Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Chapter 41
Distilled Life

When the wise hear of the Tao,
They immediately follow it.
When the conventional hear,
They wonder if it’s true.
When the foolish hear,
They laugh out loud.
If there were no laughter,
It wouldn’t be the Tao.
Therefore these saying arose:

The brightest path seems dark,
Advancing seems like retreating,
The smoothest way seems rough,
The easy way seems hard,
Perfect whiteness looks dirty,
The strongest power seems weak,
The truest truth uncertain,
The pure and simple looks chaotic,
The highest virtue is empty like a valley,

The greatest square has no corners,
The greatest tool has no uses,
The greatest music has no sound,
The greatest image has no form.

The Tao is hidden and nameless
Yet it alone nourishes, sustains
And brings everything to fulfillment

Commentary

“There in the heat of Love, the pulsing rush of Longing, the lover’s whisper, irresistible–magic to make the sanest man go mad.”

Homer
850 BCE - ?
Primogenitor of Western culture

Themes: Sex Magic

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“There is geometry in the humming of the strings, there is music in the spacing of the spheres.”

Pythagorus
(of Samos)
570 – 495 BCE
"The most influential philosopher of all time"
from Golden Verses of Pythagoras Χρύσεα

Themes: Music Science

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“what is of value and wisdom of one man seems nonsense to another.”

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

Themes: Conformity

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“Talk sense to a fool and he calls you foolish.”

Euripides
480 – 406 BCE
Ancient humanitarian influence continuing today

Themes: Projection

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“Those who are able to see beyond the shadows and lies of their culture will never be understood, let alone believed, by the masses.”

Plato Πλάτων
428 – 348 BCE
from Republic Πολιτεία

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“When people laughed at him because he walked backward beneath the portico, he said to them: ‘Aren't you ashamed, you who walk backward along the whole path of existence, and blame me for walking backward along the path of the promenade?’”

Diogenes via Will Durant
(of Sinope)
412 – 323 BCE
from Life of Greece

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“I have never wished to cater to the crowd; for what I know they do not approve, and what they approve I do not know.”

Epicurus ɛpɪˈkjɔːrəs
341 – 270 BCE
from On Nature

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“If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.”

Epictetus Ἐπίκτητος
55 – 135 CE
from Discourses of Epictetus, Ἐπικτήτου διατριβαί

Themes: Inscrutable

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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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“If the right man preaches the wrong way, the way will follow the man and become right. If the wrong man preaches the right way, the way will follow the man and become wrong.”

Joshu, Zhàozhōu Cōngshěn 趙州從諗
778 – 897 CE

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“Name and reality are often at odds. The reality of the Tao remains hidden in no name.”

Lu Huiqing
1031 – 1111 CE

Themes: Inscrutable

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“These twelve sayings refer to the Tao as it appears to us. Wherever we look, we see its examples. The Tao as a whole, however, is hidden in namelessness.”

Su Che 呂洞 via Red Pine
1039 – 1112 CE
from Tao-te-chen-ching-chu

Themes: Anonymity

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“Operating without self they cannot be buried in the cocoon of past conditioning.”

Hóngzhì Zhēngjué 宏智正覺
(Shōgaku)
1091 – 1157 CE
from Cultivating the Emplty Field

Themes: Skillful Means

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“These people are deluded from the first and yet it is such fools that call me mad.”

Kālapa ཀཱ་ལ་པ། via Keith Dowman
("The Handsome Madman")
12th century CE
Mahasiddha #27
from Masters of Mahamudra

Themes: Crazy Wisdom

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“When inferior people hear of the Tao, even the ancient sages can’t keep them from laughing. Everyone in the world thinks existence is real. Who wouldn’t shake their head and laugh if they were told that existence wasn’t real and that non-existence was?”

Li Xizhai via Red Pine
(Li Hsi-Chai)
12th century CE
from Tao-te-chen-ching yi-chieh

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“Truth is a matter that can withstand mockery, this is freshened by any ironic gesture directed at it. Whatever cannot withstand satire is false.”

Dōgen Zenji 道元禅師
1200 – 1253 CE

Themes: Truth

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“The truth of things is a supreme food for fine intelligences, but not for wandering wits.”

Leonardo da Vinci
1452 – 1519 CE

Themes: Truth

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“Think with the few and speak with the many… Truth is for the few, error is both common and vulgar… The wise person therefore retires into silence and if he allows himself to come out of it he does so in the shade and before few and fit persons.”

Balthasar Gracian
1601 – 1658 CE

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“It is great and wise to be ill at ease when your deeds please the mob!”

Balthasar Gracian via Joseph Jacobs, #28
1601 – 1658 CE

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“To be sane in a world of madman is in itself madness.”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau
1712 – 1778 CE

Themes: Crazy Wisdom

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“Great people, while being very wise, appear to be ignorant; while being very skillful, they appear inept… they cannot be influenced by circumstances… they are not concerned with externals… they find good fortune wherever they are.”

Liu Yiming 刘一明 via Thomas Cleary
(Liu I-ming)
1734 – 1821 CE
from Taoist I Ching, , Zhouyi chanzhen 周易闡真

Themes: Skillful Means

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“It is unthinkable that wisdom should ever be popular.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe via Eckermann
1749 – 1832 CE
from Faust, part I

Themes: Wisdom

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“Truth has to be repeated constantly, because Error also is being preached all the time, and not just by a few, but by the multitude… happy and comfortable in the knowledge of having Majority on its side.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
1749 – 1832 CE

Themes: Illusion

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“Tell a wise person, or else keep silent, because the mass man will mock it right away.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
1749 – 1832 CE

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“The more narrow-minded a system is the more it will please worldly-wise people.”

Novalis
1772 – 1831 CE

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“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”

Arthur Schopenhauer
1788 – 1860 CE

Themes: Truth

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“Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson
1803 – 1882 CE

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“Each place has its own advantages - heaven for the climate, and hell for the society.”

Mark Twain
(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)
1835 – 1910 CE

Themes: Travel

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“for business reasons, I must preserve the outward signs of sanity.”

Mark Twain
(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)
1835 – 1910 CE

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“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to reform… Out of all the things I have lost, I miss my mind the most.”

Mark Twain
(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)
1835 – 1910 CE

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“The higher we soar the smaller we appear to those who cannot fly.”

Friedrich Nietzsche
1844 – 1900 CE
from Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Themes: Inscrutable

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“an honest being who does not behave absurdly has no chance at all of becoming famous, or even of being noticed, however kind and sensible he may be.”

G. I. Gurdjieff
1866 – 1949 CE

Themes: Crazy Wisdom

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“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

Mahatma Gandhi
1869 – 1948 CE

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“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”

G. K. Chesterton
1874 – 1936 CE

Themes: Christianity

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“If you are going through hell, keep going.”

Winston Churchill
1874 – 1965 CE

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“Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.”

Winston Churchill
1874 – 1965 CE

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“If one does not understand a person, one tends to regard him as a fool.”

Carl Jung
1875 – 1961 CE

Themes: Confusion

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“Wisdom cannot be imparted. Wisdom that a wise man attempts to impart always sounds like foolishness to someone else”

Hermann Hesse
1877 – 1962 CE
from Siddhartha

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“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”

Albert Einstein
1879 – 1955 CE

Themes: Crazy Wisdom

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“Every man has his folly, but the greatest folly of all … is not to have one.”

Nikos Kazantzakis
1883 – 1957 CE
from Zorba the Greek

Themes: Crazy Wisdom

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“Woe to whoever commences his life without lunacy.”

Nikos Kazantzakis
1883 – 1957 CE
from Zorba the Greek

Themes: Crazy Wisdom

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“We do not pass through the same door twice or return to the door through which we did not pass.”

T.S. Eliot
1888 – 1965 CE

Themes: Travel

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“The vast majority of human beings dislike and even actually dread all notions with which they are not familiar... Hence it comes about that at their first appearance innovators have generally been persecuted, and always derided as fools and madmen.”

Aldous Huxley
1894 – 1963 CE

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“You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you mad.”

Aldous Huxley
1894 – 1963 CE

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“Then you will say to them, 'Yes, the stars always make me laugh!' And they will think you are crazy.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
1900 – 1944 CE

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“...they didn’t think there was anything very odd in anyone being a little odd.”

James Hilton
1900 – 1954 CE
from Lost Horizon

Themes: Crazy Wisdom

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“You can’t be so stuck up, so inhuman, that you want to be pure, your soul wrapped in a plastic bag.”

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

Themes: Moral Freedom

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“You’ve made a blondie out of Jesus… You’ve tried to make him into an Anglo-Saxon Fuller Brush salesman, a long haired Billy Graham… it is dishonest.”

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

Themes: Christianity

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“In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is a hallucinating idiot...for he sees what no one else does: things that, to everyone else, are not there.”

Marshall McLuhan
1911 – 1980 CE

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“There is no question that the kind of thought and culture represented by Chuang Tzu was what transformed highly speculative Indian Buddhism into the humorous, iconoclastic, and totally practical kind of Buddhism what was to flourish in China and in Japan in the various schools of Zen.”

Thomas Merton
1915 – 1968 CE

Themes: Buddhism Taoism

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“Much of what we call History is the success stories of madmen.”

John Holt
1923 – 1985 CE
from How Children Fail

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“The whole educational and professional training system is a very elaborate filter, which just weeds out people who are too independent, and who think for themselves… because they're dysfunctional to the institutions.”

Noam Chomsky
1928 CE –

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“From the point of view of samsara, Buddha is mad.”

Chögyam Trungpa
1939 – 1987 CE
from Illusion's Game

Themes: Crazy Wisdom

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“… crazy wisdom is absolute perceptiveness, with fearlessness and bluntness… being wise, but not holding to particular doctrines or disciplines or formats. There aren’t any books to follow, only endless spontaneity… all activity is created by the environment.”

Chögyam Trungpa
1939 – 1987 CE
from Journey Without Goal

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“What seems to be insane is enlightenment.”

Chögyam Trungpa
1939 – 1987 CE
from Illusion's Game

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“It's weird not to be weird.”

John Lennon
1940 – 1980 CE

Themes: Paradox

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“Jesus was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me.”

John Lennon
1940 – 1980 CE

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“And if my thought-dreams could be seen... they'd probably put my head in a guillotine.”

Bob Dylan
1941 CE –

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“Those who do not pursue praise and gain, those who do not shun criticism and loss may be stigmatized as insane because they cannot be lured by material gain, don’t look for thrills, have no face to lose, never do anything to impress people.”

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

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Comments (3)

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  1. Shan Dao
    Birds sing the same songs over and over, generation to generation. As a force of evolutionary conservatism most animals have a narrow range of sounds narrowly repeated again and again. Humans feel independent and unique yet like most animal species, think and repeat the same thoughts and beliefs as their parents, their ancestors, and their cultures. Evolutionary change makers however say something new accepting antipathy and often persecution from the herd committed to the status quo, against change, and afraid of any new notes.
  2. Shan Dao
    Chögyam Trungpa quotes the “Water of Madness” story – an ancient tale, possibly early Egyptian and popular in the Sufi Tradition describing how in a confused, insane world; wisdom seems mad.
    http://www.uexpress.com/tell-me-a-story/2012/3/25/the-water-of-madness-a-sufi
    and
    http://eden-saga.com/en/initiation-tales-tradition-atlantis-water-of-madness.html
  3. Shan Dao
    We translate the three levels described in this chapter as “wise, conventional, and foolish.” Paul Carus and Red Pine use “superior, average, and inferior;” John Wu translates as “wise, mediocre, and worthless;” Le Guin “thoughtful, ordinary, and thoughtless;” Thomas Cleary “superior, middling, and lesser;” not as a translation but in teachings, Chögyam Trungpa uses “rising sun, conventional, and setting sun.”