Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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There are c. 200 billion galaxies in the observable universe, more than 27 for each person alive now (based on 7.3 billion population). And each galaxy has at least 100 billion suns. In our galaxy – the Milky Way, there are c. 400 billion suns or more than 50 suns for each person alive now. In the whole universe, that’s close to 3,000 suns per person. Some of these suns are more than 100x larger than ours. Traveling at the speed of light, it would take 13.2 billion years to get from here to the (as far as we know now) furthest away galaxy and yet as Anatole France says, “It is possible that our millions of suns make up altogether but a spec in a minute insect in a world vast beyond our ability to imagine which is in some other world no more than a speck of dust.” Why are we not humble?

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Quotes (76)

“Be utterly humble and you shall hold to the foundation of peace.”

Lao Tzu 老子 604 BCE - via Witter Bynner
from Way of Life According to Lao Tzu

Themes: Humility

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

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

Themes: Power Humility

29. Not Doing

“One with the dust, it unites the world into one whole.”

Lao Tzu 老子 604 BCE - via Shan Dao, chapter #4
from Tao Te Ching 道德经 Dàodéjīng

Themes: Humility

“Standing tiptoe we lose balance... pride has never brought a person greatness.”

Lao Tzu 老子 604 BCE - via Witter Bynner, #24
from Way of Life According to Lao Tzu

Themes: Humility Ambition

“Never does a sage go ahead of other men, but always follows in their wake.”

Yin Xi 關尹子 536 – 596 BCE via Watson, 1968
Lao Tzu’s first disciple and Taoist patriarch

“the form of the military is like water. Water in its movement avoids the high and hastens to the low. The military in its victory avoids the solid and strikes the empty. The water determines its movement in accordance with the earth. The military determines victory in accordance with the enemy.”

Sun Tzu 孙武 544 – 496 BCE
(Sun Zi)
HIstory's supreme strategist

Themes: Water Humility

8. Like Water

“Pride more than age hastens life to its end;
And they who in pride pretend
Beyond man's limit, will lose what lay
Close to their hand and sure.”

Euripides 480 – 406 BCE via Philip Vellacott, Shan Dao
Ancient humanitarian influence continuing today
from Bacchae Βάκχαι

“The noblest thing a man can have is a humble and quiet heart... the wisest thing for a man to possess, if he but use it.”

Euripides 480 – 406 BCE via Philip Vellacott
Ancient humanitarian influence continuing today
from Bacchae Βάκχαι

Themes: Humility

“Verily, we know nothing. Truth is buried deep.”

Democritus Dēmókritos 460 – 370 BCE
Father of modern science and greatest of ancient philosophers

Themes: Truth Humility

67. Three Treasures

“When asked by two high officials from the king to become the prime minister, ‘Give my compliments to His Majesty and tell him that I am happy right here crawling around in the mud.’”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 369 – 286 BCE

Themes: Humility

26. The Still Rule the Restless

“Live unobtrusively.”

Epicurus ɛpɪˈkjɔːrəs 341 – 270 BCE
Western Buddha
from On Nature

70. Inscrutable

“Wise up by going low.”

Koheleth c. 330–180 BCE
from Ecclesiastes קֹהֶלֶת‎

Themes: Humility

66. Go Low

“If a branch is too rigid, it will break… know how to yield, and you will survive.”

Lie Yukou 列圄寇/列禦寇/列子 4th C. BCE via Eva Wong
(Liè Yǔkòu, Liezi)
from Liezi "True Classic of Simplicity and Perfect Emptiness”

Themes: Humility

“Those who are wise cultivate the inner root and do not make a display of the outer twigs.”

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

Themes: Humility

48. Unlearning

“A student came to a rabbi and said, 'In the olden days, there were men who saw the face of God Why don't they any more?' The rabbi replied, 'Because nowadays no one can stoop so low.'”

Anonymous -800 to present via Carl Jung
Freedom from the narrow boxes defined by personal history

Themes: Humility

“Humility is a mediator. It will always be the shortest distance between you and another person.”

Anonymous -800 to present via Amy Chua
Freedom from the narrow boxes defined by personal history

Themes: Humility

“The person who desires to rise above all things must descend below all things”

Jesus 3 BCE – 30 CE via Didymos Thomas
from Gospel According to Thomas

Themes: Humility

66. Go Low

“Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Jesus 3 BCE – 30 CE via Matthew
from New Testament Διαθήκη

“The first task of the person who wishes to live wisely is to free themselves from the confines of self-absorption... to live simply, do it for yourself, do it quietly, and don't do it to impress others”

Epictetus Ἐπίκτητος 55 – 135 CE via Sharon Labell

Themes: Humility

“The world turns to the great state that cultivates humility. Thus, each gets what it wants. But it is the great state that needs to be more humble.”

Wang Bi 王弼 226 – 534 CE

Themes: Humility

61. Lying Low

“It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels”

Augustine ɔːɡəstiːn 354 – 430 CE
(Saint Augustine, Saint Austin, Augustine of Hippo)

67. Three Treasures

“Drifting, drifting... what am I more than a single gull between sky and earth?”

Du Fu 杜甫 杜甫 712 – 770 CE

Themes: Humility

“Even with the strength of a large state, it is necessary to always make oneself humbly insignificant.”

Wang Zhen 809 – 859 CE via Ralph D. Sawyer
from Daodejing Lunbing Yaoyishu, The Tao of War

Themes: Humility

80. A Golden Age

“People who are favored are honored. And because they are honored, they act proud. And because they act proud, they are hated… Hence sages consider success as well as failure to be a warning.”

Wang Zhen 809 – 859 CE via Ralph D. Sawyer
from Daodejing Lunbing Yaoyishu, The Tao of War

13. Honor and Disgrace

“The rich and successful who become arrogant bring calamity upon themselves; the wise do not try to possess their achievements.”

Wang Zhen 809 – 859 CE via Ralph D. Sawyer, Shan Dao
from Daodejing Lunbing Yaoyishu, The Tao of War

“Although the ancient masters lived in the world, no one thought they were special.”

Cao Daochong 道寵 fl. 960 - 1268
(​Daochong or Ts’ao Tao-Ch’ung)

15. Inscrutability

“Taoists don’t avoid what others hate… They only avoid what others fight over, namely flattery and ostentation.”

Lu Huiqing 1031 – 1111 CE

24. Unnecessary Baggage

“Even three feet of snow can’t crush a one-inch spiritual pine.”

Touzi Yiqing 投子義青 1032 – 1083 CE
(Tōsu Gisei, “Zen Master of Complete Compassion”)

“By making ourselves lower than others we can use their wisdom and power as our own. Thus we can win without taking up arms, without getting angry, and without making enemies.”

Wu Cheng 吴澄 1249 – 1333 CE via Red Pine
"Mr. Grass Hut"
from Tao-te-chen-ching-chu

“It is only at night that brilliance and color are pleasing. By day let your appearance be simple and sober but at night it is well to wear bright and gay garments.”

Yoshida Kenkō 兼好 1284 – 1350 CE via Sir George Bailey Sansom
Inspiration of self-reinvention
from Essays in Idleness

“Then give me neither thank nor give me blame
The fault, if anywhere my tale be lame,
... for who would dare assert
A blind man should in colors be expert?”

Geoffrey Chaucer 1343 – 1400 CE via W. W. Skeat
“Father of English literature”
from Troilus and Cressida

“Humility is truth.”

Erasmus 1466 – 1536 CE
(Desiderius Roterodamus)
"Greatest scholar of the northern Renaissance"

67. Three Treasures

“on the highest throne in the world, we still sit only on our own bottom.”

Montaigne 1533 – 1592 CE
Grandfather of the Enlightenment

Themes: Humility

67. Three Treasures

“Once things reach their limit, they go the other way… Thus to hide the light means the weak conquer the strong… Deep water is the best place for a fish. But once it is exposed to the air, a fish is completely helpless.”

Deqing 1546 – 1623 CE

Themes: Water Humility

36. The Small, Dark Light

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt in your philosophy.”

William Shakespeare 1564 – 1616 CE
from Hamlet

Themes: Humility

“Be extraordinary in your excellence but be ordinary in your display of it.”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE via Joseph Jacobs, #85
from Art of Worldly Wisdom

Themes: Humility

“He is twice as great who has all the perfections in the opinion of all except himself”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE via Joseph Jacobs, chapter #123
from Art of Worldly Wisdom

Themes: Humility

“When you hear something positive about yourself, keep a tight rein on your belief. When you hear something negative, give your belief the spur.”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE via Shan Dao
from Art of Worldly Wisdom

Themes: Belief Humility

“I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”

Isaac Newton 1642 – 1726 CE

Themes: Humility

“The more we learn what humility is, the less we discover of it in ourselves”

Madame Guyon Jeanne-Marie Bouvier de la Motte-Guyon 1648 – 1717 CE via Thomas Taylor Allen
from Autobiography of Madame Guyon

67. Three Treasures

A Sermon Preached Before Fleas
My dear fleas, you are the cherished work of god; and this entire universe has been made for you. God created man only to serve as your food, the sun only to light your way, the stars only to please your sight, etc.”

Voltaire, François-Marie Arouet 1694 – 1778 CE
from Notebooks

Themes: Humility

“A great man is always willing to be little.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803 – 1882 CE
Champion of individualism

Themes: Humility

67. Three Treasures

“Every human action is determined by hereditary constitution, [the environment], the example and the teaching of others… This view should teach one profound humility—one deserves no credit for anything. Nor should one blame others… It’s right to punish criminals but solely to deter others.”

Charles Darwin 1809 – 1882 CE

“vain to popularize profundities, and all truth is profound”

Herman Melville 1819 – 1891 CE
from Moby Dick or The Whale

73. Heaven’s Net

“vain to popularize profundities, and all truth is profound”

Herman Melville 1819 – 1891 CE
from Moby Dick or The Whale

73. Heaven’s Net

“the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

George Eliot 1819 – 1880 CE
(Mary Anne Evans)
Pioneering literary outsider

Themes: Humility

“We can see but little at a time, and heed that little far less than our apprehension of what we shall see next; ever peering curiously through the glare of the present into the gloom of the future, we presage the leading lines of that which is before us, by faintly reflected lights from dull mirrors and stumble on till the trap-door opens beneath us and we are gone.”

Samuel Butler 1835 – 1902 CE
Iconoclastic philosopher, artist, composer, author, and evolutionary theorist
from Erewhon

Themes: Humility

“Wherever valor true is found, true modesty will there abound.”

W. S. Gilbert 1836 – 1911 CE
Innovative, influential, inspiring dramatist

Themes: Humility

“I'm not performing miracles, I'm just using up and wasting a lot of paint...”

Claude Monet 1840 – 1926 CE
"the driving force behind Impressionism"

Themes: Magic Humility

“We stand in much the same relation to the whole of the universe as our canine and feline pets do to the whole of human life… tangents to curves of history… as we are tangent to the wider life of things.”

William James 1842 – 1910 CE
"Father of American psychology”
from Pragmatism

Themes: Humility

“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself a fool.”

Anatole France 1844 – 1924 CE
(Jacques Anatole Thibault)

Themes: Wisdom Humility

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“There are two things that men should never weary of, goodness and humility; we get none too much of them in this rough world among cold, proud people.”

Robert Louis Stevenson 1850 – 1894 CE

Themes: Humility

61. Lying Low

“Mahavira proclaimed in India that religion is a reality and not a mere social convention. It is really true that salvation can not be had by merely observing external ceremonies. Religion cannot make any difference between man and man.”

Rabindranath Tagore 1861 – 1941 CE

Themes: Humility

“One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak.”

G. K. Chesterton 1874 – 1936 CE

Themes: Humility

61. Lying Low

“A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life is based on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving.”

Albert Einstein 1879 – 1955 CE

Themes: Humility

“To the extent we behave with humility, to that extent good will result.”

Ramana Maharshi 1879 – 1950 CE

Themes: Humility

“Better to go unknown and leave behind an arch, then to burn like a meteor and leave no dust.”

Virginia Woolf 1882 – 1941 CE

Themes: Humility

“He remained vain to the end, merely pluming himself on his achievements instead of his appearance; but this is a fault that only the greatest saints can shun.”

Will Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
Philosophy apostle and popularizer of history's lessons
from Renaissance

Themes: Humility

“Sometimes, wandering alone in the woods on a summer day, we hear or see the movement of a hundred species of flying, leaping, creeping, crawling, burrowing things. Suddenly we perceive to what a perilous minority we belong on this impartial planet, and for a moment we feel, as these varied denizens clearly do, that we are passing interlopers in their natural habitat.”

Will (and Ariel) Durant 1885 – 1981 CE

“The last word must be one of humility... We need not be ashamed to worship heroes, if our sense of discrimination is not left outside their shrines.”

Will Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
Philosophy apostle and popularizer of history's lessons
from Renaissance

“The only wisdom we can hope to acquire is the wisdom of humility.”

T. S. Eliot 1888 – 1965 CE
from Four Quartets

Themes: Humility

61. Lying Low

“Through it all I learned the value of being humble to the dust, reduced to ashes. Everyone should experience that. Before you can recognize you're somebody, you have to know you're nobody.”

Henry Miller 1891 – 1980 CE
from Reflections (1981)

Themes: Humility

“The principal teaching of Lao Tzu is humility... gentleness, resignation, the futility of contention, the strength of weakness.”

Lín Yǔtáng 林語堂 1895 – 1976 CE
from Wisdom of Laotse

Themes: Taoism Humility

“It is good a philosopher should remind himself, now and then, that he is a particle pontificating on infinity.”

Ariel Durant 1898 – 1981 CE
(Chaya Kaufman)

“The moment that we become humble before nature and renounce the self, the self shall become assimilated into nature and nature shall allow it to live... It is enough merely to know this road and walk it every day.”

Masanobu Fukuoka 福岡 正信 1913 – 2008 CE
from Road Back to Nature

“one could say that the only way of approaching nature is to notice that man understands nothing—neither nature nor anti-nature”

Masanobu Fukuoka 福岡 正信 1913 – 2008 CE via Metreaud
from Road Back to Nature

Themes: Humility

“The high art of a true Bodhisattva is possible only for him who has gone beyond all need for self-justification, for so long as there is something to prove, some ax to grind, there is no dance.”

Alan Watts 1915 – 1973 CE
from Psychotherapy East and West

Themes: Humility

“No one can change more completely than the man who has been at the bottom.”

Malcolm X الحاجّ مالك الشباز‎‎ 1925 – 1965 CE

Themes: Humility Change

“You must keep don’t know mind always and everywhere. This is the true practice of Zen.”

Seungsahn 숭산행원대선사 1927 – 2004 CE
(Soen Sa Nim)

Themes: Openness Humility

“What gods notice, they destroy. Be humble and you will escape the jealousy of the great”

Philip K. Dick 1928 – 1982 CE
Legendary consciousness provocateur
from Man in the High Castle,

“needlessness of reassurance is a source of humility, because you do not have to confirm yourself anymore.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE
from Tantric Path of Indestructible Wakefulness

Themes: Humility

67. Three Treasures

“The first will be last and the last will be first.”

Bob Dylan 1941 CE –

76. The Soft and Flexible

“Civilizations are so quick to identify with their own particular brand of life that… they never have the humility to identify the source of the life and oneness running through their veins.”

Peter Kingsley 1953 CE –
from A Story Waiting to Pierce You

“Without personal transformation, and without some sense of humility... greed and anger are pushing us over the cliff.”

Mingyur Rinpoche 1975 CE –
Modern-day Mahasiddha

from In Love With the World

Themes: Humility

“Most people tend to believe they are the center of the world and their culture is the linchpin of human history... Personally, I am all too familiar with such crass egotism because the Jews, my own people, also think that they are the most important thing in the world... Needless to say, the British, French, Germans, Americans, Russians, Japanese, and countless other groups are similarly convinced that humankind would have lived in barbarous and immoral ignorance if it hadn't been for the spectacular achievements of their nation.”

Yuval Harari יובל נח הררי‎ 1976 CE –
Israeli historian, professor, and philosopher

from 21 Lessons for the 21st Century

“You can accomplish anything in life, provided that you do not mind who gets the credit.”

Harry S. Truman 1884 – 1972 CE

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