Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Chapter 53
Shameless Thieves

Those with even a little sense
Walk the Way humbly
And arrogance is all they fear.
This way is smooth and straight
But people love their sidetracks.

When mansions are full of splendor;
Fields are full of weeds,
Farms are poor and wild,
And the granaries are empty.

These are the real robber barons,
The worst of lowly brigands
With the vanity of thieves:

People wearing wealth
With weapons at their side
Over-filled with food and drink
Hoarding what they do not need.

Commentary

“Better poverty without a care than wealth with its many obligations.”

Aesop 620 – 546 BCE
Hero of the oppressed and downtrodden
from Aesop's Fables, the Aesopica

Themes: Wealth

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“We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office.”

Aesop 620 – 546 BCE
Hero of the oppressed and downtrodden
from Aesop's Fables, the Aesopica

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“As soon as laws are necessary for men, they are no longer fit for freedom.”

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

Themes: Law and Order

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“In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.”

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

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“The man is happiest who lives from day to day and asks no more, garnering the simple goodness of life.”

Euripides 480 – 406 BCE
Ancient humanitarian influence continuing today

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“Contentment is natural wealth, luxury is artificial poverty.”

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

Themes: Poverty Wealth

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“Aren't you ashamed to care so much to make all the money you can, and to advance your reputation and prestige -while for truth and wisdom and the improvement of your soul you have no care or worry?”

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

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“Honesty is for the most part less profitable than dishonesty.”

Plato Πλάτων 428 – 348 BCE

Themes: Materialism

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“good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws”

Plato Πλάτων 428 – 348 BCE
from Republic Πολιτεία

Themes: Law and Order

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“In a rich man's house there is no place to spit but his face.”

Diogenes 412 – 323 BCE
(of Sinope)

Themes: Wealth

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“When he saw temple officials arresting someone who had stolen a bowl from them, Diogenes said, "The great thieves are leading away the little thief."”

Diogenes 412 – 323 BCE
(of Sinope)

Themes: Crime Punishment

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“Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime.”

Aristotle Ἀριστοτέλης 382 – 322 BCE

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“The petty thief is imprisoned but the big thief becomes an investment banker (Chuang Tzu used ‘feudal lord’).”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 369 – 286 BCE
(Zhuangzi)

Themes: Crime

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“When the court is in good repair, lawsuits abound. When lawsuits abound, fields become overgrown. When fields beome overgrown, granaries beome empty. When granaries become empty, the country becomes poor. When the country becomes poor, customs become decadent, and there is no trick people don’t try.”

Hán Fēi 韓非 280 – 233 BCE

Themes: Crime

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“In a degenerate society, those who possess the wealth of the land and are in positions of authority over others exhaust the energy of the common people to serve their own sensual desires.”

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

Themes: Wealth

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“Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

Jesus 3 BCE – 30 CE

Themes: Wealth

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“An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.”

Plutarch 46 – 120 CE
(Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus)

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“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.”

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

Themes: Wealth

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“A wild dog with honey rubbed on its nose madly devours whatever it sees.”

Lūipa ལཱུ་ཨི་པ། 8th century CE via Keith Dowman
(“The Fish-Gut Eater” )
Mahasiddha #1
from Masters of Mahamudra

Themes: Desire

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“The winds are burdened by the utterly awful stink of evil, selfish goings-on. Thunderstorms menace. The air belches out the filthy uncleanliness of the peoples. The earth should not be injured! The earth must not be destroyed!”

Hildegard of Bingen 1098 – 1179 CE

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“Without army, no king; without revenues, no army; without taxes, no revenue; without agriculture, no taxes; without just government, no agriculture”

Ibn Khaldun أبو زيد عبد الرحمن بن محمد بن خلدون الحضرمي 1332 – 1406 CE

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“There are no wise mega-rich people - who could look out upon this world and hoard what could nourish a thousand souls. ”

Kabīr कबीर 1399 – 1448 CE

Themes: Wealth

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“They force people to turn to stealing and then try to rule with cleverness and laws. But the more laws they make, the more thieves appear.”

Deqing 1546 – 1623 CE
(Te-Ch’ing)

Themes: Crime

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“All laws which can be violated without doing any one any injury are laughed at. Nay, so far are they from doing anything to control the desires and passions of men that, on the contrary, they direct and incite men's thoughts the more toward those very objects, for we always strive toward what is forbidden and desire the things we are not allowed to have. And men of leisure are never deficient in the ingenuity needed to enable them to outwit laws framed to regulate things which cannot be entirely forbidden... He who tries to determine everything by law will foment crime rather than lessen it.”

Baruch Spinoza 1632 – 1677 CE

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“it being more difficult for a man in want to act honestly… ‘it is hard for an empty sack to stand upright.’”

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

Themes: Crime

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“I have never seen the Philosopher’s Stone that turns lead into Gold, but I have known the pursuit of it turn a Man’s Gold into Lead.”

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

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“In truth, laws are always useful to those with possessions and harmful to those who have nothing; from which it follows that the social state is advantageous to men only when all possess something and no one has too much.”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1712 – 1778 CE

Themes: Law and Order

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“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.”

Abraham Lincoln 1809 – 1865 CE

Themes: Power

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“My greatest skill in life has been to want but little.”

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

Themes: Skillful Means

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“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”

Frederick Douglass 1818 – 1895 CE
International symbol of social justice

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“When the gap between the highly educated and the practical, working classes gets too big, the former will have no influence and the latter no benefit.”

Henry Thomas Buckle 1821 – 1862 CE
from History of Civilization

Themes: Equality

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“I am opposed to millionaires, but it would be dangerous to offer me the position.”

Mark Twain 1835 – 1910 CE
(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)

Themes: Wealth

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“I wish I could make him understand that a loving good heart is riches enough, and that without it intellect is poverty.”

Mark Twain 1835 – 1910 CE
(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)

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“Now he found out a new thing - namely, that to promise not to do a thing is the surest way in the world to make a body want to go and do that very thing.”

Mark Twain 1835 – 1910 CE
(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)

Themes: Desire Strategy

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“‘And what does it amount to?’ said Satan, with his evil chuckle. ‘Nothing at all. You gain nothing… Who gets a profit out of it? Nobody but a parcel of usurping little monarchs and nobilities who despise you… whom you slave for, fight for, die for… it is the foundation upon which all civilizations have been built.’”

Mark Twain 1835 – 1910 CE
(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)

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“It is perhaps a more fortunate destiny to have a taste for collecting shells than to be born a millionaire.”

Robert Louis Stevenson 1850 – 1894 CE

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“If you have ten thousand regulations you destroy all respect for the law.”

Winston Churchill 1874 – 1965 CE

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“No one can flatter himself that he is immune to the spirit of his own epoch, or even that he possesses a full understanding of it. Irrespective of our conscious convictions, each one of us, without exception, being a particle of the general mass, is somewhere attached to, colored by, or even undermined by the spirit which goes through the mass.”

Carl Jung 1875 – 1961 CE
Insightful shamanistic scientist

Themes: Pluralism

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“Money only appeals to selfishness and irresistibly invites abuse. Can anyone imagine Moses, Jesus, or Gandhi armed with the money-bags of Carnegie.”

Albert Einstein 1879 – 1955 CE

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“You often say ; I would give, but only to the deserving. The trees in your orchard say not so, nor the flocks in your pasture… For in truth it is life that gives unto life-while you, who deem yourself a giver, is but a witness.”

Kahlil Gibran 1883 – 1931 CE

Themes: Compassion

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“It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong.”

Will (and Ariel) Durant 1885 – 1981 CE

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“To his dog, every man is Napoleon; hence the constant popularity of dogs.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE

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“Where there are too many policemen, there is no liberty. Where there are too many soldiers, there is no peace. Where there are too many lawyers, there is no justice.”

Lín Yǔtáng 林語堂 1895 – 1976 CE

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“… crime was very rare, partly because only serious things were considered crimes, and partly because everyone enjoyed a sufficiency of everything he could reasonably desire.”

James Hilton 1900 – 1954 CE
from Lost Horizon

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“land, water, air, the earth and what lies beneath its surface cannot be owned as someone’s private property. That belongs to everybody, and if man wants to survive, he had better come around to this Indian point of view, the sooner the better, because there isn’t much time left to think it over.”

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

Themes: Water

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“So much for capitalism.”

Ursula Le Guin 1929 – 2018 CE

Themes: Capitalism

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“In the absence of the sacred, nothing is sacred - everything is for sale.”

Oren Lyons 1930 CE –

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“A corporation, essentially, is a pile of money to which a number of persons have sold their moral allegiance.”

Wendell Berry 1934 CE –

Themes: Money Economics

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“The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our only hope.”

Wendell Berry 1934 CE –

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“Fundamentally we have no idea what we are doing or what we are experiencing, and we are completely missing the point all the time.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE
from Journey Without Goal

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“Let me ask you one question,
Is your money that good?
Will it buy you forgiveness?
Do you think that it could?
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul.”

Bob Dylan 1941 CE –

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“Financial dealings have become a religious activity... People worship capital, adore its aura, genuflect before Porsches and land values”

Haruki Murakami 1949 CE – via Alfred Birnbaum
from Dance, Dance, Dance

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“The ones who did it always rationalize their actions and even forget what they did… But the surviving victims can never forget… That’s what the world is, after all: an endless battle of contrasting memories.”

Haruki Murakami 1949 CE – via Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel
from 1Q84

Themes: Forget Memory

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“If it were not for certain people's greed for wealth, the highways would be filled with cars powered by the sun, and no one would be starving. Such advances are technologically and physically possible, but apparently not emotionally possible.”

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

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“The lie that happiness is about borrowing money you haven’t got to buy crap you don’t need”

David Mitchell 1969 CE –
from The Bone Clocks

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“… from such an array of vultures, from feudal lords to slave traders to oligarchs to neocons to predators like you. All of you strangle your consciences, and ethically you strike yourselves dumb.”

David Mitchell 1969 CE –
from The Bone Clocks

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