An Empty Vessel Makes Most Noise

When the Truth that has not been personally experienced, one can not grasp it directly. However, with the help of analogies, similes, allegories, metaphors, idioms, euphemism, symbolic expressions, figurative or mystic representations and illustrations, etc., the Truth becomes relatively easier to grasp. The Shabads of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) often employ them to deliver the universally relevant message.

The purpose of employing this tool is to drive the Wisdom (Giaan) into heads of the immature learners (i.e., Sikhs, ਸਿਖਿਆਰਥੀ).

The following idiom or expression is used by Bhagat Kabeer Ji in one of his Shabads — an empty vessel makes the loudest sound.

  • ਕਹੁ ਕਬੀਰ ਛੂਛਾ ਘਟੁ ਬੋਲੈ ॥ ਭਰਿਆ ਹੋਇ ਸੁ ਕਬਹੁ ਨ ਡੋਲੈ ॥੪॥੧॥: O Kabeer! The empty pitcher makes noise, but that which is full makes no sound (similarly, a fool or a person empty of virtues talks useless) ||4||1|| (sggs 870).

This popular expression is in reference to the minds or individuals who are noisy and talk the most about their opinions are often the most ignorant. They 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 reason or think a lot make silly statements about any and all things.

It is a disparaging statement about the blabbers or empty headed (nothing between the ears) individuals who always arguing with everybody about everything!

In short, this idiom compares the hollow inside of an object like a drum and its loud sound with the empty thoughts of an ignorant person and his or her talkative nature. People typically use this expression when they want to discredit someone who is making their opinion widely known.

Aptly, the Gurmat Wisdom of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) compares a fool (Moorakh) with an empty vessel.

As the Gurbani asserts, a fool is a bad listeners. In other words, a bad listener and a fool are synonymous. As a result, 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॥: The riddles and hints are given (by the Gurbani, Gurmukhs…), and he sees them with his eyes. But (the Jeeva) is foolish and greedy, and he never listens to what he is told. ||2|| (sggs 217).
  • ਅੰਧਾ ਝਖਿ ਝਖਿ ਪਇਆ ਝੇਰਿ ॥: (Entangled in worldly entanglements, a mentally) blind and bewildered gets involved in turmoil (tumult, strife, row, etc.). (sggs 1287).
  • ਮੂਰਖ ਸਿਉ ਬੋਲੇ ਝਖ ਮਾਰੀ ॥੨॥: To speak with a fool is to waste time for nothing (i.e. fruitless: ਵਿਅਰਥ ਖਪ-ਖਪਾ). ||2|| (sggs 870).

Instead, a fool engages in idle and purposeless talk, and actions that bring only pain to himself and others.

  • ਨਾਨਕ ਮੂਰਖ ਏਹਿ ਗੁਣ ਬੋਲੇ ਸਦਾ ਵਿਣਾਸੁ ॥੧॥: O Nanak! This is the nature of a fool (doesn’t matter how much you teach him) – everything he speaks causes destruction (ਨੁਕਸਾਨ…)! ||1|| (sggs 143).
  • ਫਿਕਾ ਬੋਲਿ ਵਿਗੁਚਣਾ ਸੁਣਿ ਮੂਰਖ ਮਨ ਅਜਾਣ ॥: O my foolish ignorant mind! Listen, uttering harsh or dull words (i.e., devoid of Wisdom) leads to misery. (sggs 15).

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.

  • ਕਹਾ ਬੁਝਾਰਤਿ ਬੂਝੈ ਡੋਰਾ ॥ ਨਿਸਿ ਕਹੀਐ ਤਉ ਸਮਝੈ ਭੋਰਾ ॥: How can a riddle be understood by the deaf? (With a sign if you) Say ‘night’, but still he thinks (you said) ‘day’ (i.e., even he is constantly told, but still does not understand at all). (sggs 267).

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, a dog, an elephant, a deer, a crow etc. — for example, a camel eats and keeps chewing bramble even though it makes his mouth bleed; or like a 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), and so on.

So the Gurbani urges us to become the good listeners (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 Wisdom of the Gurbani is like a medicine for the fever of foolishness.

  • ਅੰਤਰਿ ਅਗਿਆਨੁ ਹਉ ਬੁਧਿ ਹੈ ਸਚਿ ਸਬਦਿ ਮਲੁ ਖੋਹੁ ॥: Within the intellect are ignorance and ego; through the True Shabad, this filth is washed off (sggs 441).
  • ਨਾਨਕ ਭੁਸਰੀਆ ਪਕਾਈਆ ਪਾਈਆ ਥਾਲੈ ਮਾਹਿ ॥ ਜਿਨੀ ਗੁਰੂ ਮਨਾਇਆ ਰਜਿ ਰਜਿ ਸੇਈ ਖਾਹਿ ॥੩॥: O Nanak! (Paarbrahm) has placed cooked or ripened (Giaan, spiritual Knowledge…) in the Plate (of the letters of the SGGS, ਗੁਰਬਾਣੀ ਦੇ ਅੱਖਰਾ ਰੂਪ ਥਾਲ…). They, who obtained the Wisdom of the Guru, (their minds) eat it to their fill and satiation. (sggs 696).


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