Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Most may consider “enlightenment” as a far and distant goal, unattainable for all but the most exceptionally superior and advanced, incomparably beyond the common person. Contrariwise however, in the Buddhist/Taoist/Confucian/Hindu and mystical traditions; enlightenment is understood as our basic state of being. In order to control their populations, governments frequently promote the view that people are deeply and sinfully flawed to justify their despotic political, cultural, and religious positions as well as genocide, imperialism, racism, and misogyny. This potently spreads epidemic beliefs in human “Basic Badness” and helps keep ruling classes in power. It also leads to self-contempt, suicide, war, murders, and various atrocities. The contrary view of enlightenment has a foundation in an experience of Basic Goodness that builds a foundation for democracy, personal choice, and individual liberation. When this attitude came into Western Civilization, it became the bedrock for the Enlightenment, Humanism, Science, and the Age of Reason. When this attitude comes into the world of philosophy, it brings an appreciation for everyday life, nature, compassion for other people and animals. When it comes into the spiritual realm, it brings realizations like the wu wei of Taoism, the Buddhist approach of Journey Without Goal, and mystical understandings of oneness and non-duality. The emphasis shifts from goal-oriented attainment to realizations of who and what we really are.

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Quotes (76)

“I have become like Paradise, a garden whose fruit is joy.”

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

Themes: Enlightenment

“A sage’s movement is like that of water, his stillness like that of a mirror, his responses like those of an echo.”

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

“We must go beyond word and discrimination and enter upon the path of realization.”

Buddha गौतम बुद्ध 563 – 483 BCE via D. T. Suzuki
(Siddhartha Shakyamuni Gautama)
Awakened Truth
from Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra

“You might not be aware of your own enlightenment.”

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

Themes: Enlightenment

“Avoiding extremes, the wise gain the experience of the Middle Path which produces insight, calms, and leads to higher knowledge, enlightenment.”

Buddha गौतम बुद्ध 563 – 483 BCE via Shan Dao
(Siddhartha Shakyamuni Gautama)
Awakened Truth
from The Surmon at Benares

“‘Love' is the name for our pursuit of wholeness, for our desire to be complete.”

Plato Πλάτων 428 – 348 BCE

Themes: Enlightenment

39. Oneness

“Forget the years, forget distinctions. Leap into the boundless and make it your home.”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 369 – 286 BCE

11. Appreciating Emptiness

“A special teaching, without scriptures, beyond words and letters, pointing to the mind-essence of man, seeing directly into one’s nature, attaining enlightenment.”

Anonymous 1 via Paul Reps
Freedom from the narrow boxes defined by personal history

“The kingdom of God comes not with observation… the kingdom of God is within you”

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

“Dig within. Within is the wellspring of Good; and it is always ready to bubble up, if you just dig.”

Marcus Aurelius 121 – 219 CE

62. Basic Goodness

“It is called, ‘consummation of incomparable enlightenment.’ attained by freedom from separate personal selfhood and by cultivating all kinds of goodness… though there is no goodness; such is merely a name.”

Nagarjuna नागर्जुन 1

54. Planting Well

“Awareness means Buddhahood.”

Bodhidharma 菩提達磨 1

Themes: Enlightenment

“Not creating delusions is enlightenment.”

Bodhidharma 菩提達磨 1

“Before enlightenment, chopping wood and carrying water. After enlightenment, chopping wood and carrying water.”

Jianzhi Sengcan 鑑智僧璨 529 – 606 CE
(Jiànzhì Sēngcàn)

80. A Golden Age

“Whoever realizes that from the very beginning there has been nothing other than mind, has acquired the realization of all the Buddhas of the three times.”

Saraha 1

35. The Power of Goodness

“Now I know the pearl of the Buddha-nature, know its use: a boundless perfect sphere”

Han Shan 1
(Cold Mountain)

Themes: Enlightenment

45. Complete Perfection

“The basis for realizing enlightenment is a human body. Male or female, there is no great difference. But if she develops the mind bent on enlightenment, the woman's body is better.”

Padmasambhava པདྨཱ་ཀ་ར། 1 via Keith Dowman
("The Lotus-Born", Guru Rinpoche)

“A mere glimpse… of pure light form destroys mental fiction like an elephant berserk.”

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

Themes: Enlightenment

63. Easy as Hard

“At the moment of my realization, my mind basked in the radiance of its own emptiness. Even Buddha became a meaningless label.”

Kirapālapa ཀི་ར་པཱ་ལ་པ། 1
(Kirapalapa, "The Repentant Conqueror")
Mahasiddha #73

“Bodhi is attainable at the very moment we make up our minds to achieve it....”

Hui Hai 大珠慧海 788 – 831 CE
from Essential Gate for Entry Into Sudden Enlightenment (Tun-wu ju dao yao-men)

Themes: Enlightenment

“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 1 via Richard Wilhelm, Shan Dao
(Lü Tung-Pin)

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

“Talking about ‘attaining enlightenment’ is the one of the best ways to drive true realization far away.”

Huangbo Xiyun 黄檗希运 1 via Shan Dao
(Huangbo Xiyun, Huángbò Xīyùn, Obaku)

71. Sick of Sickness

“When you aren't either attached to or detached from, you enjoy perfect unobstructed freedom, the seat of enlightenment.”

Huangbo Xiyun 黄檗希运 1
(Huangbo Xiyun, Huángbò Xīyùn, Obaku)

“Whoever realizes the purity of his own mind, sees through the Buddha's eyes.”

Carbaripa ཙ་རྦ་རི་པ། 1 via Keith Dowman
(Carpati, “The Petrifier”)
Mahasiddha #64
from Masters of Enchantment

“The true nature of passions has turned out to be the sublime knowledge of emancipation.”

Tilopa 988 – 1069 CE

“Your own mind, uncontrived, is the body of ultimate enlightenment.”

Niguma 1

32. Uncontrived Awareness

“When there is continuous awareness from mind-moment to mind-moment you will naturally meet the Source on all sides.”

Yuanwu Keqin 圜悟克勤 1063 – 1135 CE
(Yuánwù Kèqín)
from Zen Letters

6. The Source

“Enlightenment is not far away.”

Gampopa སྒམ་པོ་པ། 1079 – 1153 CE via Herbert Guenther
(Sönam Rinchen, Dakpo Rinpoche)
from Jewel Ornament of Liberation

Themes: Enlightenment

34. An Unmoored Boat

“Naturally the mind flowers, radiance shines out, you travel without hindrance, free at last.”

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

Themes: Enlightenment

“Not Buddha is Buddha, is Not Buddha Not Buddha?”

Hóngzhì Zhēngjué 宏智正覺 1091 – 1157 CE
from Book of Equanimity

Themes: Enlightenment

“I seek no state of enlightenment. Neither do I remain where no enlightenment exists. If hundreds of birds strew my path with flowers, such praise would be meaningless.”

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

from 10 Bulls

“A thunderclap under the clear blue sky
All beings on earth open their eyes;
Everything under heaven bows together;
Mount Sumeru leaps up and dances.”

Mumon Ekai 無門慧開 1183 – 1260 CE
(Wumen Huikai)
Pioneering pathfinder to the Gateless Gate

Themes: Enlightenment

“Even the traces of enlightenment are wiped out, and life with traceless enlightenment goes on forever and ever.”

Dōgen Zenji 道元禅師 1200 – 1253 CE

27. No Trace

“There is no beginning to practice nor end to enlightenment; There is no beginning to enlightenment nor end to practice.”

Dōgen Zenji 道元禅師 1200 – 1253 CE

Themes: Enlightenment

14. Finding and Following the Formless Form

“enlightenment after enlightenment with no trace of enlightenment”

Dōgen Zenji 道元禅師 1200 – 1253 CE via David Chadwick

27. No Trace

“When a person sees All in all, then they stand beyond mere understanding.”

Meister Eckhart 1260 – 1328 CE
(Eckhart von Hochheim)

“Enlightenment sets the mind free and is like returning home from an alien world, like a mother and child huddling together, like a light gathered and beamed onto its source.”

Longchenpa ཀློང་ཆེན་རབ་འབྱམས་པ། 1308 – 1364 CE via Herbert V. Guenther, Shan Dao
(Longchen Rabjampa, Drimé Özer)
from Kindly Bent to Ease Us, Trilogy of Finding Comfort and Ease ངལ་གསོ་སྐོར་གསུམ་

Themes: Enlightenment

“What is this precious love and laughter budding in our hearts?
Is is the glorious sound of a soul waking up!”

Hafiz خواجه شمس‌‌الدین محمد حافظ شیرازی 1315 – 1394 CE via Daniel Ladinsky
(Hafez, Shams-ud-Dīn Muḥammad)
Inspiring friend to the true and free human spirit

“I have not heard of a single Buddha, past or present, who has been enlightened by sacred prayers and scriptures.”

Bassui Tokushō 抜隊 得勝 1327 – 1387 CE
Meditation master without distraction

“Seeing one's nature is Buddhahood.”

Bassui Tokushō 抜隊 得勝 1327 – 1387 CE
Meditation master without distraction

“Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.”

Matsuo Bashō 松尾 芭蕉 1644 – 1694 CE

Themes: Enlightenment

81. Journey Without Goal

“This very earth is the Lotus Land of purity,
And this very body is the Body of the Buddha.”

Hakuin Ekaku 白隠 慧鶴 1686 – 1769 CE

“Enlightenment is man's release from his self-incurred inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another. Have courage to use your own reason!”

Immanuel Kant 1724 – 1804 CE via Shan Dao
from Metaphysics of Morals (1909)

“Every situation--nay, every moment--is of infinite worth; for it is the representative of a whole eternity.”

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 1749 – 1832 CE

32. Uncontrived Awareness

“Delusion and enlightenment produce one another… You get rid of this, then grab hold of that. Don’t you see how stupid it is!”

Ryokan 良寛大愚 1758 – 1758 CE
(Ryōkan Taigu,“The Great Fool”)

19. All Methods Become Obstacles

“Even if all the Buddhas were to appear before me, I would have no doubts for them to clarify.”

Shabkar Tsokdruk Rangdrol ཞབས་དཀར་ཚོགས་དྲུག་རང་གྲོལ། 1781 – 1851 CE via Matthieu Ricard
from Life of Shabkar: The Autobiography of a Tibetan Yogin

Themes: Enlightenment

38. Fruit Over Flowers

“The quest for enlightenment only makes sense because buddha-nature is already present.”

Jamgon Kongtrul the Great འཇམ་མགོན་ཀོང་སྤྲུལ་བློ་གྲོས་མཐའ་ཡས། 1813 – 1899 CE via Judith Hanson
(Jamgön Kongtrül Lodrö Thayé)
from Torch of Certainty

47. Effortless Success

“To be awake is to be alive… millions are awake enough for physical labor, but only one in hundreds of millions is awake enough for a poetic or divine life.”

Henry David Thoreau 1817 – 1862 CE
Father of environmentalism and America's first yogi

“Long enough have you dream'd contemptible dreams,
Now I wash the gum from your eyes,
You must habit yourself to the dazzle of the light
and of every moment of your life”

Walt Whitman 1819 – 1892 CE
Premier "poet of democracy" and model for Dracula
from Leaves of Grass

“Peace can only come as a natural consequence of universal enlightenment... the elimination of egoism and pride which always plunges the world into primeval barbarism and strife”

Nikola Tesla Никола Тесла 1856 – 1943 CE

“The qualities of enlightenment are inherent in consciousness but can remain invisible for a long time... always present in us but latent until we recognize it”

Shechen Gyaltsap 1871 – 1926 CE via Matthieu Ricard
Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche's main teacher
from Chariot of Complete Liberation

Themes: Enlightenment

“'Yes,' I thought, 'this is it, my world, the real world, the secret where there are no teachers, no schools, no unanswerable questions, where one can be without having to ask anything'... In real life, I have promised myself this splendor again and again, but I have never kept my promise.”

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

“The greatest obstacle to enlightenment is getting past your delusion that you are not already enlightened.”

Ramana Maharshi 1879 – 1950 CE

“My suffocating soul, unable any longer to fit within its cage of clay, was hanging from my scalp and weighting whether or not to flee... It was being convulsed by a cry, a command to break our prison bars of morality, shame, and hope, and to give ourselves over to, lose ourselves in, become one with the fearful, enticing Lover who lies in wait in the darkness and whom we call God... I felt that love, death, and God were one and the same.”

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

Themes: Enlightenment

“If only we could see man crucified and man resurrected in every heartbeat, could sense that ants, stars, ghosts, and ideas all issue from the same mother as we do, that we all suffer and all hope the day will come when our eyes will be opened and we shall see that we all are one”

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

Themes: Enlightenment

“The only real revolution is in the enlightenment of the mind... the only real revolutionists are philosophers and saints.”

Will (and Ariel) Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
from Lessons of History

“If you meet someone never looking for a reward, acting completely unselfishly but leaving visible traces on the world, you are in the presence of an enlightened, unforgettable character.”

Jean Giono 1895 – 1970 CE via Shan Dao
from Man Who Planted Trees

“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

“Taoism and Buddhism pursue the same aims... The highest goal of Taoism as well as Buddhism is a state of enlightenment which the Buddha defines as the overcoming of greed, hatred, and ignorance—not stupidity but the ignoring of facts which appear uncomfortable or against our desires.”

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

from Inner Structure of the I Ching

“When your practice is calm and ordinary, everyday life itself is enlightenment.”

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi 1904 – 1971 CE via Trudy Dixon
from Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

“We have to believe in something that has no form and no color – something that exists before all forms and colors appear… By enlightenment I mean believing in nothing.”

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi 1904 – 1971 CE

14. Finding and Following the Formless Form
11. Appreciating Emptiness

“Since all things are naked, clear and free from obscurations, there is nothing to attain or realize.”

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche དིལ་མགོ་མཁྱེན་བརྩེ། 1910 – 1991 CE
"Mind" incarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo
from Maha Ati

57. Wu Wei

“enlightenment isn't something we march toward, and one day, somehow, we grab it. Enlightenment is the ending in yourself of that hope for something other than life being as it is.”

Charlotte Joko Beck 1917 – 2011 CE
Authentic, pioneering Western Zen master

from Ordinary Wonder

Themes: Enlightenment

“a state of being where the mind knows the source of all light... the saints, the arhats, the bodhisattvas, the jivanmuktas who knew something or everything about this state of being... we wanted you to know who and what Jesus and Gautama and Lao Tzu and Shankaracharya and Huineng and Sri Ramakrishna, etc., were before you knew too much or anything about Homer or Shakespeare or even Blake or Whitman, let alone George Washington and his cherry tree... or how to parse a sentence”

J. D. Salinger 1919 – 2010 CE
from Franny and Zooey

Themes: Enlightenment

“We need enlightenment, not just individually but collectively, to save the planet. We need to awaken ourselves. We need to practice mindfulness if we want to have a future, if we want to save ourselves and the planet.”

Thích Nhất Hạnh tʰǐk ɲɜ̌t hɐ̂ʔɲ 1926 CE –

“If you breathe in and are aware that you are alive - that you can touch the miracle of being alive - then that is a kind of enlightenment.”

Thích Nhất Hạnh tʰǐk ɲɜ̌t hɐ̂ʔɲ 1926 CE –

“If we can recognize our own mysterious secret wisdom essence... then enlightenment is no longer mysterious because—inseparable from the Buddha—we are the mysterious.”

Thinley Norbu གདུང་སྲས་ཕྲིན་ལས་ནོར་བུ 1931 – 2011 CE
(Kyabjé Dungse)
from Magic Dance (1981)

Themes: Enlightenment

“When one of the emperors of China asked Bodhidharma what enlightenment was, his answer was, ‘Lots of space, nothing holy’… It’s all good juicy stuff … the art of living in the present moment.”

Pema Chödrön 1936 CE –
(Deirdre Blomfield-Brown)
First American Vajrayana nun

64. Ordinary Mind

“What seems to be insane is enlightenment.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE
from Illusion's Game

Themes: Enlightenment

41. Distilled Life

“You can achieve complete freedom; you can experience vastness. Genuine wakefulness is possible constantly.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE via Judith Lief, editor
from Bodhisattva Path of Wisdom and Compassion

“Milarepa reached the 'old dog' stage, his highest attainment. People could tread on him, use his as a road, as earth; he would always be there. He transcended his own individual existence so that there is a sense of the universality of Milarepa, the example of enlightenment.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE
from Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism

Themes: Enlightenment

“The only kind of progress we can have is a kind that is easy to miss while we are living through it... long term gains with short-term setbacks... Pulling us forward are ingenuity, sympathy, and benign institutions. Pushing us back are the darker sides of human nature and the Second Law of Thermodynamics.”

Steven Pinker 1954 CE –
Humanistic scientist, insightful cultural commentaror
from Enlightenment Now

“As enlightenment begins to dawn, reality, which had seemed all chopped up, turns out to possess an underlying continuity, a kind of infrastructure of interconnection.”

Robert Wright 1957 CE –
from Why Buddhism is True

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

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

41. Distilled Life

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

Dzogchen Pönlop 1965 CE –

“Physical death offers the best opportunity for enlightenment; and enlightenment offers the best opportunity for helping others.”

Mingyur Rinpoche 1975 CE –
Modern-day Mahasiddha

from In Love With the World

Themes: Enlightenment


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