Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Subject of the "world's most famous dream" ( Chuang Tzu's), butterfly symbolism opens many wisdom windows and doors as these quotes attest. Butterflies represent the delicate beauty, sensitivity, and impermanence of life as well as the inevitable possibilities of transformation. Living from only one week to almost a year, they concentrate the experience of life. Changing from egg to caterpillar larva to pupa before finally becoming the winged adult; they act out as well as epitomize transmutation. Many cultures use them to symbolize rebirth and in modern times they symbolize transgender. The ancient Greek word for butterfly, psȳchē, translates as mind or soul. In Japanese culture, butterflies also represent the human soul and Diderot described them the same way.

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Quotes (72)

“As the smith melts fragments of metal, fusing the into a single ingot, dissolve the fragments of your knowledge in the vast expanse of your mind's nature.”

Dharmapa thos pa’i shes rab bya ba 915
“The Perpetual Student” — Mahasiddha #36

“My heart was split and a flower appeared; and grace sprang up; and it bore fruit”

Solomon 990 – 931 BCE
Magician, exorcist, great prophet of Judaism and Islam
from Odes of Solomon (1st or 2nd century CE)

Themes: Butterfly

“Wake, wake up! See with your own eyes what all these years you longed for!”

Homer 850 BCE - ?
Primogenitor of Western culture
from Odyssey, Ὀδύσσεια

“Not wanting anything to be different, we see the inner essence.”

Lao Tzu 老子 604 BCE - via Shan Dao, chapter #1
from Tao Te Ching 道德经 Dàodéjīng

“At 15, I set my mind and heart on learning. At 30, I stood on my own. At 40 I had no doubts. At 50 I knew heaven’s decree. At 60 my ears were in accord. At 70 I followed the desires of my mind -and-heart.”

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

2. The Wordless Teachings

“To live is to die, to be awake is to sleep, to be young is to be old, for the one flows into the other, and the process is capable of being reversed.”

Heraclitus Ἡράκλειτος 535 – 475 BCE
(of Ephesus, the "Weeping Philosopher")
A Greek Buddha

Themes: Failure Butterfly

“Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse.”

Sophocles Σοφοκλῆς 497 – 405 BCE
“The Wise and Honored One”

“Chuang Tzu dreamed that he was a butterfly. When he woke up he wondered if was Chuang Tzu dreaming he was a butterfly or now a butterfly dreaming it was Chuang Tzu.”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 369 – 286 BCE via Thomas Merton

from The Way of Chuang Tzu

Themes: Dream Butterfly

49. No Set Mind

“Butterflies can't see their wings. They can't see how truly beautiful they are, but everyone else can. People are like that as well.”

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

Themes: Butterfly

“First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.”

Epictetus Ἐπίκτητος 55 – 135 CE

“Forget everything else. Keep hold of this alone and remember it. Each of us lives only now, this brief instant. The rest has been lived already, or is impossible to see.”

Marcus Aurelius 121 – 219 CE
from Meditations Τὰ εἰς ἑαυτόν

“When the conscious spirit transforms into the primordial spirit, it attains an unending capacity for transformation and brings the six-fold present, the golden spirit.”

Lü Dongbin 呂洞賓 796 CE - via Richard Wilhelm, Shan Dao
(Lü Tung-Pin)

from Secret of the Golden Flower 太乙金華宗旨; Tàiyǐ Jīnhuá Zōngzhǐ

“The flame of pure awareness burns away all delusion.”

Kumbharipa ཀུམྦྷ་རི་པ། 10th century CE via Keith Dowman, Shan Dao
(“The Eternal Potter”)
Mahasiddha #63

“The interaction of the yin and yang through different combinations of the five agents generates all things in a process of endless transformation.”

Zhou Dunyi 周敦頤 1017 – 1073 CE via Wing-Tsit Chan
(Chou Tun-i)
from Penetrating the Book of Changes

“Ah, butterflies now, dancing in air, lost along fragrant pathways;
Flitting, fluttering, see how they flow, painting the evening breeze.”

Huizong 徽宗 1082 – 1135 CE via Hyatt Carter
(Emperor Huizong of Song)
Great artist, failed ruler

Themes: Butterfly

“Don’t dwell in appearances, be bounded by or settle into any place but rest from the remnants of conditioning and reach the limit in all directions illuminating fully what is before you as awakening blossoms.”

Hóngzhì Zhēngjué 宏智正覺 1091 – 1157 CE via Dan Leighton and Shan Dao
from Cultivating the Emplty Field

“You are our true life, luminous, wonderful, awakening the heart from its ancient sleep.”

Hildegard of Bingen 1098 – 1179 CE via Stephen Mitchell

“Just as many utensils are made from one metal so too are myriad entities made of the fabric of self”

Kakuan Shien 廓庵師遠 1100 – 1200 CE
(Kuo-an Shih-yuan, Kuòān Shīyuǎn )
Most popular Ten Bulls artist/poet

from 10 Bulls

“The feminine, the valley, the spontaneity of spiritual transformation, this subtle and profound way to wonder is the most powerfully creative principle”

Zhu Xi 朱熹 1130 – 1200 CE via Wing-Tsit Chan, Shan Dao
(Zhū Xī)

6. The Source

“Everything is Buddha nature.”

Dōgen Zenji 道元禅師 1200 – 1253 CE

“Consider your origin. You were not formed to live like brutes but to follow virtue and knowledge.”

Dante 1265 – 1321 CE
(Durante degli Alighieri)

“The winds of a garuda unfold within the egg... when the shell breaks, the garuda soars into the vault of the sky. Similarily spontaneously present awareness immediately arises in and of itself, naturally lucid.”

Longchenpa ཀློང་ཆེན་རབ་འབྱམས་པ། 1308 – 1364 CE via Richard Barron
(Longchen Rabjampa, Drimé Özer)
from The Basic Space of Phenomena

Themes: Butterfly

“Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?”

Alexander Pope 1688 – 1744 CE
Second most quoted English writer
from Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot

“The way of the Creative works through change and transformation, so that each thing receives its true nature and destiny and comes into permanent accord with the Great Harmony: this is what furthers and what perseveres.”

Alexander Pope 1688 – 1744 CE
Second most quoted English writer

“Butterflies are but flowers that blew away one sunny day when Nature was feeling at her most inventive and fertile.”

George Sand 1804 – 1876 CE
(Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin)

Themes: Butterfly

36. The Small, Dark Light

“The light which puts out our eyes is darkness to us. Only that day dawn to which we are awake is there more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.”

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

68. Joining Heaven & Earth

“Happiness is like a butterfly; the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.”

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

9. Know When to Stop

“Now would all the waves be women, then I'd go drown and chase with them evermore! There's naught so sweet on earth—heaven may not match it!—as those swift glances of warm, wild bosoms in the dance, when the over-arboring arms hide such ripe, bursting grapes.”

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

Themes: Sex Butterfly

“We don't understand that life is heaven, for we have only to understand that and it will at once be fulfilled in all its beauty, we shall embrace each other and weep.”

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky Фёдор Миха́йлович Достое́вский 1821 – 1881 CE via Constance Garnett
from Brothers Karamatzov

“People become uneasy, the face of society changes, old beliefs are destroyed before new ones can be created… these are the symptoms and precursors of revolution that have preceded all the world’s great changes.”

Henry Thomas Buckle 1821 – 1862 CE
from History of Civilization

“I must have flowers, always, and always... I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers.”

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

Themes: Butterfly

“The eternal forces of truth always work in the individual and immediately in an unsuccessful way, underdogs always until history comes—after they are long dead—and puts them on the top.”

William James 1842 – 1910 CE
"Father of American psychology”
from Memories and Studies (1911)

“To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.”

Henri-Louis Bergson 1859 – 1941 CE
from Creative Evolution

24. Unnecessary Baggage

“The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.”

Rabindranath Tagore 1861 – 1941 CE

49. No Set Mind

“None but a poet can write a tragedy. For tragedy is nothing less than pain transmuted into exaltation by the alchemy of poetry.”

Edith Hamilton 1867 – 1963 CE

Themes: Poetry Butterfly

“We dream much of paradise or rather of many paradises in succession, but long before we die they are all lost paradises in which we would feel lost.”

Marcel Proust 1871 – 1922 CE via Justin O'Brien
Apostle of Ordinary Mind
from Maxims of Marcel Proust

“The charms of the passing woman are usually in direct ratio to the speed of her passing.”

Marcel Proust 1871 – 1922 CE via Justin O'Brien
Apostle of Ordinary Mind
from Maxims of Marcel Proust

“The ancients adorned their sarcophagi with the emblems of life and procreation, and even with obscene symbols... These men knew how to pay homage to death. For death is worthy of homage as the cradle of life, as the womb of palingenesis.”

Thomas Mann 1875 – 1955 CE
Deep, psychologically insightful author
from The Magic Mountain (1924)

“The more uncertain I have felt about myself, the more there has grown up in me a feeling of kinship with all things... that alienation which so long separated me from the world has become transferred into my own inner world, and has revealed to me an unexpected unfamiliarity with myself.”

Carl Jung 1875 – 1961 CE
Insightful shamanistic scientist
from Memories, Dreams, Reflections

“it is the tremendous experiment of becoming conscious, which nature has imposed on mankind, uniting the most diverse cultures in a common task.”

Carl Jung 1875 – 1961 CE
Insightful shamanistic scientist

80. A Golden Age

“Whoever speaks in primordial images speaks with a thousand voices; he transmutes our personal destiny into the destiny of mankind, and evokes in us all those beneficent forces that ever and anon have enabled humanity to find refuge from every peril and to outlive the longest night.”

Carl Jung 1875 – 1961 CE via Sonu Shamdasani
Insightful shamanistic scientist
from Red Book, Liber Novus

“The silkworm is the most ambitious of worms. Nothing but belly and mouth, it drags inself along, eaing, soiling, eating again, a filthy pipe with two holes. then suddenly all the food turns to silk. Man is the same.”

Nikos Kazantzakis 1883 – 1957 CE via P. A. Bien
from Report to Greco

Themes: Butterfly

“I remember one morning when I discovered a cocoon in the back of a tree just as a butterfly was making a hole in its case and preparing to come out… I warmed it as quickly as I could and the miracle began to happen before my eyes, faster than life… and I shall never forget my horror when I saw how its wings were folded back and crumpled… It needed to be hatched out patiently and the unfolding of the wings should be a gradual process in the sun. Now it was too late… That little body is, I do believe, the greatest weight I have on my conscience. For I realize today that it is a mortal sin to violate the great laws of nature. We should not hurry, we should not be impatient, but we should confidently obey the eternal rhythm.”

Nikos Kazantzakis 1883 – 1957 CE
from Report to Greco

64. Ordinary Mind

“The lady butterfly is 15 times as long, and 10 times as heavy, as the male. Among insects, the female is almost always larger and stronger than the male.”

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

Themes: Butterfly

“The butterfly that lives a day has lived eternity.”

T. S. Eliot 1888 – 1965 CE

Themes: Butterfly

49. No Set Mind

“Give me bitter years of sickness,
Suffocation, insomnia, fever,
Take my child and my lover,
And my mysterious gift of song —
So that the stormcloud over darkened Russia
Might become a cloud of glorious rays.”

Anna Akhmatova Анна Ахматова 1889 – 1966 CE via Judith Hemschemeyer
(Andreyevna Gorenko)
Russia's most loved female poet
from "Prayer"

Themes: Butterfly

“The butterfly was just a lowly worm in its beginning. The worm didn't live with the moment-to-moment expectation of sprouting wings and taking flight. He lived a useful and productive life, the life of a worm. And he had to die a worm in order to be born as an angel! The spinning of the cocoon is, in and of itself, remarkable. It is as wondrous as the emergence and first flight of the butterfly.”

Henry Miller 1891 – 1980 CE
from Reflections (1981)

Themes: Butterfly

“...most men and women will grow up to love their servitude and will never dream of revolution.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE
from Brave New World

“There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it's going to be a butterfly.”

Buckminster Fuller 1895 – 1983 CE

Themes: Butterfly

36. The Small, Dark Light

“If you begin to understand what you are without trying to change it, then what you are undergoes a transformation.”

Krishnamurti 1895 – 1986 CE
(Jiddu Krishnamurti)

“There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it's going to be a butterfly.”

Buckminster Fuller 1895 – 1983 CE

Themes: Butterfly

“I am not a category. I am not a thing — a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process – an integral function of the universe.”

Buckminster Fuller 1895 – 1983 CE

13. Honor and Disgrace

“Either you think — or else others have to think for you and take power from you, pervert and discipline your natural tastes, civilize and sterilize you.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald 1896 – 1940 CE
Prototype of "Jazz Age" exuberance
from Tender is the Night (1934)

“To the enlightened man... whose consciousness embraces the universe, to him the universe becomes his 'body', while the physical body becomes the manifestation of the universal mind.”

Anagarika​ (Lama) Govinda 1898 – 1985 CE
(Ernst Hoffmann)
Pioneer of Tibetan Buddhism to the West

“What torments me tonight is the gardener's point of view... When by mutation a new rose is born in a garden, all the gardeners rejoice. They isolate the rose, tend it, foster it. But there is no gardener for men... It is the human race and not the individual that is wounded here”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry 1900 – 1944 CE
from Wind, Sand, and Stars (1939)

“Well, I must endure the presence of a few caterpillars if I wish to become acquainted with the butterflies.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry 1900 – 1944 CE

36. The Small, Dark Light

“When we quit thinking primarily about ourselves and our own self-preservation, we undergo a truly heroic transformation of consciousness.”

Joseph Campbell 1904 – 1987 CE
Great translator of ancient myth into modern symbols

“In the transmission of human culture, people always attempt to replicate, to pass on to the next generation the skills and values of the parents, but the attempt always fails because cultural transmission is geared to learning, not DNA.”

Gregory Bateson 1904 – 1980 CE
from Mind and nature: a necessary unity (1988)​

Themes: Culture Butterfly

“The coming Buddha, known as 'The Great Loving One,'... The gesture of Setting in Motion the Wheel of the Law symbolizes what he will do when he comes to restore the purity of the Buddha's teachings.”

Li Gotami Govinda 1906 – 1988 CE
(Ratti Petit)
Pioneering, fearless, artistic woman of wisdom
from Tibet in Pictures

“At a particular moment, in an immaculately white alcove, a white skeleton appeared that tried to catch me. And then instantly everything around me became white.”

Hergé 1907 – 1983 CE
(Georges Prosper Remi )
Intrepid reporter of world culture

“The only other person I have met who talked as he [Pasternak] talked was Virginia Woolf, who made one's mind race as he did, and obliterated one's normal vision of reality in the same exhilarating and, at times, terrifying way.”

Isaiah Berlin 1909 – 1997 CE
"the world's greatest talker"
from The Proper Study of Mankind

Themes: Butterfly

“He felt all at once like an ineffectual moth, fluttering at the windowpane of reality, dimly seeing it from outside”

Philip K. Dick 1928 – 1982 CE
Legendary consciousness provocateur
from Ubik

Themes: Butterfly

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”

Maya Angelou 1928 – 2014 CE

“The caterpillar does all the work, and the butterfly gets all the glory.”

George Carlin 1937 – 2008 CE
One of the most influential social commentators of his time

Themes: Butterfly

36. The Small, Dark Light

“The ultimate idea of rebirth is not purely the idea of physical birth and death. Physical birth and death are very crude examples of it, actually. It's a changing, evolutionary process: there's nothing you can grasp onto; everything is changing. But there is some continuity, of course—the change is the continuity.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE
from Six States of Bardo

psyche, the Greek word for 'soul,' can also mean 'butterfly'... what depths of joy lie hidden within that pinpoint of a brain? The whole world contained in a garden, in a single flower! All time contained in a summer's day, and life one all-embracing multi-orgasmic fragrance!”

Stephen Mitchell 1943 CE –

“Evolution doesn't mean progress. Which is more conscious, the butterfly or the flower?”

Stephen Mitchell 1943 CE –
from Second Book of Tao

“There’s a point in everyone’s life where they need a major transformation. And when that time comes, you have to grab it by the tail, grab it hard and never let go… They obliterate the stye they’ve worked in, and out of the ruins they rise up again.”

Haruki Murakami 1949 CE –
from Killing Commendatore

“The universe is transformation.”

Louise Erdrich 1954 CE –

“One who desires unending praise and attention is like a butterfly trying to find the edge of the sky.”

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

Themes: Butterfly

49. No Set Mind

“in the world of Generation Y people tend not to make definite arrangements when it comes to social life: decisions are made 'spontaneously' at the last moment. Maybe they'll come. Maybe they won't, especially if a better offer comes along. The instant text message has created an epidemic of non-commitment that masquerades as spontaneity.”

Roman Krznaric c. 1964
Practical, popular, modern philosopher

from Carpe Diem Regained

Themes: Butterfly

“When we wake up from our confused state of mind, that is enlightenment.”

Dzogchen Pönlop 1965 CE –

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