Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Chapter 18
The Sick Society

When realization of the Tao and authentic presence dims,
We try to be kind and just.
When we over-value reason and learning,
Immense hypocrisy arises.

The sicker the society,
The more loyal true believers.
The more dysfunctional the family,
The more autocratic and subservient.
The more harmful the religion,
The more dogmatic extremists.
The more detrimental the government,
The more fanatic partisans.

Commentary

“It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else's life with perfection.”

Vyasa व्यास
c. 3000 BCE
Hindu immortals, Vishnu avatar, 5th incarnation of Brahma
from Mahābhārata महाभारतम्

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“It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else's life with perfection.”

Vyasa व्यास via Bhagavad Gita
c. 3000 BCE
Hindu immortals, Vishnu avatar, 5th incarnation of Brahma
from Mahābhārata महाभारतम्

Themes: True Self

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“A man may fail in his education to penetrate to the real roots of humanity and remain fixed in convention. A partial education of this sort is as bad as none.”

Fu Xi 伏羲 via Richard Wilhelm
c. 2852–2737 BCE
Emperor/shaman progenitor of civilization symbol
from I Ching

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“When people lose sight of how to live, they create codes of virtue that give rise to great hypocrisy.”

Lao Tzu 老子 via Witter Bynner, Shan Dao
(Lǎozǐ)
604 BCE -
from Way of Life According to Lao Tzu

Themes: Virtue

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“Just as a snake sheds its skin, we must shed our past over and over again.”

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

Themes: Forget

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“To be wealthy and honored in an unjust society is a disgrace.”

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

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“I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world.”

Socrates
469 – 399 BCE
One of the most powerful influences on Western Civilization

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“It is not that I am mad, it is only that my head is different from yours.”

Diogenes
(of Sinope)
412 – 323 BCE

Themes: Crazy Wisdom

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“Of what use is a philosopher who doesn't hurt anybody's feelings?”

Diogenes
(of Sinope)
412 – 323 BCE

Themes: Philosophy

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“No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness… To lead an orchestra, you must turn your back on the crowd.”

Aristotle Ἀριστοτέλης
382 – 322 BCE

Themes: Crazy Wisdom

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“what a lot of fuss and upheaval the benefactors of humanity have caused.”

Chuang Tzu 莊周
(Zhuangzi)
369 – 286 BCE

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“When springs dry up, fish find themselves in puddles spraying water on each other to keep each other alive. Better to be in a river or lake and oblivious to one another.”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 via Red Pine
(Zhuangzi)
369 – 286 BCE

from Zhuangzi

Themes: Inscrutable

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“When the country is at peace, no one thinks about kindness and the people are free from desire. When the Tao prevails, kindness and justice vanish like the stars fading when the sun appears.”

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

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“When the directives of the leadership are ignored because of factionalism, laws are broken out of treachery, intellectuals busy themselves fabricating clever deceits, mettlesome men occupy themselves fighting, administrators monopolize authority, petty bureaucrats hold power, and cliques curry favor to manipulate the leadership. Then, even though the nation may seem to exist, the ancients would say it has perished.”

Liú Ān 劉安 via Thomas Cleary
(Huainanzi)
c. 179–122 BCE
from Huainanzi

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“The object in life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.”

Marcus Aurelius
121 – 219 CE
from Meditations Τὰ εἰς ἑαυτόν

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“People either neglect the root and focus on the branches or neglect the reality of the branches and focus only on realization.”

Huangbo Xiyun 黄檗希运
(Huangbo Xiyun, Huángbò Xīyùn, Obaku)
? - 850 CE
from Zen Teachings of Huang Po on the Transmission of Mind, John Blofeld translation

Themes: Reality

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“I weep to see you sitting on this throne, engaging in the wretched business of government.”

Kambala ཀམྦ་ལ་པ། via Keith Dowman
("The Black-Blanket-Clad Yogin")
9th Century CE
Mahasiddha #30
from Masters of Enchantment

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“Don’t be predictable and guileless.”

Atisha ཨ་ཏི་ཤ་མར་མེ་མཛད་དཔལ་ཡེ་ཤེས་
(Atiśa Dīpaṃkara Śrījñāna)
980 – 1054 CE
from Seven Points of Mind Training, Lojong བློ་སྦྱོངས་དོན་བདུན་མ;

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“You were born with wings, why prefer to crawl through life?”

Rumi مولانا جلال‌الدین محمد بلخی
(Rumi Mawlānā Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Balkhī)
1207 – 12783 CE
from Masnavi مثنوي معنوي‎‎) "Rhyming Couplets of Profound Spiritual Meaning”

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“Sameness is the mother of disgust, variety the cure.”

Petrarch
1304 – 1374 CE

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“There is always some madness in love, but there is also always some reason in madness.”

Petrarch
1304 – 1374 CE

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“The world has fallen in love with a dream. Only sayings of the wise will remain.”

Kabīr कबीर via Linda Hess and Shukdeo Singh
1399 – 1448 CE
from Bijak of Kabir

Themes: Dream

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“Monarchies quickly becomes Tyrannies, Aristocracies Oligarchies, Democracies degenerate into Anarchy… no precaution can prevent them from sliding into their opposites because of how closely the virtue resembles the vice.”

Machiavelli via Shan Dao
(Niccolò Machiavelli)
1469 – 1527 CE
from Discourses

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“But come bad chance, And we join to'it our strength, And we teach it art and length.”

John Donne
1572 – 1631 CE
from Songs and Sonnets

Themes: Art

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“Be not astonished at new ideas; for it is well known to you that a thing does not therefore cease to be true because it is not accepted by many.”

Baruch Spinoza
1632 – 1677 CE

Themes: Truth Conformity

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“Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.

Voltaire, François-Marie Arouet
1694 – 1778 CE

Themes: Doubt

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“What we agree with leaves us inactive, but contradiction makes us productive.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
1749 – 1832 CE

Themes: Paradox

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“We do not have to visit a madhouse to find disordered minds; our planet is the mental institution of the universe.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
1749 – 1832 CE

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“I have seen gross intolerance shown in support of tolerance.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge
1772 – 1834 CE

Themes: Paradox

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“We forfeit three-fourths of ourselves in order to be like other people.”

Arthur Schopenhauer
1788 – 1860 CE

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“If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he would be justified in silencing mankind.”

John Stuart Mill
1806 – 1873 CE

Themes: Opinion

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“Believe only half of what you see and nothing that you hear.”

Edgar Allan Poe Edgar Allen Poe
1809 – 1849 CE

Themes: Belief Doubt

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“Adverse conditions are spiritual friends… Illness is the broom for evil and obscurations. Suffering is the dance of what is.”

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

Themes: Evil Suffering

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“Nobody blamed the credulity and avarice of the people, – the degrading lust of gain, which had swallowed up every nobler quality in the national character… These things were never mentioned.”

Charles Mackay
1814 – 1889 CE
from Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

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“most legislators, politicians, lawyers, ministers, and office-holders… rarely make any moral distinctions, they are as likely to serve the devil, without intending it, as God ”

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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“if I repent of anything,it is very likely to be my good behavior… Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life so. Aim above morality. Be not simply good, be good for something.”

Henry David Thoreau
1817 – 1862 CE
Father of environmentalism and America's first yogi
from Walden or Life in the Woods

Themes: Moral Freedom

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“The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

Frederick Douglass
1818 – 1895 CE
International symbol of social justice

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“Pardon My Sanity In A World Insane.”

Emily Dickinson
1830 – 1886 CE

Themes: Crazy Wisdom

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“‘Well, everybody does it that way, Huck.’ ‘Tom, I am not everybody.’”

Mark Twain
(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)
1835 – 1910 CE

Themes: Pluralism

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“Education: that which reveals to the wise, and conceals from the stupid, the vast limits of their knowledge.”

Mark Twain
(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)
1835 – 1910 CE

Themes: Education

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“An education isn’t how much you know… It’s being able to differentiate between what you know and what you don’t.”

Anatole France
(Jacques Anatole Thibault)
1844 – 1924 CE

Themes: Education

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“Out of life's school of war: What does not destroy me, makes me stronger.”

Friedrich Nietzsche
1844 – 1900 CE
from Twilight of the Idols

Themes: Problems

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“"God will not look you over for medals, diplomas, or degrees – but for scars."”

Elbert Hubbard
1856 – 1915 CE
from A Message to Garcia and Thirteen Other Things

Themes: Suffering

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“Each step of the journey is made by following the heart instead of following the crowd and by choosing knowledge over the veils of ignorance.”

Henri-Louis Bergson
1859 – 1941 CE

Themes: Conformity

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“We can only begin to live when we conceive life as Tragedy.”

W.B. (William Butler) Yeats
1865 – 1939 CE

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“Happiness is beneficial for the body, but it is grief that develops the powers of the mind.”

Marcel Proust
1871 – 1922 CE
from Rembrance of Things Past

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“There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.”

Willa Cather
1873 – 1948 CE
Modern day Lao Tzu

Themes: Problems

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“Kites rise highest against the wind, not with it.”

Winston Churchill
1874 – 1965 CE

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“A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject.”

Winston Churchill
1874 – 1965 CE

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“The purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things.”

Rainer Maria Rilke
1875 – 1926 CE
Profound singer of universal music
from Duino Elegies

Themes: Progress

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“I live in my dreams — that's what you sense. Other people live in dreams, but not in their own. That's the difference.”

Hermann Hesse
1877 – 1962 CE
from Demian

Themes: Dream

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“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Albert Einstein
1879 – 1955 CE

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“The majority of the stupid is invincible and guaranteed for all time. The terror of their tyranny, however, is alleviated by their lack of consistency.”

Albert Einstein
1879 – 1955 CE

Themes: Democracy

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“You can't say civilization don't advance ... in every war they kill you in a new way”

Will Rogers
1879 – 1935 CE

Themes: Civilization

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“Do what you feel in your heart to be right – you’ll be criticized anyway.”

Eleanor Roosevelt
1884 – 1962 CE

Themes: Complaint

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“A nation is born stoic, and dies epicurean.”

Will (and Ariel) Durant
1885 – 1981 CE

Themes: Government

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“History would be worthless to us if it did not teach us to keep on our guard against the natural intolerance of an orthodoxy wielding power.”

Will (and Ariel) Durant
1885 – 1981 CE

Themes: History

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“He had a mind so fine that no idea could violate it.”

T.S. Eliot
1888 – 1965 CE

Themes: Doubt Belief

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“Uniformity and freedom are incompatible. Uniformity and mental health are incompatible too. . . . Man is not made to be an automaton, and if he becomes one, the basis for mental health is destroyed.”

Aldous Huxley
1894 – 1963 CE

Themes: Health

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“Nothing costs enough here.”

Aldous Huxley
1894 – 1963 CE

Themes: Meaningfulness

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“I'm sick. I've eaten civilization and I'm sick.”

Aldous Huxley
1894 – 1963 CE

Themes: Civilization

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“Ninety-six identical twins working ninety-six identical machines!”

Aldous Huxley
1894 – 1963 CE

Themes: Conformity

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“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

Krishnamurti
(Jiddu Krishnamurti)
1895 – 1986 CE

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“Look at the world today… What madness there is! What blindness! A scurrying mass of bewildered humanity crashing headlong against each other. The time must come, my friend, when brutality and the lust for power must perish by its own sword. For when that day comes, the world must begin to look for a new life. And it is our hope that they may find it here.”

James Hilton
1900 – 1954 CE
from Lost Horizon

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“Love is often nothing but a favorable exchange between two people who get the most of what they can expect, considering their value on the personality market.”

Eric Fromm
1900 – 1980 CE
from Art of Loving

Themes: Love

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“That millions of people share the same forms of mental pathology does not make these people sane.”

Eric Fromm
1900 – 1980 CE
from The Sane Society

Themes: Culture

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“We must learn to be different…If Wakan Tanka likes the plants, the animals, even little mice and bugs to do this, how much more will he abhor people being alike, doing the same thing, getting up at the same time, putting on the same kind of store-bought clothes, working in the same office at the same job with their eyes on the same clock and, worst of all, thinking alike all the time.”

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

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“Follow your inner moonlight; don't hide the madness.”

Allen Ginsberg
1926 – 1997 CE

Themes: Moon True Self

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“Instead of citizens, it produces consumers. Instead of communities, it produces shopping malls. The net result is an atomized society of disengaged individuals who feel demoralized and socially powerless.”

Noam Chomsky
1928 CE –
from Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media

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“There are times when Lao Tzu sounds very like Henry David Thoreau, but Lao Tzu was kinder…Lao Tzu know that getting all entangled with the external keeps us from the eternal, but he also understands that sometimes people like to get dressed up.”

Ursula Le Guin
1929 – 2018 CE

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“Getting caught up in a political drama is like getting addicted to a bad soap opera and missing work so you can watch.”

Shan Dao 山道
1933 CE –

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“These cultural mind prisons. . . . have been crippling to human moral and spiritual growth… freedom of thought.. and clearly a barrier to world peace. So long as we continue to attach more importance to our own narrow group membership than to the ‘global village’ we will propagate prejudice and ignorance.

Jane Goodall
1934 CE –

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“You can best serve civilization by being against what usually passes for it.”

Wendell Berry
1934 CE –

Themes: Civilization

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“In the bullshit department… religion easily has the greatest story ever told.”

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

Themes: Religion

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“Everything is compartmentalized, so you can never experience things completely… packaged food, packaged vacations, package deals of all kinds. There is no room to experience doubtlessness in that world… no room to experience reality fully and properly.”

Chögyam Trungpa
1939 – 1987 CE
from The Collected Works of Chogyam Trungpa

Themes: Doubt Technology

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“The cause or the virtue that brings about authentic presence is emptying out and letting go. You have to be without clinging… earn authentic presence by letting go, and by giving up personal comfort and fixed mind.”

Chögyam Trungpa
1939 – 1987 CE

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“Imagine there's no countries, it isn't hard to do - nothing to kill or die for, no religions too.”

John Lennon
1940 – 1980 CE

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“Our society is run by insane people for insane objectives. I think we're being run by maniacs for maniacal ends and I think I'm liable to be put away as insane for expressing that. That's what's insane about it.”

John Lennon
1940 – 1980 CE

Themes: Nationalism

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“If you dream that you are flying and continue to believe that you can fly even after you wake up, that becomes a problem.”

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche རྫོང་གསར་ འཇམ་དབྱངས་ མཁྱེན་བརྩེ་ རིན་པོ་ཆེ།
(Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche)
1961 CE –
"Activity" incarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo
from What Makes You Not a Buddhist

Themes: Dream Problems

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Comments (1)

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  1. Shan Dao
    The translation of this chapter probably strays from the literal more than any other here. Rather than “stray,” maybe better to say, “amplify.” Though hopefully true to the sense, the last 8 lines amplify the original text and can’t be found in the actual words.