆ ਕਰਹਿ ਬੀਚਾਰਾ ॥੩॥ ਕਹੁ ਕਬੀਰ ਛੂਛਾ ਘਟੁ ਬੋਲੈ ॥ ਭਰਿਆ ਹੋਇ ਸੁ ਕਬਹੁ ਨ ਡੋਲੈ ॥੪॥੧॥: Santan siou bole upkaaree. Moorakh siou bole jhakh maaree …: Speaking with the Saints, one becomes generous. To speak with a fool is to babble uselessly (ਵਿਅਰਥ ਖਪ-ਖਪਾ). By speaking with fools (i.e., in his association), only corruption (Bikaars) increases. ||2|| If I do not speak, what can the wretch do (i.e., we must only speak with the saintly people)? ||3|| Says Kabeer, the empty pitcher makes noise, but that which is full makes no sound (i.e., the fool or the person empty of virtues talks too much, but the wise or the person full of virtues does not) ||4||1|| (sggs 870).
As the Gurbani tells us, a fool is a bad listeners. In other words, a bad listener and a fool are synonymous. To impart Knowledge (Giaan, Wisdom) to a fool is not easy (if not impossible). For the fool does not pay attention to the wise words.
- ਦੇਇ ਬੁਝਾਰਤ ਸਾਰਤਾ ਸੇ ਅਖੀ ਡਿਠੜਿਆ ॥ ਕੋਈ ਜਿ ਮੂਰਖੁ ਲੋਭੀਆ ਮੂਲਿ ਨ ਸੁਣੀ ਕਹਿਆ ॥੨॥: Dei bujhaarat saarataa se akhee ditharriaa. Koee je moorakh lobheeaa mool n sunee kahiaa ||2||: Riddles and hints are given (by the Gurmukhs, sains, Gurbani…). The (mortal, fool…) sees them with his eyes. (But the) greedy fool one never listens to what he is told. ||2|| (sggs 218).
Instead, a fool engages in idle and purposeless talk, and actions that bring only pain to others.
A fool has preconceived notions, prejudices, closed-mind, and so on. Consequently, it is difficult to make a fool discern the value of what is being said. If and when a fool does listen, he is on the look for something to criticize; to find faults with; to perceive or detect an obscure or unexpressed meaning; and so on. All this makes a fool unable to comprehend wise words.
Our ignorance feeds our Bikaar (lust, anger, greed, attachment, and pride, and their countless variations). These Bikaar, in turn, keep us from paying attention to the words of the Wise. This further thickens our Haumai (false ego-sense), thus we get trapped in the repeated cycle of foolishness. Such conditioned mind is akin to a camel – the camel eats and keeps chewing bramble even though it makes his mouth bleed! Or like the dog who continues to chew and bite the bone harder and harder without knowing that it is its own blood (that comes forth from its own gums) that it is tasting (ਰਤੁ ਪਿਤੁ ਕੁਤਿਹੋ ਚਟਿ ਜਾਹੁ ॥: Ratu pitu kutiho chati jaahu, sggs 1288).
So the Gurbani urges us to become the good listners (ਸੁਣਿਐ ਸਿਧ ਪੀਰ ਸੁਰਿ ਨਾਥ ॥: Suniai sidh peer suri naath, sggs 2).
But the process of listening has to be coupled with love and humility, followed by believing (ਸੁਣਿਆ ਮੰਨਿਆ ਮਨਿ ਕੀਤਾ ਭਾਉ ॥: Siniaa manniaa mani keetaa bhaaou, sggs 4).
Thus, listening is an art, which needs to be cultivated. A truly learned man (educated or no education) is humble, without air or haughtiness. He never thinks he is better than others.
The Giaan (Divine Knowledge, Wisdom…) of the Gurbani is like a medicine for the fever of foolishness.
- ਅੰਤਰਿ ਅਗਿਆਨੁ ਹਉ ਬੁਧਿ ਹੈ ਸਚਿ ਸਬਦਿ ਮਲੁ ਖੋਹੁ ॥: Antar agiaan haou budhi hai sachi sabadi malu khohu: Within is the (filth of) ignorance and ego; this filth is washed off through the Shabad. (sggs 441).