Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Chapter 17
True Leaders

During golden ages, people barely know their leaders exist;
In lesser times, people love and praise them.
In darker days, people fear their rulers
And in the darkest times, they despise them.

When leaders work for personal reward,
Honesty fails and deception rules.
Corrupted by desire for fame and power,
Leaders create criminals.

At any price, words from a true leader are hard to gain.
Their advice – given in secret without fuss or boasting,
Like the truest voice in a group of singers –
Seems to come from the people themselves.
When good works succeed,
The people think they’ve done it themselves.

Commentary

“Doubt everything. Find your own light.”

The Buddha गौतम बुद्ध
(Siddhartha Shakyamuni Gautama)
563 – 483 BCE
Awakened Truth

Themes: Know Yourself

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“Those who govern with virtue are like the North Star, which remains in its place while the myriad stars revolve around it.”

Confucius 孔丘
(Kongzi, Kǒng Zǐ)
551 – 479 BCE
History's most influential "failure"

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“To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”

Aristotle Ἀριστοτέλης
382 – 322 BCE

Themes: Conformity

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“When the ruler view his ministers as his hands and feet, they regard him as their heart and soul. When he views them as dirt and weeds, they regard him as an enemy and a thief.”

Mencius 孟子
(Mengzi)
372 – 289 BCE
from Book of Mencius 孟子

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“Those who govern and follow the Tao are like the high branches in a tree; people don’t notice them and wander in freedom like deer in a forest. 3:14”

Chuang Tzu 莊周
(Zhuangzi)
369 – 286 BCE

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“When those above treat those below with dishonesty, those below respond with deceit.”

Heshang Gong 河上公
(Ho-shang Kung or "Riverside Sage”)
202 – 157 BCE

Themes: Deception

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“I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinion of himself than on the opinion of others.”

Marcus Aurelius
121 – 219 CE

Themes: Know Yourself

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“I am unable to wander from place to place as you do but if you could teach me how to meditate while remaining here on my throne in my palace...”

Lakshmincara ལཀྵྨཱིངྐ་རཱ།། via Keith Dowman
(“The Princess of Crazy wisdom”)
c. 8th Century CE
from Masters of Mahamudra

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“I am unable to wander from place to place as you do but if you could teach me how to meditate while remaining here on my throne in my palace...”

Lilapa སྒེག་པ། via Keith Dowman
(“Master of Play”)
8th century CE
Mahasiddha #2
from Masters of Enchantment

Themes: Meditation

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“Although you may have fortresses, they will not save you if you are hated by the people.”

Machiavelli
(Niccolò Machiavelli)
1469 – 1527 CE
from The Prince

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“If you would be a real seeker after truth, at least once in your life doubt all things.”

Descartes René Descartes
1596 – 1650 CE

Themes: Doubt

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“Every familiarity breeds contempt… the more a person shows, the less he has… Reticence is the seal of capacity… you must pay ransom to each you tell.”

Balthasar Gracian
1601 – 1658 CE

Themes: Anonymity

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“The objections and reluctances I met with in soliciting the subscriptions, made me soon feel the impropriety of presenting one’s self as the proposer of any useful project.. I therefore put myself as much as I could out of sight and stated it as a scheme of ‘a number of friends.’”

Benjamin Franklin
1706 – 1790 CE
from Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Themes: Anonymity

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“That government is best which governs least... The more perfect civilization is, the less occasion has it for government, because the more does it regulate its own affairs”

Thomas Paine
1737 – 1809 CE
from The Rights of Man, 1792

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“I hope our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us, that the less we use our power, the greater it will be.”

Thomas Jefferson
1743 – 1826 CE
from Notes on the State of Virginia

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“If you treat someone as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
1749 – 1832 CE

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“Advice is like snow; the softer it falls, the longer it dwells upon, and the deeper it sinks into the mind.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge
1772 – 1834 CE

Themes: Less is More

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“a State which dwarfs its men… will find that with small men no great thing can really be accomplished.”

John Stuart Mill
1806 – 1873 CE

Themes: Competition

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“a king overpowered by self-interest is not worthy of being the protector of the kingdom”

Jamgon Kongtrul the Great འཇམ་མགོན་ཀོང་སྤྲུལ་བློ་གྲོས་མཐའ་ཡས། via Judith Hanson
(Jamgön Kongtrül Lodrö Thayé)
1813 – 1899 CE
from Torch of Certainty

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“That government is best which governs not at all.”

Henry David Thoreau
1817 – 1862 CE
Father of environmentalism and America's first yogi
from On the Duty of Civil Disobedience

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“In spite of their fancy words, politicians only barter truth, love, and honor for wool, beet-root sugar, and potato spirit profits.”

Karl Marx via Shan Dao
1818 – 1883 CE

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“The great enemy of civilization is the notion that society cannot prosper, unless the affairs of life are watched over and protected at nearly every turn by the state and the church.”

Henry Thomas Buckle
1821 – 1862 CE
from History of Civilization

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“Familiarity breeds contempt and children.”

Mark Twain
(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)
1835 – 1910 CE

Themes: Family

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“Sufis have no set belief or disbelief. Divine light is the only sustenance… and what they see in this light they believe, and what they do not see they do not blindly believe.”

Inayat Khan
1882 – 1927 CE

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“Pity the nation that is full of beliefs and empty of religion… that acclaims the bully as hero, and that deems the glittering conqueror bountiful… whose statesman is a fox, whose philosopher is a juggler… that welcomes its new ruler with trumpeting, and farewells him with hooting, only to welcome another with trumpeting again.”

Kahlil Gibran
1883 – 1931 CE

Themes: Religion

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“You wouldn't worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.”

Eleanor Roosevelt
1884 – 1962 CE

Themes: Conformity

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“All men are created unequal... Politics is the art of compromise between the classes”

Will (and Ariel) Durant
1885 – 1981 CE
from Heroes of History

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“Traditional human power structures and their reign of darkness are about to be rendered obsolete.”

Buckminster Fuller
1895 – 1983 CE

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“What you see with your eyes shut is what counts. The wicasa wakan loves the silence, wrapping it around himself like a blanket… he talks to the plants and they answer him.”

John Fire Lame Deer via Richard Erdoes
1903 – 1976 CE
from Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions

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“Most of our assumptions have outlived their uselessness.”

Marshall McLuhan
1911 – 1980 CE

Themes: Opinion

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“Elders serve as conduits between the divine realm and the mundane world.”

Reb Zalman
1924 – 2014 CE
from From Age-Ing to Sage-Ing

Themes: Teachers

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“We shouldn't be looking for heroes, we should be looking for good ideas.”

Noam Chomsky
1928 CE –

Themes: Reason

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“‘doing without doing’: uncompetitive, unworried, trustful accomplishment, power that is not force. An example or analogy might be a very good teacher, or the truest voice in a group of singers.”

Ursula Le Guin
1929 – 2018 CE

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“We have two alternatives: either we question our beliefs - or we don't. Either we accept our fixed versions of reality- or we begin to challenge them. In Buddha's opinion, to train in staying open and curious - to train in dissolving our assumptions and beliefs - is the best use of our human lives.”

Pema Chödrön
(Deirdre Blomfield-Brown)
1936 CE –
First American Vajrayana nun

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“I have as much authority as the Pope. I just don’t have as many people who believe it.”

George Carlin
1937 – 2008 CE
One of the most influential social commentators of his time

Themes: Power

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“If you want to solve the world’s problems, you have to put your own household, your own individual life, in order first… the first step in learning how to rule is learning to rule your household, your immediate world.”

Chögyam Trungpa
1939 – 1987 CE
from Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior

Themes: Problems

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“As long as one is in control, one is happy, and as long as someone else holds the leash, one is unhappy.

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche རྫོང་གསར་ འཇམ་དབྱངས་ མཁྱེན་བརྩེ་ རིན་པོ་ཆེ།
(Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche)
1961 CE –
"Activity" incarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo

Themes: Control

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Comments (2)

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  1. Shan Dao
    Government needs to be the size of the problems it’s facing. If small problems, a small government; if no problems, no government; if large problems, a large government is needed. Our problems today - climate change, terrorism, the unprecedented gap between rich and poor; adapting to a radically changing world, etc. - are gigantic and global. Therefore we need a large government. Only a unified, global government will be able to successfully face this scale of global problems. Once faced and solved, we can go back to less and less government.
  2. Shan Dao
    We need more poetry in politics.