Founded by a destitute, peasant farmer, and Buddhist Monk; the Ming Dynasty overthrew the Mongol government and established one of the truly great, Chinese golden ages. With a standing army of over one million and the world’s largest-ever navy, the Ming sent fleets with over 2000 ships carrying libraries of over 11,000 books each all over the world spreading advanced civilization and science at every port. They sailed through the Strait of Magellan 98 years before Magellan, up and down the North American coasts 70 years before Columbus, surveyed the Arctic polar region and Antarctica 400 years before Europeans, Australia 300 years before Captain Cook, and rounded the Cape of Good Hope 66 years before the Portuguese Dias. Many modern scholars credit this with "reshaping Asia" and propose that all of 15th century naval history was basically this story and the consequences of these voyages. With a government based on the Tao Te Ching, Taoist principles, and Tibetan Buddhism; corruption greatly diminished, a new legal code considered one of the greatest achievements of the age was written, the Forbidden City was built and a world-wide surge in science, education, and religious tolerance ensued.
Agrippa (Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim)
1486 – 1535 CE
Historian of the occult and early, important influence on science
Physician, soldier, polymath, theologian, and the most important magic occultist of his age; Agrippa pushed hard on the ideological and religious belief boundaries of his time and, as a consequence, found himself at odds with inquisitors, banished, imprisoned, and continually threatened. His books shifted historical trends. One attacking the contemporary state of science influenced writers like Goethe, Montaigne, and Descartes. A book he wrote in 1529 argued for the moral and spiritual superiority of women and his 3-volume Occult Philosophy (printed 1531-1533) became a foundational resource for Occultists then and now. In Mary Shelley's famous novel, his writing are described as a major influence on the young Victor Frankenstein and he's similarly cited in works by Christopher Marlowe, Søren Kierkegaard, and J. K. Rowling.
1601 – 1658 CE
Spanish Jesuit, philosopher and prolific writer, Gracian amplified the slogan/quote tradition of Aesop, Yang Xiung, the Dhammapada, Atisa and continued by Erasmus and Ben Franklin. At times highly respected, he was also exiled by outraged superiors for his provocative philosophy and lost his teaching tenure. An important influence on Nietzsche, Voltaire, Schopenhauer and Winston Churchill; his book Art of Worldly Wisdom - translated into many languages – continues today as a best seller and exceptionally valuable resource of helpful advice.
Bankei 盤珪永琢 (Bankei Yōtaku)
1622 – 1693 CE
Along with Dogen and Hakuin, one of the most influential Japanese Zen masters, Bankei developed a teaching he called “Unborn Zen” - a refinement D. T. Suzuki called “one of the most original developments in the entire history of Zen thought.” As a student, Bankei traveled widely, studied Confucian texts, practiced
Shin Buddhism, studied with many famous scholars, became a monk, but remained unsatisfied. Seriously ill and with a fatal prognosis, a near-death experience led to his enlightenment and return to health. Refusing a senior position in his monastery, he instead worked in the kitchen and then moved to the mountains living as a hermit and developing his teaching of seeing into the true nature of existence.
Bankei Yōtaku 盤珪永琢
1622 – 1693 CE
Zen Master of the unborn
Along with Dogen and Hakuin, one of the most influential Zen masters, Bankei developed a description of realization he called "Unborn Zen." D. T. Suzuki thought this one one of the most important and original descriptions in all the history of Zen. A rebellious child always getting into trouble, his early studies with Confucian and Buddhist scholars led to frustration for both Bankei and his teachers, to him getting expelled from his family home and having to live in a neighbor's tiny hut. He practiced so long and so hard that his health deteriorated to an extent causing his doctor to predict an imminent death. Healed by his realization however, he lived another 48 years. Refusing a high status position in his monastery, he worked in the kitchen and later lived alone in the mountains.
1632 – 1677 CE
One of the most important, radical, and influential philosophers in the modern era, Spinoza established a strong foundation for democratic political thought, the 18th-century Enlightenment, and a view beyond sectarian religion. Known as ”the prince of philosophers” and one of our greatest thinkers, Spinoza was born Jewish but was excommunicated at an early age. Criticized and ridiculed during his life, he was an important inspiration for Karl Marx, Nietzsche, Goethe, Santayana, Borges, and the deep ecology movement. Albert Einstein said Spinoza was the biggest influence on his world view.
Bassui Tokushō 抜隊 得勝
1327 – 1387 CE
Meditation master without distraction
A student of Sōtō and Rinzai as well as Ch'an schools, Bassui criticized the state of practice and realization during his time. He thought most teachers and students either tilted either too far toward understanding only the words or too far toward only trying to understand the sense; either too much emphasis on dogma and form or too much on freedom and spontaneity. Personally, he refused to wear robes or engage in the traditional rituals and focused on meditation practice itself. He preferred solitude and lonely hermitages; but, because of his clear realization, large numbers of students continually followed and sought him out.
Bhikṣanapa བྷི་ཀྵ་ན་པ། ("Siddha Two-Teeth")
940 CE –
Bhikshanapa བྷི་ཀྵ་ན་པ། “Siddha Two-Teeth” (10th century CE)
Low caste and very poor, Bhikshanapa unexpectedly inherited some wealth. Like most people today winning a lottery or inheriting unaccustomed riches, he quickly lost it all along with his fair-weather friends. This led to a period of intense self-loathing and depression but also an openness to meeting and hearing a teacher and new way of experiencing the world. Seeing through his consumerism andspiritual materialism, he metaphorically (and possibly physically too), lost all but two of his teeth which became symbols for the balance and harmony of wisdom and skillful means. Resuming his external life style of roaming from village to village, he transformed from a miserable, needy beggar only thinking about himself into a wonderful teacher constantly dedicated to helping others. Mahasiddha #61
1623 – 1662 CE
One of the greatest French writers of all time
Theologian, inventor, physicist, philosopher; Pascal invented the mechanical calculator, set up the first bus line moving passengers, became one of the greatest French writers, and developed probability theory which has become critical to economics, actuarial science, and the way we understand decision-making and risk. Although he identified with Jansenism which emphasized original sin and human depravity and frequently fixated on religious dogma, his understanding extended to a deep realization of our strong propensity toward projection and self-deception as well as a philosophy of cutting through this kind of deceit and duplicity. His significant scientific contributions led to attaching his name to a programming language, a unit of pressure, and a hydrostatic law. Will Durant called one of his writings, "the most eloquent book in French prose.”
Bunan 至道無難 (Shido Bunan Zenji Munan)
1603 – 1676 CE
When young and known as the “Kana-writing boy” because of his skills, Bunan started practicing Zen and became a married innkeeper but also an addicted gambler and alcoholic. A chance encounter with a teacher, Gudo led to a radical life change, his enlightenment, and a recognition of the corruption that had entered the Rinzai Zen tradition. He became a famous poet, the teacher of Shoju Etan, teacher to Hakuin who revitalized Japanese Zen, and started many of the modern lines of Zen masters. Bunan eschewed fame and fortune, conventionality, rules, and following the words of the teaching rather than the sense.
Campaka ཙ་མྤ་ཀ (“The Flower King”)
820 CE –
Extremely wealthy, powerful, caught up in pleasure, and sitting on a throne made from sweet-smelling flowers; Kampala met a wandering yogi. He tried to impress the sage with the splendors of his kingdom and the beauty of his flowers but the sage told him the truth, that his flowers smelled great but his body not so much, that his realm was wonderful but before long it and he would be gone. Realizing the superficiality and meaninglessness of his life, Kampala began a spiritual path but only shifted his physical materialism into spiritual materialism. Directed to focus his meditation on “the flower of pure reality,” he practiced and finally realized the empty essence of his mind. Mahasiddha #60
Catherine di Medici
1519 – 1589 CE
Queen of France, niece of Pope Leo X, mother of 3 kings and 2 queens (after resorting to using cow dung and drinking mule's urine), and one of the most influential people of her time; Catherine di Medici’s famous parents died from syphilis shortly after her birth and she was immediately caught up in political intrigues which at one point forced her into a convent for 3 of her happiest years. For 30 years she sponsored musicians, painters, sculptors, architects, Montaigne, and every branch of art. Continually working for peace in a time of many wars, she tried to reconcile Catholic-Protestant factions but underestimating the power of belief over reason this only generated wars that brought to the surface her great political and strategic skills but also earned her acclaim as a Machiavellian witch.
Chén Jìrú 陳繼儒
1558 – 1639 CE
Collector and publisher of rare books, powerful influence on Chinese culture and taste during the 16th century, Chen’s influence continues today. His book, Tea Talks (茶董補) written in 1595 is still popular and quoted in Japan, China, and here now. Creator of the Yixing-style purple clay teapots, his innovations in pottery, painting, literature, and calligraphy continue. Instead of taking the familiar path of respected literati and entering politics, Chen burnt his scholar robes as a symbol of rejecting that path and as a launching into a solitary lifestyle immersed in Buddhism and Taoism. Originator of the famous crane soaring among clouds image, he wrote an autobiography that included his imaginary death.
Chiao Hung (Jiao Hung)
1540 – 1620 CE
A voice for the real, for substance, for seeing through concepts and artificiality, and an author of one of the most useful Tao Te Ching compilations, the Lao-tzu-yi written in 1587; Chiao Hung included his own thoughts as well as mainly Sung dynasty commentators. Writing during a time of radical change from Ming Neo-Confucianism into new forms, his influence helped restructure Neo-Confucianism, and brought a resurgence of Taoist insight and influence into Chinese philosophical history.
1473 – 1543 CE
Creator of one of history's greatest revolutions
From our point of view, such a simple and obvious proposition—that the Earth rotates around the Sun. At his time and place in history, however, Copernicus created one of the most far-reaching revolutions of understanding in the history of the world. Mathematician, astronomer, physician, translator, diplomat, economist, polyglot and polymath; his celestial theory threatened the powerful Catholic Church so much it was considered an atheistic blasphemy and because Galileo agreed with it, he was incarcerated for the last nine years of his life. An early humanist, he also developed an important economic concept and theory of money, translated poems from Greek to Latin, and even became an effective and influential government official.
Cosimo de’ Medici
1389 – 1464 CE
Inheritor of a huge fortune; wandering bibliophile; owner of banks, businesses, farms, and factories; friend to cardinals and sultans alike; founder and “first among equals” leader of a political dynasty that helped begin and extend the Renaissance; Cosimo de’ Medici did what the rich need to do today: use their wealth to benefit the world instead of only themselves. In his own and other countries he strongly supported public works, charities, and libraries; funded the work of poets, artists, scholars and philosophers; established an academy for the study of Plato and launched the Renaissance revolution of philosophy over the Middle Ages’ scholasticism - the sense over the words.
1546 – 1623 CE
A leading Buddhist monk and poet during the Ming Dynasty, Deqing had a big influence on the Wanli Emperor but was caught in the middle of political conflict between the emperor and his mother as well as tensions between powerful Daoists and Buddhists. In 1595 he was put on trial, imprisoned, and later exiled. His monastery (one of the largest Buddhist centers in China) was burned to the ground. Pardoned after 20 years, he resumed his wandering, teaching, and altruism. Regarded as one of the great reformers of Chinese Buddhism during the later Ming Dynasty, he was renowned and admired as poet, teacher and commentator. Lao-tzu tao-te ching-chieh, Red Pine
Descartes (René Descartes)
1596 – 1650 CE
Though remaining a Catholic, solidifying the dualistic view in Western thought as well as "Cogito ergo sum" belief in a separate self; Descartes emphasized methodic doubt and the impossibility of externally based intellectual certainty undermining faith in belief and Church doctrine. This sparked a thought revolution that created the modern era. He developed analytic geometry (using x, y, and z for unknowns) and using superscripts for powers or exponents, discovered the law of reflection, and the basis for the development of calculus. Known as the “father of modern philosophy,” he changed the course of Western philosophy and his influence continues to this day.
Elizabeth I (Gloriana, The Virgin Queen)
1533 – 1603 CE
Though far from a sage or saint, Elizabeth began her reign with England reviled and powerless but left it 45 years later rich and strong. Called by historians “The greatest ruler England has ever had,” she was patron to Shakespeare, Bacon, Marlowe, and Drake launching the scientific revolution and a golden age of progress and learning. Excommunicated by Pope Pius V, she believed that faith was personal, became “mother of the Church of England.” She opened up trade with the Islamic Ottoman Empire, and helped end the Vatican’s power over all Europe. Though stained by abuses in Ireland, she listened to popular sentiment and advice dedicating her life to her country and people becoming a symbol for good government and resistance to foreign threat.
Erasmus (Desiderius Roterodamus)
1466 – 1536 CE
"Greatest scholar of the northern Renaissance"
"Prince of the Humanists,” famous translator, globalist and true citizen of the world; Erasmus emphasized a middle way approach between Luther and the Pope during the Reformation angering both sides. Not many know much about about him but his legacy is well known in the sayings and phrases he compiled and popularized. Some of his sayings like “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence,” “God helps those who help themselves,” “Don’t put the cart before the horse,” “Leave no stone unturned,” “In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king,” “No sooner said then done,” “Between a rock and a hard place,” “Call a spade a spade,” “Women – can’t live with them or without them,” “Like father like son,” “To look a gift horse in the mouth,” “To break the ice,” “To cut to the quick,” “One step at a time,” “A necessary evil,” “What’s done cannot be undone,” “Up to his eyeballs,” “To sleep on it,” have not only entered into common conversation; but also, become a powerful influence on Western culture.
1561 – 1626 CE
“Father of the scientific method,” Lord Chancellor of England, orator, jurist, and philosopher; Francis Bacon represents a huge step in the evolution of consciousness but not before indulging in a sybaritic lifestyle, being charged with 23 cases of corruption, being banned from Parliament and imprisoned in the Tower of London. In his ex-con life, he undermined the strength of religion, railed against tradition and authority, became “the most powerful and influential intellect of his time,” warned of the rich getting too rich as a cause of social disease and revolt, the likelihood of new inventions causing more harm than help, and championed the rise of reason and science that brought about our modern world.
1564 – 1642 CE
Arrested by the Inquisition for the last 9 years of his life but called by Einstein “the father of modern science;” books banned by the Catholic Church but called by Stephen Hawking responsible for the birth of modern science; condemned and persecuted by conservative contemporaries but called by Grotius “the greatest mind of all time;” Galileo – though living in a time when “heretics” were burned at the stake – raised the status of science, with his telescope designs demonstrated the universe’s immensity, and helped science separate from both philosophy and religion.
1523 – 1554 CE
Unrecognized during her life with only 4 of her more than 300 sonnets and poems published, Gaspara is now considered one of the best 16th century lyricists and greatest Italian woman poet of any time. From a merchant class and not nobility like the other poets of her time, she didn’t let her humble origin and lack of credentials stop her from writing some of the most memorable works of her era. Also a wonderful singer and lute player, she transformed the pain of unrequited love into inspired artistic creation that became a milestone in women's literature and a huge inspiration for Rainer Maria Rilke and many others.
1343 – 1400 CE
“Father of English literature”
Scientist, philosopher, diplomat, “Father of English literature,” and greatest Middle Ages English poet; Chaucer transitioned literature in French and Latin to an English for the English-speaking. Also a page, bureaucrat, soldier, messenger, administrator, and valet; he portrayed and spoke for the common person. This support for the populace however created a backlash from the monarchy and he was fined and imprisoned. Claimed by the Protestant movement as an early forefather, he tried to separate religion from superstition, was rumored to have beaten up a Franciscan Friar on a public street, and supported religious reform.
1548 – 1600 CE
Giordano Bruno (1548 – 1600)
Like Galileo, a "martyr of science," Dominican friar, Epicurean poet, cosmological mathematician; Bruno fled his monastery and wandered through France and Italy teaching. Burned at the stake by the Roman Inquisition for his scientific, pantheistic, and Epicurean views; Bruno first described stars as distant suns with planets of their own, championed the Copernican view that the earth is not the center of the universe, and taught the dangerous view that likewise people and our civilizations are not the center of the cosmos but only a tiny part of something much larger. This led to an 8-year trial, his torture and death but also a strong foundation for the newly emerging sciences and the openness to free thought.
Giorgio Vasari dʒordʒo vaˈzaːri
1511 – 1574 CE
The first art historian, friend and student of Michelangelo, first to use in print the term "Renaissance,” architect, politician and painter; Vasari praised competition and was one of the first writers to use this term related to economics. The first to write a series of biographies about famous artists and describe the continuity of art, his dedication to artists and their art was so great that he once ran into the peril of a rioting crowd to rescue the pieces from an arm of Michelangelo’s statue “David” they had broken with a bench. Unlike many artists unrecognized until after their death, he was famous during his lifetime, became very wealthy, and even a powerful politician.
Giovanni Boccaccio dʒoˈvanni bokˈkattʃo
1313 – 1375 CE
Close student, friend and collaborator with the “Father of the Renaissance,” Petrarch; Boccaccio became a popular poet/writer, “the first Greek humanist in Western Europe,” and promoted the ancient literature, philosophy, and history which set the stage for the Renaissance. His book on classical mythology became a key reference for 400+ years and challenged Christian belief that only the Bible was relevant, that there was only harm in “pagan” writings. In an early nod to feminist proposition, he wrote the first collection devoted to the biographies of famous women. Living through a tumultuous time of political intrigue, the executions of his friends, bitter poverty and bad health; he resisted many of the era’s superstitious and setting-sun forces; translated works by Homer, Euripides, and Aristotle; and helped launch one of history’s most influential shifts, the Renaissance.
Guru Amar Das ਗੁਰੂ ਅਮਰ ਦਾਸ
1479 – 1574 CE
Born into a farming family and a shopkeeper by trade, Amar Das didn’t become the Sikh guru until he was 73 years old but still had a profound influence. He convinced the Muslim emperor Akbar to decrease the persecution of Sikhs and Hindus and to decrease taxes. Against guru wealth and luxury, strongly against the caste system and corruption of all kinds, he spoke against the practices of sati and purdah, wouldn’t let recluses and ascetics become Sikh or Sikhs visit Muslim holy places, and required that anyone who wanted to see him must first eat from the common kitchen.
Guru Angad ਗੁਰੂ ਅੰਗਦ ਦੇਵ
1504 – 1552 CE
The son of a merchant, refugee from Babar’s invasion, and chosen as successor by Guru Nanak over his own sons; Angad developed Gurmukhi script, the main way of writing the Punjabi language. This helped give Sikhs a strong identity and ability to study ancient wisdom in their own language without need of translation and separate from the Sanskrit religious traditions and solidify Sikhism as a separate religion. He was also a strong influence in undermining the caste system and furthering the Sikh vision of equality.
Guru Arjan ਗੁਰੂ ਅਰਜੁਨ ਦੇਵ
1563 – 1606 CE
Great musician and singer, youngest son of Guru Ram Das; Guru Arjan laid the foundation for the famous Golden Temple but instead of going along with the prevalent view that it should be the highest building in the area, emphasized humility and built it on the lowest elevation possible. And to counter the Muslim tradition of the entrance on the west and the Hindu version of it being in the east, he made entrances on all four side. Compiling the first edition of the Sikh “Bible,” Holy Guru Granth Sahib and avoiding sectarianism he included teachings of Hindu and Muslim saints. Jailed and tortured by a corrupt Muslim emperor, Arjan refused to convert or change his teachings and died changing the direction of Sikhism.
Guru Har Rai Ji ਗੁਰੂ ਹਰਿ ਰਾਇ
1630 – 1661 CE
A sensitive child disturbed when his robe accidentally hurt plants when he walked by, this seventh of the Sikh Ten Gurus remained a man of peace but continued the military tradition of his predecessor and kept over 2000 mounted soldiers at all times. He followed in the Sun Tzu tradition and won battles with strategy rather than aggression and violence. He stopped and prevented corruption, set up a medical research center, and established an Ayurvedic hospital. Herbs from these centers cured a serious and what was thought an incurable medical condition of the Mughal emperor’s son.
Guru Hargobind ਗੁਰੂ ਹਰਿ ਗੋਬਿੰਦ (Saccha Badshah ("True Emperor"))
1595 – 1644 CE
Founder of Kiratpur, builder of the Akal Takht, liberator of Hargobindpur, sixth and longest reigning Sikh guru, Guru Hargobind introduced weapons and martial arts into the Sikh tradition and in an effort to defend freedom of religion and defend against Islamic persecution, became the first Sikh Guru to engage in warfare. Persecuted, imprisoned and poisoned; he overcame obstacles, defeated superior Moghul forces, and united the practical and the spiritual, defense and compassion helping to establish the independence of Sikhs as their own political and religious force.
Guru Nanak Gurmukhi ਗੁਰੂ ਨਾਨਕ
1469 – 1539 CE
“One of the greatest religious innovators of all time” and founder of Sikhism – one of the world’s newest religions; Guru Nanak traveled widely learning and teaching in the non-thought lineage of non-duality beyond concepts of self and other. He spread a message of replacing revenge and anger with peace and kindness; of each person’s direct access to the highest realizations without need of priest or ritual; of the inseparability of spiritual and everyday life in the world. He set up a political-social-spiritual system based on goodness, virtue, and equality: a much-needed message for our modern world.
Guru Ram Das ਗੁਰੂ ਰਾਮ ਦਾਸ
1534 – 1581 CE
Leading a revolt against superstition, Guru Ram Das emphasized egocentrism as our main problem and - along with quiet meditation - actively helping others as the main remedy. He described the reason for his long beard as a way of dusting off the feet of others. He built the Sikhs’ holiest center, Amritsar, wrote a hymn still used in standard Sikh weddings, and emphasized the importance of deeds over caste, compassion over materialism. He exposed the hypocrisy of prejudice, misogyny, and cultural chauvinism disguised as religion and exemplified the way of direct realization beyond concept and form.
Guru Tegh Bahadur ਗੁਰੂ ਤੇਗ਼ ਬਹਾਦੁਰ
1621 – 1675 CE
Publicly beheaded by the Mughal Emperor after being tortured for many weeks because of refusing to convert to Islam, Tegh Bahadur’s father predicted when he was born, “He shall protect the weak and relieve their distress.” He sacrificed himself to protect the Hindus and Sikhs of Kashmir who were being persecuted and forced to convert to Islam and this event further condensed the Sikh community’s resolve to resist Muslim rule. He became a symbol for religious freedom and the protection of human rights while turning the tide of history for Sikhs, India and the Panjab setting the stage for a government based on social justice without prejudice based on color, caste, or religion.
Hafiz خواجه شمسالدین محمد حافظ شیرازی (Hafez, Shams-ud-Dīn Muḥammad)
1315 – 1394 CE
Inspiring friend to the true and free human spirit
Mystic poet, “tongue of the invisible,” living oracle, “a poet for poets,” one of the world’s best spiritual friends and guides; Hafiz wrote poems that dissolve the walls separating people from each other, from nature, and from sacred awareness. For centuries readers in the Persian world have used him as a kind of I Ching or astrology to find practical, personal, and wise advice for the quandaries of daily life. Even Queen Victoria is rumored to have used his poems in this way. Although a Sufi in the Islamic traditions, Hafiz obviously goes far beyond and kind of sectarian fixation and exposes a true realization of universal truth, the perennial philosophy, and authentic, sacred-world living.
Ibn Khaldun أبو زيد عبد الرحمن بن محمد بن خلدون الحضرمي
1332 – 1406 CE
One of the world’s greatest political theorists, considered one of the greatest philosophers of the Middle Ages, a founding father of modern economic theory, sociology, and demography; Ibn Khaldun was a a North African Arab historian who defined government as "an institution which prevents injustice other than such as it commits itself" and taught that government is a necessary evil that should be constrained to a minimum. Toynbee described his writing as “the greatest work of its kind that has ever yet been created by any mind in any time or place” and his influence is still strong throughout the world.
Indrabhūti ཨིནྡྲ་བྷཱུ་ཏི། ("The Enlightened Siddha-King")
892 CE –
Indrabhuti ཨིནྡྲ་བྷཱུ་ཏི། The Enlightened Siddha-King (late 9th century)
“The first tantrika,” archetypal tantric king, and inspiration for several tantric lineages; Indrabhuti for political reasons pledged his Buddhist sister Laksminkara in marriage to the prince of a neighboring Hindu kingdom. She went to live with the neighboring prince but soon became disillusioned with the materialism, superstition, and decadence of her new country. Late one night she fled the palace and found a cave in the mountains where she lived and practiced meditation, attained enlightenment and scandalously started teaching untouchables. This greatly upset the Hindu king but inspired Indrabhuti to do the same and leave the comfort of palace life to devote himself completely to his spiritual path. He rejected however a path that rejected sensual pleasure and sex and practiced the Guhyasamaja father-tantra in the Anuyoga Dzogchen lineage. Mahasiddha #42
1642 – 1726 CE
Natural philosopher, mathematician, astronomer, theologian, author and physicist, and one of the most influential scientists of all time; Newton built the first practical telescope, made critical discoveries in the field of optics, developed calculus, made numerous scientific discoveries and also studied alchemy. He established science over faith as the most profound influence on modern thought and his discovery of gravitation revolutionized the study of astronomy. He established the laws of motion and mechanics that became a platform for the modern miracles of science. Exemplifying Gracian’s dictum, “All giants are really dwarfs,” stories of Newton’s absentmindedness proliferate. Asked to boil an egg for 3 minutes, he put his watch in the water and stared at the eggs. He would do things like go upstairs to change for a formal dinner but instead get undressed and go to bed. Voltaire considered him one of the greatest men who have ever lived.
Isabella I (of Castile)
1445 – 1504 CE
Wise Renaissance queen, patron of the arts, strong centralizing leader, Christopher Columbus’ financier known for her fairness and justice, and the first woman depicted on both a US coin and US postal stamp; Isabella - after helping to reunify Spain, reorganized the government, dramatically brought down the debt and the crime rate to the lowest it had been in many years, and established Spain as the first global power dominating Europe for more than 100 years. Although she persecuted Jews and Muslims, her life was scrutinized by the Catholic Church for 500 years before being sainted in 1974 with the title, "Servant of God.”
Jālandhara ཛཱ་ལནྡྷ་ར་པ། ("The Ḍākinī's Chosen One")
888 CE –
Jalandhara ཛཱ་ལནྡྷ་ར་པ། “The Ḍākinī's Chosen One” (late 9th century)
Another wealthy and privileged brahmin who saw through the materialistic values of his culture and renounced it to search for a more meaningful life, Jalandhara left everything to live in a cremation ground meditating. Going on to become an important mother-tantra siddha, one of the nine naths, and guru to 10 of the 84 Mahasiddhas; he founded one of the two main nath lineages (A Hindu tradition favored by Kabir that blended Shaivism, Buddhism and Yoga traditions using Hatha Yoga to transform the physical into awakened perception of “absolute reality”), taught practices that unify the male and female forces, dissolve the subject/object dichotomy, and open the non-dual doors of perception. Mahasiddha #46
Jayānanda ཛ་ཡཱ་ནནྡ།། ("Crow Master")
11th - 12th century
A Tantric Buddhist master practicing in Bengal during a time when Buddhism was illegal, Jayananda was exposed by a jealous neighbor and imprisoned by the anti-Buddhist king. Before being captured though, he had befriended and fed a big flock of crows. In Tibetan culture crows are considered bad omens, capable of bringing great harm, and feared. But in a symbol of tantric transformation, Jayananda had made the crows allies. Then—metaphorically as crows or symbolically as an inclusion of the negative—the king was upended, reduced to hiding under his thrown, and as a consequence became a great and influential siddha himself. Mahasiddha #58
Joan of Arc Jeanne d'Arc
1412 – 1431 CE
Mystical, visionary warrior
Famous French heroine, Roman Catholic saint, warrior and mystical visionary; Joan of Arc was sent on a relief mission during the Hundred Years' War between France and England. Turning relief into victory, she quickly became a successful military leader and set up a final French victory. Captured by a group of dissident French nobles however, she refused to abandon her convictions and was burned at the state when still only 19 years old. This led to her beatification by the Church and Napoleon’s making her into a French national symbol. For subsequent generations, she became a powerful symbol of a brave and accomplished woman.
1572 – 1631 CE
Leading and inventive metaphysical poet, cleric, politician, womanizer, and one of the greatest love poets; John Donne brought a distinctive style filled with paradoxes and ironies to poems ranging in topic from deeply religious to vibrantly erotic. Fired and imprisoned because of a secret marriage, he lived in poverty for many years while devoting his attention to the idea of “true religion” beyond the superficiality of undigested concepts and superstitious belief. A strong influence on W. B. Yeats, Hemingway, T. S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas, Coleridge, W. H. Auden, Van Morrison, Robert Oppenheimer; his impact continues today with examples like the movie The Incredibles, that took its Nomanisan Island from his famous saying, "No man is an island.”
John of the Cross
1542 – 1591 CE
Mystic, religious poet, major Counter-Reformation influence, and Roman Catholic saint; John of the Cross became one of the best Spanish writers of all times. While imprisoned and tortured by conservative Carmelites opposed to reform, he wrote one of his most famous poems (Spiritual Canticle) on scraps of paper secretly given to him by his jailer. After a dramatic escape, he became a friend, supporter and confessor of Teresa of Ávila and founded the first monastery of friars following her principles. In the Christian mystical tradition of the Desert Fathers, Plotinus, and Meister Eckhart; he taught a perspective above sectarian in-fighting, rigid dogmatic views, and unthinking allegiance.
1320 – 1384 CE
Iconoclastic theologian, philosophical dissident, and champion of the common people; Wycliffe translated the Bible into English undermining Church authoritarianism and belief that people needed a spiritual mediator to tell them what was true, ethical and good. He criticized the political power, materialistic wealth and corruption common with the clergy and papal hierarchy of his time helping to even out the extreme rich-poor gap. He influenced Jan Hus, Martin Luther, and the beginnings of Protestantism; he was condemned as a heretic, his bones were dug up, his writings were burned and banned - and his influence continues.
1399 – 1448 CE
Formidable iconoclast and deeply spiritual but anti-religious leader, a simple weaver but greatest poet of his time and place; Kabīr was born and raised as a Muslim, studied with a Hindu guru, became critical of both traditions, was physically threatened by both and after he died revered and claimed by both. From his background of a Muslim father and Hindu mother, he worked tirelessly to unite both traditions with a wisdom beyond their sectarian views. An important influence on Guru Nanak and the founding of Sikhism, his poetry and wisdom continue today in mainstream Indian film, folk songs, and even progressive rock.
Karma Chagme Rinpoche I ཀརྨ་ཆགས་མེད་རཱ་ག་ཨ་སྱས།
1613 – 1678 CE
Considered a more modern-day mahasiddha, an accomplished scholar, and prolific writer who almost became the 9th Karmapa; at the age of 6, Karma Chagme began studying with his tantric siddha father, Pema Wangdrak, and learned magic ceremonies, geomancy, “white” and “black” astrology. He continued studying with the most realized Nyingma and Kagyu masters of his day, learned the entire cycle of Nyingma teachings, and became famous throughout Tibet while traveling for 1.5 years with the 7th Karmapa. He became a master in both the Mahamudra and Dzogchen traditions, devoted himself to Sukhāvatī practice, and became an emanation of "Red Avalokiteśvara.” His lineage continues and the current tülku lives today in the Kathmandu Valley.
Koṭālipa ཀོ་ཊཱ་ལི་པ། ("The Peasant Guru")
1084 CE –
Kotalipa ཀོ་ཊཱ་ལི་པ། “The Peasant Guru” (2nd half of eleventh century)A peasant farmer forced off his land by warring armies, for safety Kotalipa was forced to plant and harvest on a barren, rocky mountainside. The great teacher, Santipa while traveling back north from Sri Lanka met Kotalipa and asked him about his life. Using the details of Kotalipa’s experience, Santipa taught the perils of only understanding the literal meaning of spiritual practice and teachings, that only understanding the words and not the sense creates “a samsara death trap of poison.” Instead, he taught non-referential awareness, the two wings of the Garuda (virtue and insight), and each shovelful of cultivated earth as a non-dual experience of knowledge and emptiness. Kotalipa’s realization of these teachings became an example and inspiration for peasant/farmers everywhere. Mahasiddha #44
Kukkuripa ཀུ་ཀྐུ་རི་པ། ("The Dog Lover")
915 CE –
Kukkuripa “The Dog King” ཀུ་ཀྐུ་རི་པ། (10th century CE)
A wandering ascetic, Kukkuripa found and adopted a starving dog brought it back with him to the cave where he lived and meditated. Kukkuripa’s meditation practice took him to pleasurable, psychological god realms but memories of his dog connected him back to the real world where he saw his loyal dog sad, thin, and starving. Spurning the luxury, comfort and extravagance; he returned to the cold, dark, very uncomfortable cave out of compassion for the dog. The dog then became his teacher blending his mind-stream with the deepest insight of all the Buddhas. Naropa sent Marpa to study with him and he became one of Marpa’s most important teachers, famous for his songs of realization, and a “patron saint” for all the downtrodden and oppressed. Mahasiddha #34
Leonardo da Vinci
1452 – 1519 CE
One of the most talented people to have ever lived, original “Renaissance Man,” father of paleontology, ichnology, and architecture; with a passionate curiosity and interest in everything, da Vinci’s genius extended to science, music, mathematics, engineering, painting, architecture, sculpture, anatomy, geology, astronomy, botany, history, and cartography. Remarkable inventor, mystical pantheist, vegetarian, savior of caged birds, and exemplar of journey-without-goal, he wrote over 5000 pages but didn’t finish one book, many of his commissions, even some of his greatest paintings, and claimed that one of the his most famous paintings, The Mona Lisa was incomplete.
Lǐ Yú 李漁 (Li Liweng)
1610 – 1680 CE
“Artist of Living, playwright, actor, director, poet, novelist and "writer-entrepreneur;” Li Yu dropped out of the imperial exam process and instead of becoming an official traveled through China with his own acting troupe writing plays, acting and directing. A daring and creative writer described by biographers as the “most versatile and enterprising writer of his time,” he wrote the Carnal Prayer Mat which became a Chinese erotic classic, Errors caused by the Kite that endures as a Chinese opera favorite, The Arts of Living that continues its influence on practical wisdom, and translated many popular essays.
Lin Mo Niang 林默娘
970 CE –
Lin Mo Niang (silent girl) 林默娘 akaMa Zhou, Mazu, Matsu, Tian Hou (c. 970)
"Empress of Heaven,”patron of seafarers, Confucian, Taoist and Buddhist adept, rainmaker, and Fujianese shamaness from an impoverished and uneducated fishing village where no one could read; Lin Mo Niang lived during a time of mass migrations from China’s north when refugees blended their culture with her local one. Most popular today in Taiwan but banned in Mainland China, her following called Mazuism has over 1500 temples in 26 countries, and statures as high as 139’ (42.3 meters). Equated with Guan
Machiavelli (Niccolò Machiavelli)
1469 – 1527 CE
Unjustly vilified by history as well as his contemporaries, Machiavelli is known as the “founder of modern political science,” a major influence on the USA’s founding fathers, and the development of modern science. Personified with unscrupulous, immoral political activity, devious deceit, realpolitik and evil tyrants; many of history’s true heroes like Spinoza, Rousseau, Francis Bacon, John Milton, Montaigne, and Descartes secretly considered him an inspiration for the Enlightenment that followed 200 years later. Rousseau thought his book The Prince - far from condoning - was not written as advice to ruler who already understood these principles but rather satirically exposed their corrupt methods to the common people. Not the source for the quote, “The end justifies the means,” Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson considered him a “partisan of liberty” and John Adams seriously studied his philosophy and used it to clarify the Constitution’s idea of mixed government.
Mandukhai Khatun ндухай сэцэн хатан (Queen Mandukhai the Wise)
1449 – 1510 CE
Queen Mandukhai the Wise
Greatest Mongolian monarch in the 800 years after Genshis with enemies on every side, brilliant strategist, and wise leader; Mandukhai for the first time in over 100 years united the Mongolians under a strong central government. Recognizing Genghis Khan’s mistakes in establishing a Mongolian legacy, she set in place a stable government that lasted for generations up until World War II. After her heirless husband was poisoned by a Ming dynasty spy, Mandukhai adopted Batmonkh the recently orphaned and last living direct Genghis Khan descendent making here the leader of the civil war plagued Mongol Empire. She defeated the warring factions, married Batmonkh when he turned 19, and continued dramatic military victories over both new factions and Chinese incursion, fighting in battle even when pregnant and birthing babies. She became the reason for the largest and fastest Great Wall of China expansion. Columbus made his voyages in an attempt to find her; and, though not knowing her name, carried a letter to her from his Spanish monarch patrons. Her descendants include all of the Mongolian nobles and khans that followed after her. Inspired by and continuing her example, these descendants converted to Buddhism and in 1578 began the Dalia Lama lineage when they gave the Tibetan monk Sonam Gyatso this title, dalai (ocean—'Sea of Power') first used by Genghis Khan's son, Ogodei.
Matsuo Bashō 松尾 芭蕉
1644 – 1694 CE
The most famous poet of the Edo period in Japan and still internationally renowned and recognized as the greatest master of haiku, Bashō left his samurai status, urban fame and fortune to wander throughout Japan writing poetry. During periods of history in Japan, criticizing his poetry was considered blasphemous and many of his poems are reproduced on monuments. Some scholars believe he invented haiku and his verse greatly influenced Ezra Pound, the Imagists, and Beat Generation poets.
Meera (Mirabai, Meera Bai )
1498 – 1546 CE
Inspiring poet, cultural freedom inspiration
Royal family princess, mystical poet, Bhakti movement saint; Meera’s deep devotion expressed in public dancing and singing aroused strong opposition, rejection, and assassination attempts from the Royal Family. Dedicated to a formless divinity, she wrote countless devotional poems called bhajans that became and remain popular on temples across India. Her devotion and courage inspired folk tales, legends, poets, and now popular literature, comic strips, and movies. Her life became a symbol for the common people’s suffering and inspirations for creating a better world as well as for women struggling in an environment trying to force them into role-based boxes. Also one of 16 Sikh bhakti saints, she became a symbol of freedom and following a personal path of inspiration rather than bowing to social, family, and political pressures of conformity.
Mekopa མེ་ཀོ་པ། ("Guru Dread-Stare")
1050 CE –
Mekopa, མེ་ཀོ་པ། Guru Dread-Stare (11th century)
Always cheerful and kind Bengali food merchant taken as a student by a yogin customer, Mekopa saw into the vastness of his own mind, the uselessness of chasing desires, and harmfulness of action based on duality. His realization led him far beyond the limits of status quo, conventional social standards and behavior; into a lifestyle unbound by concern for people’s opinion, wandering about a cremation ground “like a wild animal” and into towns like a mad saint with dreadful, staring eyes. Mahasiddha #43
1475 – 1564 CE
One of the greatest artists of all time and complete “Renaissance man,” much of Michelangelo’s painting, sculpture, and architecture stands with the world’s most famous. Also a poet and engineer and unlike many famous artists, his genius was recognized during his lifetime – he was the first Western artist with a biography published while still alive. His statues of David and the Pietà are the most famous sculptures in the west, his painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling is the “cornerstone of Renaissance art,” his architectural innovations were revolutionary and St. Peter’s Basilica is regarded as the greatest building of its age and remains one of the two largest churches in the world.
Miguel de Cervantes
1547 – 1616 CE
One of the world's best novelists
Soldier, purchasing agent, tax collector, a cardinal's assistant, Barbary pirate captive for 5 years, and Spanish prisoner for 3 years; Cervantes became the most famous Spanish language writer, one of the world's best novelists, and writer of—after the Bible and the Tao Te Ching—the world's most translated book, Don Quixote. Translated into 140+ languages with over 700 editions, many critics believe it the best work of fiction ever written and the first modern novel. Considered the origin of psychoanalysis, one of his books impressed Sigmund Freud enough to inspire him to learn Spanish just so he could read it in the original language.
Ming Taizu 明太祖 (the Hongwu Emperor)
1328 – 1398 CE
Peasant farmer, destitute beggar at 16 when his family was killed in a flood, and Buddhist monk until his monastery was destroyed by the Mongols, Ming Taizu dramatically rose above his circumstances and led the rebellion against the Yuan and founded the Ming dynasty. As emperor he protected the poor, created irrigation systems, planted 50 million trees, and distributed land to peasants greatly increasing their standards of living. The population increased from 60 to 100 million. He studied the Tao Te Ching, based his government on Taoist principles drawing up a new legal code considered one of the greatest achievements of the age and also supported Islam. He prevented corruption and protected the weak but per historians was corrupted himself in later life.
1533 – 1592 CE
Grandfather of the Enlightenment
Son of a fish-seller, grandfather of the Enlightenment, “the first modern man,” statesman, author, apostle of doubt and moderation, Renaissance author most in harmony with the modern mind; Montaigne wrote some of history’s most influential essays. A master story-teller balancing philosophy with personal anecdote, deep insight with entertainment, wisdom and humor; he built on Lucretius and had a direct influence on Francis Bacon, Descartes, Pascal, Rousseau, Emerson, Nietzsche, and Shakespeare. “The most pagan of Christians,” called “the wisest Frenchman that ever lived,” he is still “read today as if he had written yesterday
Mumtaz Mahal ممتاز محل
1593 – 1631 CE
Inspiration for building the Taj Mahal and wife of Genghis Khan descendent, emperor Shah Jahan; Mumtaz Mahal helped guide the nation while having 14 children in 19 years. She influenced her husband to forgive enemies, commute death sentences, and to help the poor. She also patronized artists, poets, theologians, and scholars often even providing pensions to their daughters. The Taj Mahal built as a tomb for her and described as one of the Wonders of the World and "the most beautiful building ever erected" was built facing south with the shape of a Mongul yurt.
Nanaki (Bibi Nanaki ji)
1464 – 1518 CE
Elder sister, surrogate mother, and first disciple of the first Sikh guru, Nanak; Nanaki was instrumental in giving birth to the Sikh tradition. With a sister’s deep affection and a mother’s tender nurturing, she recognized Guru Nanak’s wisdom and potential when he was very young, encouraged his spiritual development, and became the first Sikh. She supported him when their father tried to force him into a conventional lifestyle as well as his rebellion against Hindu customs and rituals. She arranged his marriage, helped take care of his sons, and became a symbol and inspiration for the closeness of family and sister-brother relationship.
Paracelsus (Theophrastus von Hohenheim)
1493 – 1541 CE
Revolutionary, shamanistic alchemist
“Father of toxicology,” alchemist, medical revolution pioneer, and astrologer; Paracelsus was venerated by the Rosicrucians, intensively studied by Carl Jung, and revered by future physicians who universally recognize his medical contributions. He criticized the popular purging and bloodletting techniques of his time as well as the practices of applying cow dung to wounds. He revolutionized medicine by conceiving clinical diagnosis, promoting the keeping of wounds clean, anticipating Germ Theory, using specific instead of cure-all medicines, doing medical experiments on animals, treating mentally ill as treatable instead of possessed by evil spirits, discovering that syphilis is contracted by contact, that “poor blood” can be improved with iron, and creating the terms "chemistry," "gas," and "alcohol.” Jung carried on his work of alchemy as symbolic language expressing unconscious and innate psychological influences.
1304 – 1374 CE
The “Father of Humanism,” troubadour of romantic love, lover of nature, “Virgil born again,” the most famous unrequited lover, and most important poet of his age; Petrarch inspired an interest in ancient history and as “the first tourist” discovered and translated many old manuscripts including Cicero’s letters that sparked the 14th-century Renaissance. Holding the sense over the words, he challenged orthodoxy and invented new Latin terms to describe Greek philosophy, developed the concept of an historical “Dark Age” after the fall of Rome, a need for a cultural revival, inspired the political, military, and religious leaders of his time to ground their lives in classical values and contemplation. and his sonnets became a model for lyrical poetry through modern times.
1596 – 1617 CE
Daughter of a powerful Native American Chief, savior of John Smith, supporter of the Jamestown colony, and the first Native American featured on a US stamp; Pocahontas was captured and held for ransom during an English-Indian war. Instead of returning to her tribe when she could, she stayed with the English, converted to Christianity and proceed to convert hearts and minds in both America and Europe. Her name literally means “little reckless” and she was called in Europe a "civilized savage" but history clarifies the European savagery, the Native American wisdom. Her descendants include two first ladies, Nancy Reagan and Woodrow Wilson's wife, Edith Wilson; actor Glenn Strange famous for his roles as Frankenstein’s monster and the Gunsmoke bartender; as well as astronomer Percival Lowell responsible for the discovery of Pluto and an important inspiration for H.G. Wells, Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, and Edgar Rice Burroughs.
1380 – 1459 CE
Gladiatorial orator, personal secretary to 7 popes including the “Antipope” John XXIII, scholar, early humanist, prolific and for his time astonishing writer; Poggio helped develop the Italic font, invented the Roman font still popular today, and helped spark a rebirth of old wisdom that led Europe out of the Dark Ages, into science and our modern age. Profuse traveller, friend to the great scholars of his time as well as politicians like Pope Nicolas V, Cosimo and Lorenzo de' Medici who supported his efforts to find and preserve ancient Greek and Roman manuscripts; he discovered and copied a large number of important classical works forgotten and decaying in old libraries including De Rerum Natura, Lucretius’ only surviving book.
1596 – 1650 CE
Though remaining a Catholic, solidifying the dualistic view in Western thought as well as “Cogito ergo sum” belief in a separate self; Descartes emphasized methodic doubt and the impossibility of externally based intellectual certainty undermining faith in belief and Church doctrine. This sparked a thought revolution that created the modern era. He developed analytic geometry (using x, y, and z for unknowns) and using superscripts for powers or exponents, discovered the law of reflection, and the basis for the development of calculus. Known as the “father of modern philosophy,” he changed the course of Western philosophy and his influence continues to this day.
Sun Qifeng 孫奇逢
1583 – 1675 CE
Professor, poet, respected scholar who passed the imperial exams at only 13 years old, and one of the most famous masters of Confucian ethics; Sun Qifeng helped China transition from the Ming to the Ching dynasties. Critical of the Ming control by eunuchs, he followed the neo-Confucian philosophy but emphasized its practicality, the concept of basic goodness, and the importance of nourishing goodness. Often invited to take prestigious governmental offices, he refused preferring a quite life of study. A precursor of—and inspiration for?—Arnold Toynbee, he looked at the rise and fall of dynasties (as well as individual success and failure) through the lens of the I Ching and left a treasury of books including popular commentaries on the Four Books, biographies of 11 famous, Confucian masters, and the history of 146 philosophers and their teachings.
Teresa of Avila
1515 – 1582 CE
In a time caught up in the fury and violence of religious intolerance, inquisitions and sectarian war: Teresa symbolized a child-like devotion and surrendering to a forgiving and compassionate god. Saint, reformer, founder of 40 Carmelite monasteries, author and theologian; with deep insight she championed and helped establish a tradition for western mysticism and was the first in the West to harmonize a scientific view with contemplation and a mystical understanding. An inspiration for the Spanish Renaissance and Christian meditation practice, she promoted “mental prayer” and a personal approach to spirituality.
1588 – 1679 CE
Secretary, student, friend to Francis Bacon; Hobbes established the foundation for most modern political philosophy. Formulating social contract theory, he promoted individual rights, natural equality, government based on the will of the people, only representative government as legitimate, and the freedom to do anything that laws don’t forbid. He described human nature as “self-interested cooperation” and introduced mathematical reasoning to the philosophy of science. Though called “the father of totalitarianism” and fixated on peace and order, his radical shift from religion and belief to applying science for understanding human nature helped undermine that same “order” creating more personal, political freedom.
1478 – 1535 CE
Thomas Moore (1478 – 1535)
Christian humanist, Henry VIII confidant, ascetic, Lord High Chancellor of England, brave psychological explorer; Moore both embraced and went beyond his time and culture. On one hand opposing Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation, he also protested against Henry VIII’s appropriation of the title, Supreme Head of the Church of England and was beheaded for his efforts. Living at a time of deep cultural transition when idle noblemen raised rents, created land enclosures, caused extreme poverty, starvation, and 72,000 English thieves were hanged; he helped revive a radical interest in Lucretius and Epicureanism. His book Utopia envisioned a society based on the pursuit of collective happiness and included universal health care, public housing, child care centers and a 6-hour work day rather than the prevalent materialism, nepotistic, personal advantage and power. G. K. Chesterton, Jonathan Swift, and many others considered him the greatest Englishman.
Tsongkhapa ཙོང་ཁ་པ། (Zongkapa Lobsang Zhaba, "the Man from Onion Valley")
1357 – 1419 CE
Born into a nomadic family with a Mongolian father and a Tibetan mother, Tsongkhapa became a famous teacher and founder of the Tibetan Buddhist Gelug school. His study and teachings stretched across many different lineages and he emphasized a blending of teachings, a unifying of different approaches, a balance of intellect and meditation. He used logic to undermine belief and open doors to insight much deeper than the words. His deep understanding of Buddhist teachings led to a fresh, innovative, and contemporary explication that became a dynamic influence on Tibetan Buddhism, culture, monasticism, and politics.
Wangchuk Dorje (9th Gyalwa Karmapa)
1556 – 1603 CE
Not only a great scholar and spiritual leader, Wangchuk Dorje became an important political influence. While helping the king of Sikkim settle a dispute, he founded three monasteries including Rumtek—still today the most important Kagyu monastery. As the 9th Karmapa and head of the Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhism he travelled throughout Tibet, Mongolia, Bhutan, and Sikkim. He wrote many classic texts still studied and taught today.
1564 – 1616 CE
The greatest writer in the English language whose works - 400 years after his death - have been translated into every living language and remain popular, respected, studied, and performed throughout the world; Shakespeare was as Ben Johnson wrote, "not of an age, but for all time.” When 18 years old, he had his first child 6 months after getting married and before long became a playwright and actor in his own and others’ plays. Unlike many of the prime movers on our biography lists, Shakespeare, though not revered, was successful during his lifetime (as a businessman) and by the time he was 33 while living in London owned the second largest home in Stratford. His influence not only revolutionized drama, scholars link more than 20,000 pieces of music to his writings, many famous paintings, his language helped shape modern English and common everyday phrases, Sigmund Freud drew heavily on him while developing his psychology theories, and Durant describes his influence as moving us to the depths of our spirit.
Yung-lo 永樂 (the Yongle Emperor, Zhu Di)
1360 – 1424 CE
Son of the farmer-Buddhist monk-general who ended the Yuen dynasty and became emperor, Yung-lo was born into luxury and power. But later, in order to escape assassination attempts, had to pretend madness and become a vagrant. Transforming this disaster into opportunity, he became emperor himself. As emperor, at a time when the next largest navy in the world had 300 small ships, he built a fleet of over 3500 huge vessels that sailed all over the world and established colonies from Africa to the United States more than 70 years before Columbus. He moved his capital to Beijing, built the Forbidden City, promoted a world-wide surge in science, education, and religious tolerance and supporting Tibetan Buddhism started the Karmapa’s Black Crown Ceremony.
Zheng He 鄭和
1371 – 1435 CE
Emperor Zhu Di’s closest advisor, over 100 kg, over 2 meter tall formidable eunuch soldier, and famous Muslim explorer; Zheng He and the other admirals he trained in ships 4-5x bigger than Columbus’s sailed through the Strait of Magellan 98 years before Magellan, up and down the North American coasts 70 years before Columbus, surveyed the Arctic polar region and Antarctica 400 years before Europeans, Australia 300 years before Captain Cook, and rounded the Cape of Good Hope 66 years before the Portuguese Dias. Modern scholars credit him with "reshaping Asia" and propose that all of 15th century naval history was basically his story and the consequences of his voyages. Commanding a fleet of over 2000 ships carrying libraries of over 11,000 books to share information and technology with the rest of the world, Zheng He’s legacy is little known but one of the most influential in all history.