Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Chapter 29
Not Doing

Those who try to improve the world with force
Only come to grief;
Tampering makes things worse.
Because life is sacred just as it is,
It can’t be forced.
Trying to change only harms,
Trying to control only spoils,
To grasp is to lose.

Sometimes things lead,
Sometimes they follow;
Sometimes they’re strong,
Sometimes weak;
Sometimes easy, sometimes hard;
Sometimes success, sometimes failure.

Commentary

“Those who would take over the world never succeed... The wise never over-reach, over-spend, or over-rate.”

Lao Tzu 老子 via Witter Bynner, Shan Dao #29
(Lǎozǐ)
604 BCE -
from Way of Life According to Lao Tzu

Themes: Power Humility

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“Let him who would move the world first move himself.”

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

Themes: Ambition

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“One moment can change a day, one day can change a life and one life can change the world.”

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

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“Let him who would move the world first move himself.”

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

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“not-doing is the opposite of inaction. Because acting without effort, each job does itself in its own time.”

Chuang Tzu 莊周
(Zhuangzi)
369 – 286 BCE

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“What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.”

Plutarch
(Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus)
46 – 120 CE

Themes: Skillful Means

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“The nature of the myriad things is spontaneity. It should be followed but not interfered with.”

Wang Bi 王弼 via Wing-Tsit Chan
226 – 534 CE

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“Where would I find enough leather to cover the entire surface of the earth? But with leather soles beneath my feet, it’s as if the whole world has been covered.”

Shantideva ཞི་བ་ལྷ།།།
(Bhusuku, Śāntideva)
685 – 763 CE
from Bodhisattva Way of Life, Bodhicaryavatara

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“There is no buddha, no dharma, no training and no realization - what are you so hotly chasing?”

Rinzai Gigen 臨済義玄 via Irmgard Schloegl
(Línjì Yìxuán)
? - 866 CE
from Zen Teachings of Rinzai (Record of Rinzai), Irmgard Schloegl translation 1976

Themes: Emptiness Desire

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“Chase it and it always eludes you; run from it and it is always there.”

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: Paradox

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“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”

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”

Themes: Wisdom

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“the best marriage would be between a blind wife and a deaf husband.”

Montaigne
1533 – 1592 CE

Themes: Marriage

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“We grasp at everything, but catch nothing except wind.”

Montaigne
1533 – 1592 CE

Themes: Desire

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“The first great rule of life… is to put up with things.”

Balthasar Gracian
1601 – 1658 CE

Themes: Letting Go

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“Pretend to overlook things… Most things should remain unnoticed.”

Balthasar Gracian via Joseph Jacobs, #88
1601 – 1658 CE
from Art of Worldly Wisdom

Themes: Less is More

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“Without thinking of anything whatsoever, rest vividly awake in the practice of mind essence.”

Karma Chagme Rinpoche I ཀརྨ་ཆགས་མེད་རཱ་ག་ཨ་སྱས། via Erik Pema Kunsang
1613 – 1678 CE
from Union of Mahamudra and Dzogchen

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“Consider how hard it is to change yourself and you’ll understand what little chance you have in changing others.”

Benjamin Franklin
1706 – 1790 CE
from Poor Richard's Almanack

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“Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, half shut afterwards..”

Benjamin Franklin
1706 – 1790 CE
from Poor Richard's Almanack

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“… men labor under a mistake. The better part of the man is soon polished into the soil for compost… they are employed laying up treasures which moth and rust will corrupt and thieves break through and steal. It is a fool’s life, as they will find when they get to the end of it, if not before.”

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

Themes: Business Greed

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“Wanting to reform the world without discovering one's true self is like trying to cover the world with leather to avoid the pain of walking on stones and thorns. It is much simpler to wear shoes.”

Ramana Maharshi
1879 – 1950 CE

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“Ultimately evil is done not so much by evil people, but by good people who do not know themselves and who do not probe deeply.”

Reinhold Niebuhr
1892 – 1971 CE

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“I wanted to change the world. But I have found that the only thing one can be sure of changing is oneself.”

Aldous Huxley
1894 – 1963 CE

Themes: Change

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“In order to change an existing paradigm you do not struggle to try and change the problematic model. You create a new model and make the old one obsolete.”

Buckminster Fuller
1895 – 1983 CE

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“Laziness in doing stupid things can be a great virtue.”

James Hilton
1900 – 1954 CE
from Lost Horizon

Themes: Integrity

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“To do something without thinking is the most important point in understanding ourselves… when you just do something, and when your mind is just acting as it is, that is how you catch your mind in the true sense.”

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi
1904 – 1971 CE
from Crooked Cucumber: the Life and Zen Teaching of Shunryu Suzuki

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“To lose the sense of sacredness of the world is a mortal loss. To injure our world by excesses of greed and ingenuity is to endanger our own sacredness.”

Ursula Le Guin
1929 – 2018 CE

Themes: Greed

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“You change the world by being yourself.”

Yoko Ono 小野 洋子
(“Ocean Child”)
1933 CE –

Themes: Know Yourself

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“A man who is willing to undertake the discipline and the difficulty of mending his own ways is worth more to the conservation movement than a hundred who are insisting merely that the government and the industries mend their ways.”

Wendell Berry
1934 CE –

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“it is absolutely important to make the practice of meditation your source of strength,your source of basic intelligence.”

Chögyam Trungpa
1939 – 1987 CE
from Journey Without Goal

Themes: Meditation

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