Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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As Pascal wrote, “Human life is only an endless illusion. Men deceive and flatter each other. No one speaks of us in our presence as he does when we are gone. Society is based on mutual hypocrisy.” Most of us have illusions that we’re far better and more capable than reality suggests. We genetically believe that our tribe, our group, our political party is much better and worthy then is actually the case. This same dynamic projected onto a political campaign led millions and millions of people to believe that a decadent, playboy, reality TV star could run a country. Hopefully, seeing this president crash down in flames of incompetence, decadence, and duplicity will also lead his followers to a deeper, psychological seeing through of this widespread hubris, the fantasy that they and the world are what they want to believe rather than who and what they really are. To bracket this thought with another Pascal quote, “Once your soul has been enlarged by a truth, it can never return to its original size.”

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Quotes (92)

“He could not look farther than the moment… He met the event as it came and so events buffeted him and blew him about”

Lavinia 12th C. BCE
Prophetess and co-foundrer of the Roman Empire

Themes: Failure Illusion

“Blessed are the man and the woman who have grown beyond their greed and have put an end to their hatred and no longer nourish illusions.”

King David 1000 – 920 BCE via Stephen Mitchell
"The baffled king composing Hallelujah!"
from Book of Psalms

Themes: Greed Illusion

“The body is ownerless, the product of a variety of conditions. Impermanent, fragile, and feeble it is like a magical illusion, consisting of falsifications like a ball of foam, unable to bear any pressure like a water bubble, not remaining very long, like a mirage, born from the appetites of the passions. Wise men do not rely on it.”

Vimalkirti विमल 600 – 500 BCE via Robert Thurman, Shan Dao
Close disciple of the Buddha who extended his teachings to common people
from Vimalakirti Sutra

Themes: Illusion

“Seeing the meaningful as meaningful, and the meaningless as meaningless, one is capable of genuine understanding.”

Buddha गौतम बुद्ध 563 – 483 BCE via Eknath Easwaran
(Siddhartha Shakyamuni Gautama)
Awakened Truth
from Dhammapada धम्मपद

“The most powerful form of deception is to create the existence of that which does not exist in order to create the nonexistence of that which exists.Thus he can hide in front of people's eyes”

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

Themes: Illusion

“Gods manifest themselves in many forms,
Bring many matters to surprising ends;
The things we thought would happen do not;
The unexpected occurs.”

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

Themes: Illusion God

“Do not think that by avoiding grand passions you are missing the delights of Venus... Lovers' passion is storm-tossed, even in the moment of fruition, by waves of delusion and incertitude.”

Lucretius 99 – 55 BCE via R. E. Latham
(Titus Carus)
from De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things)

Themes: Illusion

“Conflicting emotions, deeds and bodies, actors and results are as castles in the sky, a mirage, an optical illusion and the moon's reflection in water.”

Nagarjuna नागर्जुन c. 150-250 CE via Dudjom Rinpoche
from Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism

Themes: Illusion Water

“Knowing is illusion; not-knowing is blankness. If you really attain to the Way of no-doubt it is like the great void, so vast and boundless.”

Nansen, Nanquan Puyuan 南泉普願 749 – 835 CE

Themes: Doubt Illusion

“Having the Buddha-Eye means perceiving that there is nothing to perceive, that perceiving as though an objective existence only creates illusion.”

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

Themes: Illusion

“Everything we do is a passing show… an insubstantial, hollow illusion.”

Jālandhara ཛཱ་ལནྡྷ་ར་པ། 888 CE –
("The Ḍākinī's Chosen One")
Mahasiddha #46

Themes: Illusion

“become a child of illusion.”

Atisha ཨ་ཏི་ཤ་མར་མེ་མཛད་དཔལ་ཡེ་ཤེས་ 980 – 1054 CE via Chögyam Trungpa
(Atiśa Dīpaṃkara Śrījñāna)
from Seven Points of Mind Training, Lojong བློ་སྦྱོངས་དོན་བདུན་མ;

Themes: Illusion

12. This Over That

“Man is wise only while in search of wisdom; when he imagines he has attained it, he is a fool.”

Solomon ibn Gabirol שלמה בן יהודה אבן גבירול 1021 – 1070 CE via Ascher
from Choice of Pearls

Themes: Illusion Wisdom

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“Thickly o'er the jasper terrace flower shadows play;
In vain I call my garden boy to sweep them all away.
They vanish when the sun sets in the west, but very soon
They spring to giddy life again beneath the rising moon.”

Su Shi 苏轼 1037 – 1101 CE via Flower Shadows (tr: Herbert A. Giles)
(Dongpo, Su Tungpo)
"pre-eminent personality of 11th century China"

Themes: Illusion

“For in and out, above, about, below,
’Tis nothing but a Magic Shadow-show,
Round which we Phantom Figures come and go.”

Omar Khayyám 1048 – 1131 CE
Persian Astronomer-Poet, prophet of the here and now

from Rubaiyat

Themes: Magic Illusion

“The monkey grabs at the reflection in the moon.”

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

Themes: Illusion Moon

“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: Illusion Reality

“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: Illusion Reality

12. This Over That

“The thought of death prevents us from losing ourselves in the illusions that constantly surround us, brings us back to our true selves, and reminds us of the importance of this very moment.”

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: Illusion

“In simply arising, forms are by nature empty. From what is unborn there manifests what seems to be born, but even as it manifests, nothing whatsoever has been born... These are illusory expressions of emptiness. Even with abiding there is nothing that abides.”

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

“And what is all this life but a kind of comedy, wherein men walk up and down in one another's disguises and act their respective parts… Thus are all things represented by counterfeit, and yet without this there is no living.”

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

“The majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances, as though they were realities, and are often more influenced by the things that seem than by those that are.”

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

“Usually those who have limited understanding think they know more, and those who have no brains, think they know everything.”

Giordano Bruno 1548 – 1600 CE

Themes: Opinion Illusion

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“Human understanding is like a false mirror, which, receiving rays irregularly, distorts and discolors the nature of things by mingling its own nature with it.”

Francis Bacon 1561 – 1626 CE via David Mitchell

Themes: Illusion

“All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts.”

William Shakespeare 1564 – 1616 CE
from As You Like It

57. Wu Wei

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

William Shakespeare 1564 – 1616 CE
from As You Like It

Themes: Illusion Wisdom

67. Three Treasures

“All fools are fully convinced and everyone fully convinced is a fool.”

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

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“Things pass for what they seem, not for what they are.”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE via Joseph Jacobs, chapter #99
from Art of Worldly Wisdom

Themes: Illusion

“Human life is thus only an endless illusion. Men deceive and flatter each other. No one speaks of us in our presence as he does when we are gone. Society is based on mutual hypocrisy.”

Blaise Pascal 1623 – 1662 CE
One of the greatest French writers of all time

Themes: Lies Illusion

“There is in the universe no chaos, no confusion save in appearance.”

Leibniz 1646 – 1716 CE
(Gottfried Wilhelm (von) Leibniz)

“Illusion is the first of all pleasures.”

Voltaire, François-Marie Arouet 1694 – 1778 CE

Themes: Pleasure Illusion

“He wished to please everybody; and, having little to give, he gave expectations.”

Benjamin Franklin 1706 – 1790 CE
from Poor Richard's Almanack

Themes: Illusion

48. Unlearning

“The highest problem of every art is, by means of appearances, to produce the illusion of a loftier reality.”

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 1749 – 1832 CE
from Truth and Poetry

Themes: Illusion

“Truth has to be repeated constantly, because Error also is being preached all the time, and not just by a few, but by the multitude… happy and comfortable in the knowledge of having Majority on its side.”

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 1749 – 1832 CE

Themes: Illusion

41. Distilled Life

“Those who regard universal suffrage as a guarantee for good choices are under a complete illusion. Universal suffrage has other advantages, but not that one.”

Alexis de Tocqueville 1805 – 1859 CE
Pioneering researcher into the conflicts between freedom and equality

Themes: Illusion

“All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.”

Edgar Allan Poe Edgar Allen Poe 1809 – 1849 CE

Themes: Illusion Dream

13. Honor and Disgrace

“young and noble impulse struggling amidst the conditions of an imperfect social state, in which great feelings will often take the aspect of error, and great faith the aspect of illusion. For there is no creature whose inward being is so strong that it is not greatly determined by what lies outside it.”

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

from Middlemarch

“Rob the average man of his life-illusions and you rob him of his happiness.”

Henrik Ibsen 1828 – 1906 CE
"The world's 2nd most-performed playwright"
from The Wild Duck (1884​)

Themes: Illusion

“The common eye sees only the outside of things, and judges by that, but the seeing eye pierces through and reads the heart and the soul, finding there capacities which the outside didn't indicate or promise, and which the other kind of eye couldn't detect.”

Mark Twain 1835 – 1910 CE
(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)
America’s most famous author

Themes: Illusion

57. Wu Wei

“Things are seldom what they seem, Skim milk masquerades as cream…”

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

from H.M.S. Pinafore, 1878

“People don't want to hear the truth because they don't want their illusions destroyed.”

Friedrich Nietzsche 1844 – 1900 CE

Themes: Truth Illusion

“Whenever a man does a thoroughly stupid thing, it is always from the noblest motives.”

Oscar Wilde 1854 – 1900 CE
from Picture of Dorian Gray

Themes: Illusion

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

George Bernard Shaw 1856 – 1950 CE
UK playwright second only to Shakespeare

“The judgements of value made by mankind are attempts to prop up their illusions with arguments.”

Sigmund Freud 1856 – 1939 CE
from Civilization and its Discontents, 1930​

Themes: Illusion

“Science is no illusion. But it would be an illusion to think that we can get elsewhere what science cannot give.”

Sigmund Freud 1856 – 1939 CE

Themes: Illusion Science

“of all the illusions that beset mankind, none is quite so curious a that tendency to suppose that we are mentally and morally superior to those who differ from us in opinion.”

Elbert Hubbard 1856 – 1915 CE
from A Thousand and One Epigrams

Themes: Illusion

“Fortunately, some are born with spiritual immune systems that sooner or later give rejection to the illusory worldview grafted upon them from birth through social conditioning.”

Henri-Louis Bergson 1859 – 1941 CE

“In the spring a young man’s fancy turns … pretty fancy.”

Dean Inge 1860 – 1954 CE
Christian mystic and philosopher

Themes: Illusion Illusion

“In the spring a young man’s fancy turns … pretty fancy.”

Dean Inge 1860 – 1954 CE
Christian mystic and philosopher

Themes: Illusion Illusion

“To be bewitched is not to be saved, though all the magicians and aesthetes in the world should pronounce it to be so.”

Santayana, George 1863 – 1952 CE
(Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás)
Powerfully influential, true-to-himself philosopher/poet
from The Life of Reason

Themes: Illusion

“Moral uncertainty is an even greater cause of inexact visual perception than is defective eyesight.”

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

Themes: Illusion

“What philosophy should dissipate is certainty, whether of knowledge or ignorance.”

Bertrand Russell 1872 – 1970 CE
“20th century Voltaire”
from Autobiography of Bertrand Russell

14. Finding and Following the Formless Form

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.”

Bertrand Russell 1872 – 1970 CE
“20th century Voltaire”

“If no one else, the dying must notice how unreal, how full of pretense, is all that we accomplish here, where nothing is allowed to be itself.”

Rainer Maria Rilke 1875 – 1926 CE
Profound singer of universal music

“The human merry-go-round sees many changes: the illusion that cost India the efforts of thousands of years to unmask the same illusion the the West has labored just as hard to maintain and strengthen.”

Hermann Hesse 1877 – 1962 CE
from Steppenwolf

Themes: Hinduism Illusion

“One of the worst illusions we have is thinking that negative emotions are produced by circumstances. All negative emotions come from within us, not from an external source.”

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: Illusion Reality

58. Goals Without Means

“Dionysus shatters individuation... Men and beasts become brothers, death itself is seen as one of life's masks, the multiform stalking-blind of illusion rips in two, and we find ourselves in breast-to-breast contact with truth. What truth? The truth that we all are one, that all of us together create God, that God is not man's ancestor but his descendant.”

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

Themes: Illusion

“we give too much time to news about the transient present, too little to the living past. We are choked with news, and starved of history.”

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

Themes: Illusion

“And do not choose a fool only because she has a pretty face. Some day he might kill a woman like that out of anger at her witlessness.”

Pearl Buck 1892 – 1973 CE
from Dragon Seed

Themes: Illusion Beauty

“The aim of Western psychiatry is to help the trouble individual to adjust himself to the society of less troubled individuals—back to a normality, which is defined [as] to be a member of the majority party... Statistical normality is perfectly compatible with a high degree of folly and wickedness.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE
from Forward to "The Supreme Doctrine"

Themes: Illusion

“Successfully (whatever that may mean) or unsuccessfully, we all overact the part of our favorite character in fiction.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE

Themes: Illusion Success

57. Wu Wei

“There is no birth there is no death… it’s all a concept, it’s all an illusion.”

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

“The principle enemy of freedom is illusion... the illusion of the importance of the sie or quantity, the illusion of our technical superiority, the illusion that we don't dare to think. and there is the illusion related to all these illusions—the illusion of progress.”

Robert Hutchins 1899 – 1977 CE
(Robert Maynard Hutchins)

Themes: Progress Illusion

“The map is not the territory, and the name is not the thing named.”

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

“the goal of a college should be to create people who are not lost, to create sages—people without doubts or illusions... But colleges today are different... the more one studies, the less one comes to know the world at large... They don't understand what it means to understand”

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

“Nor is it a new thing for Man to invent an existence that he imagines to be above the rest of life; this has been his most consistent intellectual exertion down the millennia. As illusion, it has never worked out to his satisfaction in the past, any more than it does today.”

Lewis Thomas 1913 – 1993 CE
Gestaltist of science and art
from Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher

“The very nature of our practice is to see through the expectations and illusions in our relationships.”

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

from Ordinary Wonder

Themes: Illusion

Plato described ordinary life as unthinking, lived in a dim cave of shadowy reflections, but said that it is possible to leave the cave and see things in sunlit clarity as they actually are.”

Huston Smith 1919 – 2016 CE
from World's Religions

“Psychoactive drugs may produce religious experiences. ...it is far less clear that they can produce religious lives.”

Huston Smith 1919 – 2016 CE

Themes: Medicine Illusion

“A man’s fate is a man’s fate and life is but an illusion.”

James Clavell 1921 – 1994 CE
Fictionalizing and fictional historian
from Shōgun, 1975

“The mind spends most of the time lost in fantasies and illusions, reliving pleasant or unpleasant experiences and anticipating the future with eagerness or fear. While lost in such cravings or aversions, we are unaware of what is happening now, what we are doing now.”

Goenka ဂိုအင်ကာ 1924 – 2013 CE
(Satya Narayan)
"The Man who Taught the World to Meditate"

“We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness.”

Thích Nhất Hạnh tʰǐk ɲɜ̌t hɐ̂ʔɲ 1926 CE – via David Loy

“Sports are another example of the indoctrination system because it offers people something to pay attention to that's of no importance, that keeps them from worrying about things that matter to their lives, that might give them some idea of doing something about.”

Noam Chomsky 1928 CE –
from Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media

Themes: Illusion

“We take a handful of sand from the endless landscape of awareness around us and call that handful of sand the world.”

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

“The message of television as metaphor is not only that all the world is a stage but that the stage is located in Las Vegas… the nature of the medium is that it must suppress the content of ideas in order to accommodate the requirements of visual interest, the values of show business.”

Neil Postman 1931 – 2003 CE
from Amusing Ourselves to Death

“Nietzsche was, in short, a religious mystic... Nietzsche understood that society is a hall of distorting mirrors.”

Colin Wilson 1931 – 2013 CE
from Outsider

Themes: Illusion

“One of humanity’s most persistent and damaging illusions is that happiness and suffering are caused by external factors.”

Shan Dao 山道 1933 CE –

“the illusion was embraced that man's life can be morally and materially perfected mainly through external changes involving, among other things, external forms of government and social order. This illusion was our illusion, and some time ago it became the whole world's illusion.”

​ Jacob Needleman 1934 CE –
American religious scholar, historian, philosopher, and author
from American Soul

Themes: Illusion

“What if everything is an illusion and nothing exists? In that case, I definitely overpaid for my carpet.”

Woody Allen 1935 CE –

Themes: Illusion

“Meditation in action is… awareness of how we... create our basic perceptions out of our preconceptions… and the games going on do not become big games but simply illusory games.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE
from The Collected Works of Chogyam Trungpa

12. This Over That

“Everybody is a caricature of themselves… as well as everything having its own basic fullness. You represent yourself not by name but by being. So there is a sense of completion.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE
from Illusion's Game

50. Claws and Swords

“Illusion, once you’ve got an illusion going, it can function on the market like any other product. Advanced capitalism churning out goods… give it a pretty name, a pretty package, and you can sell it.”

Haruki Murakami 1949 CE –
from Dance, Dance, Dance

“By looking at things from the point of view of natural selection, we see why the illusion would be built into us, and we have more reason than ever to see that it is an illusion.”

Robert Wright 1957 CE –
from Why Buddhism is True

Themes: Illusion

“This isn't about what is . . . it's about what people think is. It's all imaginary anyway. That's why it's important. People only fight over imaginary things.”

Neil Gaiman 1960 CE –
Myth-transmitting creative maelstrom
from American Gods

Themes: Conflict Illusion

“Like a child at the cinema, we get caught up in the illusion. From this comes all of our vanity, ambition, and insecurity. We fall in love with the illusions we have created and develop excessive pride in our appearance, our possessions, and our accomplishments. It’s like wearing a mask and proudly thinking that the mask is really you.”

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

39. Oneness

“Our ego-mind and emotions are a dramatic illusion… we create elaborate scenarios and then react to them but there is nothing really happening outside our mind.”

Dzigar Kongtrül Rinpoche ཛི་གར་ཀོང་སྤྲུལ། 1964 CE –

Themes: Mind Illusion

20. Unconventional Mind

“Naming, even in ridicule, gives what is named substance.”

David Mitchell 1969 CE –
from Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

Themes: Illusion Lies

1. The Unnamed

“People are masks, with masks under those masks, and masks under those, and down you go.”

David Mitchell 1969 CE –

Themes: Illusion

57. Wu Wei

“Despite appearances, no aspect of life ever stays the same. The construction of any one object—no matter how dense it appears, such as an ocean liner, our bodies, a skyscraper, or an oak tree—will reveal the appearance of solidity to be as illusory as permanence.”

Mingyur Rinpoche 1975 CE –
Modern-day Mahasiddha

from In Love with the World

Themes: Illusion

“I am seeking to let go of the illusory hats that I am wearing on this illusory head and that live inside this mind that is falsified by confusion and muddled by misperception, hats that have never existed, all of them fake identities, created by a fake-identity mind, affirmed by warped perceptions, held n place by habit”

Mingyur Rinpoche 1975 CE –
Modern-day Mahasiddha

from In Love With the World

Themes: Illusion

“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: Illusion Reality