Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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We all tend to believe that, “Of course, I know what reality is!” But how do we explain the radically different interpretations? Do we believe we know and no one else does? Although we may not consciously believe this, most of our actions reflect a view that we do know. Knowing reality merges closely with that universal dictum, “Know Yourself.” And indeed, how can we even begin to know ourselves if we don’t know reality. Or maybe better to say, how can we begin to know reality until we know ourselves? Copernicus described one of the impediments along this road of discovery when he said, “to know that we do not know what we do not know is rare and true knowledge.” Other powerful impediments include belief and opinion. To the extent we “know” or believe, we only see that and become blinded to what is. So from this point of view, we can only know reality directly, unfiltered by any religious, philosophical, political, or scientific sage, guru, or professor.

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Quotes (96)

“The surest test if a man be sane is if he accepts life whole, as it is.”

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

21. Following Empty Heart

“The objective world, like a vision, is a manifestation of mind itself.”

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

Themes: Mind Reality

“The king only loves the words, he cannot make use of the reality.”

Sun Tzu 孙武 544 – 496 BCE via Sima Qian
(Sun Zi)
HIstory's supreme strategist
from Art of War 孙子兵法

“reality is unborn and imperishable, whole, unique, immovable and without end it was not in the past, not yet shall it be, since it now is, altogether, one and continuous.”

Parmenides 540 – 450 BCE
Grandfather of Western philosophy
from On Nature

Themes: Reality

“Many value appearances more than reality—thus they violate what’s right.”

Aeschylus Αἰσχύλος 525 – 455 BCE
The Father of Tragedy

Themes: Reality

“Each one is... most manifestly those things of which there are the most in it”

Anaxagoras Ἀναξαγόρας 510 – 428 BCE
“The Copernicus and Darwin of his age”

Themes: Reality

“The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance; for this is the true reality.”

Aristotle Ἀριστοτέλης 382 – 322 BCE

Themes: Art Reality

“Reality is ever elusive and formless, all life is constant change.”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 369 – 286 BCE via Lin Yutang

from Zhuangzi

Themes: Change Reality

“Reputation is only a visitor, but reality is here to stay.”

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

Themes: Reality Fame

“Is our ‘reality’ not as permanent as we think but just a fleeting thought, a dream?”

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

Themes: Reality Dream

“We suffer more from imagination than from reality.”

Seneca ˈsɛnɪkə 4 BCE – 65 CE
(Lucius Annaeus)

“Events have no more reality than clouds swirling through the sky. How can they harm or profit us in any way?”

Nagarjuna नागर्जुन c. 150-250 CE via Keith Dowman

Themes: Reality

“When a person follows the way of the world or the way of tradition and believes in words instead of the sense, the rites instead of the experience; knowledge of Reality cannot arise.”

Plotinus 204 – 249 CE via Shan Dao

“If you use your mind to study reality, you won't understand either your mind or reality. If you study reality without using your mind, you'll understand both.”

Bodhidharma 菩提達磨 5th-6th C. CE

14. Finding and Following the Formless Form

“If you understand, things are just as they are; if you do not understand, things are just as they are.”

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

Themes: Reality

9. Know When to Stop

“The world is just reflections and echoes.”

Layman Pang 龐居士 740 – 808 CE

“As a cloud blocks the light of the sun, I was blocked from the light of reality by my concepts of self and other.”

Kirapālapa ཀི་ར་པཱ་ལ་པ། 8th century CE
(Kirapalapa, "The Repentant Conqueror")
Mahasiddha #73

Themes: Reality

“reality constantly flows… Led by their inverted views, they take black for white”

Dongshan Liangjie 洞山良价 807 – 869 CE
(Dòngshān Liángjiè; Tōzan Ryōkai)
from Song of the Precious Mirror Samadhi

Themes: Reality

“Plow the field of your conditioned being and harvest an endless crop of pure joy, the delight in a continuous stream of reality.”

Medhini མེ་དྷི་ནཱི། 8th century CE via Ken Dowman, Shan Dao
(The Tired Farmer)
Mahasiddha #50

Themes: Reality

“People either neglect the root and focus on the branches or neglect the reality of the branches and focus only on realization.”

Huangbo Xiyun 黄檗希运 ? - 850 CE
(Huangbo Xiyun, Huángbò Xīyùn, Obaku)
from Zen Teachings of Huang Po on the Transmission of Mind, John Blofeld translation

Themes: Reality

18. The Sick Society

“Experience is neither deception nor truth. Reality is uncreated, indeterminate.”

Thaganapa 11th C. CE

Themes: Reality

48. Unlearning

“Realize the nature of mind!”

Mekopa མེ་ཀོ་པ། 1050 CE –
("Guru Dread-Stare")
Mahasiddha #43

Themes: Reality

“If where you stand is reality, then your actions have power... it is there, pure and naked and full of life.”

Yuanwu Keqin 圜悟克勤 1063 – 1135 CE via J.C. and Thomas Cleary
(Yuánwù Kèqín)
from Zen Letters

Themes: Power Reality

“Practice true reality not possessed by emotions but bright and penetrating like moonlight glittering down on mountain streams.”

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

Themes: Reality

“Where there is reality in illusion,there is illusion in reality.”

Sun Bu'er 1119 – 1182 CE via Thomas Cleary
from Secret Book on the Inner Elixir

Themes: Reality Illusion

“Desiring external things harms our bodies. Sages… choose internal reality over external illusion.”

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

Themes: Reality Illusion

12. This Over That

“Like water in a mirage, a dream, an echo, a phantom emanation, a reflection, a castle in the air, or a hallucination; all things are clearly apparent yet to not truly exist”

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

Themes: Water Reality

“If you grasp the leftovers, you cannot hold to reality and will end up cut off from the source.”

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

Themes: Reality Ambition

“The vulgar crowd always is taken by appearances, and the world consists chiefly of the vulgar.”

Machiavelli 1469 – 1527 CE
(Niccolò Machiavelli)
from The Prince

“To know that we know what we know, and to know that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge.”

Copernicus, Nicolaus​ 1473 – 1543 CE
Creator of one of history's greatest revolutions
from De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, 1542

Themes: Reality

“When the mind is given free rein in the realm of thought, it no longer knows what is real.”

Deqing 1546 – 1623 CE

Themes: Reality

12. This Over That

“Happiness and suffering... empty catchwords, book covers without a book, for there is not such thing in reality.”

Lǐ Yú 李漁 1610 – 1680 CE via Richard Martin, Dr. Franz Kuhn, Shan Dao
(Li Liweng)
from Prayer Mat of Sex 肉蒲团 (Jou Pu Tuan)

Themes: Reality

“Reality is one substance with everywhere two (among many) attributes or aspects—material extension and spaceless truth. We are among those parts of reality that can perceive”

Baruch Spinoza 1632 – 1677 CE via Will Durant

Themes: Reality

“All Discord, Harmony, not understood;
All partial Evil, universal Good:
And, spite of Pride, in erring Reason’s spite,
One truth is clear, 'Whatever IS, is RIGHT.'”

Alexander Pope 1688 – 1744 CE
Second most quoted English writer
from An Essay on Man

Themes: Reality Obstacles

“The world of reality has its limits; the world of imagination is boundless.”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1712 – 1778 CE

“an utterly fearless man is a far more dangerous comrade than a coward… the most reliable and useful courage is that which arises from the fair estimation of the encountered peril.”

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

Themes: Fear Fear Reality

“The stupider one is, the closer to reality. Intelligence is a knave, it wriggles and hides but stupidity is honest and straight-forward.”

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

Themes: Paradox Reality

“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.”

Anatole France 1844 – 1924 CE
(Jacques Anatole Thibault)
from The Garden of Epicurus

Themes: True Self Reality

1. The Unnamed

“Inner knowledge and anomalous outer experiences show us a side of reality others are oblivious to, and so begins our journey of awakening.”

Henri-Louis Bergson 1859 – 1941 CE

“What we call reality is a certain rapport between our sensations and the memories that encircle us at the same moment.”

Marcel Proust 1871 – 1922 CE
Apostle of Ordinary Mind
from In Search of Lost Time

Themes: Reality

“It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all.”

G. K. Chesterton 1874 – 1936 CE

Themes: Reality

56. One with the Dust

“Words butter no parsnips; nevertheless, this futile procedure is repeated ad infinitum... the reality of life is covered up by so-called clear concepts. Experience is striped of its substance, and instead mere names are substituted, which are henceforth put in the place of reality.”

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

“Many a truth has lain unnoticed for a long time, ignored simply because no one perceived its potential for becoming reality.”

Albert Schweitzer 1875 – 1965 CE

Themes: Reality

“There is no reality except the one contained within us. That is why so many people live such an unreal life. They take the images outside them for reality and never allow the world within to assert itself.”

Hermann Hesse 1877 – 1962 CE

Themes: Reality

“The spirit of philosophy is one of free inquiry. It suspects all authority. Its function is to trace the uncritical assumptions of human thought to their hiding places, and in this pursuit it may finally end in denial or a frank admission of the incapacity of pure reason to reach the ultimate reality.”

Muhammad Iqbal محمد اقبال 1877 – 1938 CE

“The standpoint of the man who relies on religious experience for capturing Reality must always remain individual and incommunicable.”

Muhammad Iqbal محمد اقبال 1877 – 1938 CE

“If you become objective to yourself you can see other people objectively, but not before, because before that it will all be colored by your own views, attitudes, tastes, by what you like and what you dislike”

Ouspensky Пётр Демья́нович Успе́нский 1878 – 1947 CE
(Pyotr Demianovich Ouspenskii)

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”

Albert Einstein 1879 – 1955 CE

Themes: Reality Illusion

58. Goals Without Means

“Reason is the illusion of reality.”

Inayat Khan 1882 – 1927 CE

Themes: Reality

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“Reality does not exist independent of man, completed and ready; it comes about with man's collaboration, and is proportionate to man's worth.”

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

Themes: Reality

“Since we cannot change reality, let us change the eyes which see reality.”

Nikos Kazantzakis 1883 – 1957 CE
from Report to Greco

Themes: Reality Change

73. Heaven’s Net

“The basic reality in life is not politics, nor industry, but human relationships—the associations of a man with a woman... the family is greater than the State, devotion and despair sink deeper into the heart than economic strife, in the end our happiness lies not in possessions, place, or power, but in the gift and return of love.”

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

“Human kind cannot bear much reality.”

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

Themes: Reality

“No amount of theorizing can tell us as much about divine Reality as can be directly apprehended by a mind in a state of detachment, charity and humility.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE
from Perennial Philosophy

“...reality, however utopian, is something from which people feel the need of taking pretty frequent holidays.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE
from Brave New World

Themes: Reality Shambhala

“The reality of time is identified with the reality of the wholeness of wholes. The quality of the moment when a group becomes an operative whole determines the quality of the wholeness... and the span of wholeness cannot be isolated from the essence of the whole.

Dane Rudhyar 1895 – 1985 CE via Shan Dao
( Daniel Chennevière)
Agent of cultural evolution
from Astrology of Personality, 1936

Themes: Reality Time

“his heart was in a constant, turbulent riot.. For awhile these reveries provided an outlet for his imagination; they were a satisfactory hint of the unreality of reality, a promise that the rock of the world was founded securely on a fairy's wing.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald 1896 – 1940 CE
Prototype of "Jazz Age" exuberance
from Great Gatsby

“Reality is not the result of a process; it is an explosion.”

Nisargadatta Maharaj 1897 – 1981 CE
Householder guru of non-duality
from I Am That

Themes: Reality

“Some got stuck in magic, some in religion, some in science, some in metaphysics or other logical speculations. Only very few remained open to all facets of reality without getting caught in the nets of speculation and wishful thinking.”

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

from Inner Structure of the I Ching

“The Buddhist philosopher, Nagarjuna was probably the first to express a similar idea—reality is in itself a relative term which depend on the standpoint of an observer—and base his whole philosophy on it which led to the foundation of Mahayana, the Great Way, which became the main religion of China and was amalgamated with Taoism in the creation of Ch'an or Zen (the meditative school of Buddhism).”

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

from Inner Structure of the I Ching

“The absolute reality is inconceivable and inexpressible and the more a master speaks of it, the more he will stray from it. For this reason, Yun Men said that the old masters were talking nonsense and asked the monk if they had stopped 'talking in their sleep'.”

Charles Luk 陆宽昱 1898 – 1978 CE
from Chan and Zen Teaching (1961)

Themes: Reality

“We accept reality so readily - perhaps because we sense that nothing is real... Reality is not always probable, or likely.”

Jorge Luis Borges 1899 – 1986 CE
Literary Explorer of Labyrinthian Dreams, Mirrors, and Mythologies

Themes: Reality

“This chapter is a bait for realists.”

Arthur Waley 1899 – 1969 CE
from The Way and its Power

Themes: Reality

3. Weak Wishes, Strong Bones

“We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are.”

Anais Nin 1903 – 1977 CE

Themes: Reality

76. The Soft and Flexible

“Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else.”

George Orwell 1903 – 1950 CE
English, poet, humanist, apostle of doubt, and powerful political influence

Themes: Reality

“All of our decisions about what is and is not are just decisions made in accordance with how it appears to our mind; they have no other basis whatsoever.”

Gendün Chöphel དགེ་འདུན་ཆོས་འཕེལ། 1903 – 1951 CE

Themes: Reality Mind

“For a man to change the basic beliefs that determine his perception - his epistemological premises - he must first become aware that reality is not necessarily as he believes it to be.”

Gregory Bateson 1904 – 1980 CE
from Steps to an Ecology of the Mind

“For a man to change the basic beliefs that determine his perception—his epistemological premises—he must first become aware that reality is not necessarily as he believes it to be.”

Gregory Bateson 1904 – 1980 CE
from Steps to an Ecology of the Mind

“That is the 'eye of wisdom' - to appreciate things and people 'as they are' and live our lives fully in the universe that is 'as it is.'”

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi 1904 – 1971 CE via David Chadwick

“Buddhism is neither pessimistic nor optimistic. If anything at all, it is realistic, for it takes a realistic view of life and the world. It looks at things objectively. It does not falsely lull you into living in a fool's paradise, nor does it frighten and agonize you with all kinds of imaginary fears and sins. It tells you exactly and objectively what you are and what the world around you is, and shows you the way to perfect freedom, peace, tranquility and happiness.”

Walpola Rahula Thero 1907 – 1997 CE
“Supreme Master of Buddhist Scriptures”

Themes: Buddhism Reality

“Where the sacred manifests itself in space, the real unveils itself, the world comes into existence.”

Mircea Eliade 1907 – 1986 CE

Themes: Reality

“Dreams are as illusory as reality experienced when awake”

Freda Bedi, Sister Palmo 1911 – 1977 CE

Themes: Dream Reality

“A point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted for insight and understanding.”

Marshall McLuhan 1911 – 1980 CE

Themes: Belief Reality

71. Sick of Sickness

“When unreality meets reality, which is experiencing, then slowly the unreality just fades away. You begin to recognize what's underneath the surface, what's underneath even that core belief.”

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

from Ordinary Wonder

Themes: Reality

“In nature, the emphasis is in what is rather than what ought to be.”

Huston Smith 1919 – 2016 CE

“This verse celebrates the relativity of reality, thereby aligning itself with modern science, especially Einstein's theory of relativity.”

Ralph Alan Dale 1920 – 2006 CE
Translator, author, visionary
from Tao Te Ching, a new translation and commentary

Themes: Science Reality

2. The Wordless Teachings

“Don't be so blind with patriotism that you can't face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or says it.

Malcolm X الحاجّ مالك الشباز‎‎ 1925 – 1965 CE

Themes: Reality

“We eat reality sandwiches. But allegories are so much lettuce. Don't hide the madness.”

Allen Ginsberg 1926 – 1997 CE

33. Know Yourself

“The past exists only in our memories, the future only in our plans. The present is our only reality… the moment of vision before intellectualization”

Robert M. Pirsig 1928 – 2017 CE
from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.”

Philip K. Dick 1928 – 1982 CE
Legendary consciousness provocateur

Themes: Reality

“Imagination should be used, not to escape reality but to create it.”

Colin Wilson 1931 – 2013 CE

“Every kind of ignorance in the world all results from not realizing that our perceptions are gambles. We believe what we see and then we believe our interpretation of it, we don't even know we are making an interpretation most of the time. We think this is reality.”

Robert Anton Wilson 1932 – 2007 CE
from Real Reality

49. No Set Mind

“Reality is one of the possibilities I cannot afford to ignore”

Leonard Cohen 1934 – 2016 CE
from Beautiful Losers

Themes: Reality

“Impermanence is a principle of harmony. When we don't struggle against it, we are in harmony with reality.”

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

“The shadows of dreams are reality. Dreams produce reality; reality produces dreams.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE
from Illusion's Game

Themes: Dream Reality

“Reality is a harry beast... How connected you are with reality depends somewhat on your degree of sanity, but at the same time your disconnection with reality also comes through, and a message will come through at once, very clearly, strongly and properly.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE
from Selected Talks on Lineage and Devotion (1970)

Themes: Reality

“I think it’s a question of being in contact with reality, then we don’t have to crank up something else.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE
from Realizing Enlightened Society

Themes: Reality

81. Journey Without Goal

“The scene seemed somehow divorced from reality, although reality, he knew, could at times be terribly unreal.”

Haruki Murakami 1949 CE –
from Men Without Women (2017)

Themes: Reality

“In dreams you don't need to make any distinctions between things. Boundaries don't exist so there are hardly ever any collisions. Reality is different. Reality bites.”

Haruki Murakami 1949 CE – via Philip Gabriel
from Sputnik Sweetheart

Themes: Reality

“Reality was not only capable of taking part in a dialogue — intelligible and articulate — it was also persuadable.”

Susanna Clarke 1959 CE –
from Piranesi

Themes: Reality

“Reality is not easy, but all this make-believe doesn't make it easier.”

Ayaan Hirsi Ali 1969 CE –
Powerful voice for Islamic reform
from Infidel

Themes: Reality

“You’re squeezing a size -eighteen reality into a size-eleven supposition.”

David Mitchell 1969 CE –
from Cloud Atlas

“Our notion of reality is at variance with actual reality because we are surrounded by clichéd depictions of the world”

Alain de Botton 1969 CE –
Philosophic link between ancient wisdom and modern challenge
from How Proust Can Change Your Life

Themes: Reality

Let it be makes it possible to see that our true nature is free from problems, distress, and suffering—and that it always has been... But this is not freedom from distress and anxiety. It is freedom that can be experience with stress and anxiety. We are liberated from suffering by correctly perceiving reality.”

Mingyur Rinpoche 1975 CE –
Modern-day Mahasiddha

from In Love with the World

Themes: Reality

“resistance to change puts us at odds with reality, and this creates never-ceasing dissatisfaction”

Mingyur Rinpoche 1975 CE –
Modern-day Mahasiddha

from In Love With the World

Themes: Reality

“We humans have conquered the world thanks to our ability to create and believe fictional stories. We are therefore particularly bad at knowing the difference between fiction and reality.”

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

from 21 Lessons for the 21st Century

Themes: Reality Illusion



by Philip K. Dick
Legendary consciousness provocateur

Man in the High Castle,

by Philip K. Dick
Legendary consciousness provocateur

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