Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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When we experience the meaningless emptiness of continually chasing after fame, fortune, pleasure, and power; our materialistic attitudes dissolve by themselves and we begin to discover the profound brilliance, the sacredness of life. However, these Four Seductions have a potent magnetism built on generations of natural selection, cultural manipulation, political Machiavellianism, and the narcissistic, corporate brain-washing called “advertising.” The increasing suicide rates, alcoholism, and opioid addiction in the United State—the richest country in the history of the world—attest to the difficulty of breaking out of our materialistic prisons.

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Quotes (93)

“Do not try to develop what is natural to man, develop what is natural to heaven.”

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

Themes: Materialism

“Don’t be materialistic trying to either create fortune or avoid misfortune.”

Wenzi 文子 1 via Shan Dao
"Authentic Presence of Pervading Mystery.”
from The Wenzi, Wénzǐ 文子

“[I am a] man who has never had the wit to be idle during his whole life; but has been careless of what the many care about—wealth, and family interests, and military offices, and speaking in the assembly, and magistracies, and plots, and parties.”

Socrates 469 – 399 BCE
One of the most powerful influences on Western Civilization
from Apology

Themes: Materialism

“I do not possess in order not to be possessed.”

Antisthenes 445 – 365 BCE
Creator of a religious tradition without religion

“Honesty is for the most part less profitable than dishonesty.”

Plato Πλάτων 428 – 348 BCE

Themes: Materialism

53. Shameless Thieves

“Prisoners to the world of objects, they are pressed down and crushed by fashion, the market, events, public opinion… never do they recover their right mind.”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 369 – 286 BCE via Thomas Merton

from Zhuangzi

11. Appreciating Emptiness

“Because this is not easy to do without servility to mobs or monarchs, a free life cannot acquire many possessions—yet it possesses all things in unfailing abundance.”

Epicurus ɛpɪˈkjɔːrəs 341 – 270 BCE
Western Buddha
from Fragments, Vatican Collection

“There is no disease like covetousness, and no virtue like mercy.”

Chandragupta Maurya 340 – 297 BCE
Ashoka’s grandfather, founder of the Maurya Empire

Themes: Materialism

“I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.”

Koheleth 1
from Ecclesiastes קֹהֶלֶת‎

Themes: Materialism

9. Know When to Stop

“The gentleman makes things his servants. The petty man is servant to things.”

Xun Kuang 荀況 310 – 235 BCE
(Xún Kuàng, Xúnzǐ)
Early Confucian philosopher of "basic badness"

“Society has set up a system of rewards - fame, fortune, pleasure, and power - and when people chase after these, they spend their lives following other people's demands never living a life of their own, like a slave or a prisoner.”

Lie Yukou 列圄寇/列禦寇/列子 1 via Eva Wong, Shan Dao
(Liè Yǔkòu, Liezi)
from Liezi "True Classic of Simplicity and Perfect Emptiness”

“Fiery fevers quit your body no quicker if you’re clothed in expensive, embroidered clothes than if you’re only wearing a common garment.”

Lucretius 99 – 55 BCE via Shan Dao
(Titus Carus)
from De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things)

“It is a great piece of folly to sacrifice the inner for the outer and trade the whole or greater part of our quiet leisure and independence for fame, fortune, pleasure, power or any of the other external seductions.”

Horace 65 – 8 BCE via Arthur Schopenhauer, Shan Dao

“What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”

Jesus 3 BCE – 30 CE via Saint Mark
from New Testament Διαθήκη

“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

Jesus 3 BCE – 30 CE
from Mark 8:36

“When the Tao is present, contentment reigns. People don’t seek external things but cultivate themselves instead.”

Wang Bi 王弼 226 – 534 CE

Themes: Materialism

46. Enough

“The Bodhisattva’s mind is like the void, for he relinquishes everything… all action is dictated purely by place and circumstance, subjectivity and objectivity are forgotten... no hope of reward is entertained.”

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

51. Mysterious Goodness

“When it comes to life itself, don't be stingy with possessions; when it comes to possessions, don't be careless; when it come to care-taking, be zealous in your exertion.”

Gesar of Ling གེ་སར་རྒྱལ་པོ། 1 via Robin Kornman
from Gesar of Ling Epic

Themes: Materialism

“Should Heaven rain pearls, the cold cannot wear them as clothes;
Should Heaven rain jade, the hungry cannot use it as food.”

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

Themes: Materialism Money

“Losing something is the result of possessing something. How can people lose what they don't possess?”

Su Che 呂洞 1039 – 1112 CE via Red Pine
(Su Zhe)
Great writer of the Tang and Sung dynasties
from Tao-te-chen-ching-chu

Themes: Materialism Greed

2. The Wordless Teachings

“Indeed, the Idols I have loved so long
Have done my Credit in Men's Eye much wrong;
Have drown'd my Honor in a shallow Cup,
And sold my Reputation for a Song.”

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

from Rubaiyat

“Alike for those who for today prepare,
And those that after a tomorrow stare,
‘Fools! your Reward is neither Here nor There.’”

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

from Rubaiyat

Themes: Materialism

“The most important thing to learn is how to discriminate between Righteousness and Profit.”

Lù Jiǔyuān 陸九淵 1139 – 1192 CE
(Lu Xiangshan)

“Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.”

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

from The Gateless Gate, 無門関, 無門關

“Dismiss thoughts that prize so much what is really only food for worms, fire, vultures, and jackals.”

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་

“Ease crushes us.”

Montaigne 1533 – 1592 CE
Grandfather of the Enlightenment

“If a person possess all things, they cannot be content—the greater their possessions, the less will be their contentment, for the heart cannot be satisfied with possessions, but rather only in detachment from all things.”

John of the Cross 1542 – 1591 CE via Shan Dao, et alia

“Throwing your whole life away, sacrificed to the thirst for gold... But when you saw your life was through, all your money was no use”

Bankei Yōtaku 盤珪永琢 1622 – 1693 CE via Peter Haskel
Zen Master of the unborn

from Song of Original Mind

Themes: Money Materialism

“Beware of listening to this imposter; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1712 – 1778 CE
from A Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (1754)

“Refinements—under the odious name of luxury—have been severely arraigned by the moralists of every age; and it might perhaps be more conducive to the virtue, as well as happiness of mankind, if all possessed the necessaries, and none the superfluities of life. But in the present imperfect condition of society, luxury—though it may proceed from vice or folly—seems to be the only means that can correct the unequal distribution of property.”

Edward Gibbon 1737 – 1794 CE
from Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire

“The charlatan… is a man who cares nothing about knowledge for its own sake, and only strives to gain the semblance of it that he may use it for his own personal ends, which are always selfish and material.”

Arthur Schopenhauer 1788 – 1860 CE

24. Unnecessary Baggage

“The ordinary man places his life’s happiness in things external to him – in property, rank, wife and children, friends, society and the like so that when he loses them or finds them disappointing, the foundation of his happiness is destroyed.”

Arthur Schopenhauer 1788 – 1860 CE via T. Bailey Saunders
from Wisdom of Life

“Gold is a living god.”

Percy Bysshe Shelley 1792 – 1822 CE
from Notes on Queen Mab

Themes: Money Materialism

“With the aid of a few scientific discoveries, [Americans] have succeeded in establishing a society which mistakes comfort for civilization.”

Disraeli, Benjamin 1804 – 1881 CE
(Earl of Beaconsfield )
Political balance between mob rule and tyranny

Themes: Materialism

“'Property' has acquired an almost greater sacredness in our social conscience than religion: for offense against the latter there is lenience, for damage to the former no forgiveness.”

Wilhelm Richard Wagner 1813 – 1883 CE
from Know Thyself (1881)​

Themes: Materialism

“As with out colleges, so with a hundred ‘modern improvements’; there is an illusion about them. Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things.”

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

Themes: Materialism

80. A Golden Age

“It was more bearable to do without tenderness for himself than to see that his own tenderness could make no amends for the lack of other things to her.”

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

from Middlemarch

Themes: Materialism

“The world says: ‘Don't hesitate to satisfy your needs; indeed, expand your needs and demand more.’ This is the worldly doctrine of today and they believe that this is freedom. The result for the rich is isolation and suicide, for the poor, envy and murder.”

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

“Nothing has been more insupportable for man and human society than freedom… and what is that freedom worth if obedience is bought with bread?”

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

Themes: Materialism

“As soon as any art is pursued with a view of money, then farewell—in 99% of cases—to all hope of genuine good work”

Samuel Butler 1835 – 1902 CE
Iconoclastic philosopher, artist, composer, author, and evolutionary theorist
from Note-Books (1912)

“If, in the present chaotic and shameful struggle for existence, when organized society offers a premium on greed, cruelty, and deceit, men can be found who stand aloof and almost alone in their determination to work for good rather than gold.”

Lucy Parsons 1853 – 1942 CE
(Eldine Gonzalez)
Political activist “more dangerous than a thousand rioters”

“the most extraordinary characteristic of current America is the attempt to reduce life to buying and selling…All life is production for profit, and for what is profit but for buying and selling again?”

W. E. B. Du Bois 1868 – 1963 CE

“It is the preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else that prevents us from living freely and nobly.”

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

“Most will throw themselves with greed back at men, things, and thoughts, whose slaves they will become from then on.”

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

“If you own something you cannot give away, then you don't own it, it owns you.”

Albert Schweitzer 1875 – 1965 CE

“The trite objects of human efforts – possessions, outward success, luxury – have always seemed to me contemptible.”

Albert Einstein 1879 – 1955 CE
from Ideas and Opinions

Themes: Materialism

44. Fame and Fortune

“When the tenant wanted the rent reduced, you said it couldn’t be done… You should change, change from the bottom of your hearts! If you don’t change, you may all be eaten by each other.”

Lǔ Xùn 鲁迅 1881 – 1936 CE via Marxist Internet Archive
(Zhou Shuren; Lusin)
Insightful satirist representing the "Literature of Revolt"

from A Madman's Diary

“religious ecstasy made people callous as did causes; dulled their feelings”

Virginia Woolf 1882 – 1941 CE
from Mrs. Dalloway

“All things we possess are taken from others, and others in their turn await with outstretched hands to seize them.”

Inayat Khan 1882 – 1927 CE

Themes: Materialism

46. Enough

“The lust for comfort murders the passion of the soul, and then walks grinning in the funeral.”

Kahlil Gibran 1883 – 1931 CE

Themes: Materialism

24. Unnecessary Baggage

“The moral problem of our day is concerned with the love of money, with the habitual appeal to the money motive in nine-tenths of the activities of life, with the universal striving after individual economic security as the prime object of endeavor”

John Maynard Keynes 1883 – 1946 CE
Revolutionary economist credited with saving capitalism

“For what are your possessions but things you keep and guard for fear you may need them tomorrow?... And what is fear of need but need itself?”

Kahlil Gibran 1883 – 1931 CE
from The Prophet

Themes: Materialism

“Nothing written for pay is worth printing. Only what has been written against the market.”

Ezra Pound 1885 – 1972 CE
from Cantos

Themes: Materialism

“Caught in the interval between one moral code and the next, an unmoored generation surrenders itself to luxury, corruption, and a restless disorder of family and morals."”

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

“Powerful economic motives must have favored the evolution of marriage. In all probability... connected with the rising institution of property.”

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

“While you people are over-consuming the rest of the world sinks more and more deeply into chronic disaster.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE
from Island

Themes: Materialism

“God isn't compatible with machinery and scientific medicine and universal happiness. You must make a choice. Our civilization has chosen machinery and medicine and happiness.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE
from Brave New World

Themes: God Materialism

“devotees of the apocalyptic religion of Inevitable Progress [believe] that the Kingdom of Heaven is outside you and in the future.

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE
from Perennial Philosophy

67. Three Treasures

“The victor belongs to the spoils.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald 1896 – 1940 CE
Prototype of "Jazz Age" exuberance
from The Beautiful and Damned (1922):

“Man does not only sell commodities, he sells himself and feels himself to be a commodity.”

Eric Fromm 1900 – 1980 CE
from Escape From Freedom, 1941

“Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry 1900 – 1944 CE

80. A Golden Age

“In our rich consumers' civilization we spin cocoons around ourselves and get possessed by our possessions.”

Max Lerner 1902 – 1992 CE
(Maxwell Alan)

“Man is the only creature that consumes without producing.”

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

Themes: Materialism

“The Sioux have a name for white men. They call the wasicun – fat takers…Americans are bred like stuffed geese – to be consumers, not human beings… Some cruel child has stuffed a cigar into their mouths and they have to keep puffing and puffing until they explode.”

John Fire Lame Deer 1903 – 1976 CE via Richard Erdoes
from Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions

Themes: Materialism

24. Unnecessary Baggage

“…the present consumer society is like a drug addict who, no matter how miserable he may feel, finds it extremely difficult to get off the hook.”

E. F. Schumacher 1911 – 1977 CE
The “People's Economist”
from Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered

80. A Golden Age

“An attitude to life which seeks fulfillment in the single-minded pursuit of wealth - in short, materialism - does not fit into this world, because it contains within itself no limiting principle, while the environment in which it is placed is strictly limited.”

E. F. Schumacher 1911 – 1977 CE
The “People's Economist”
from Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered

80. A Golden Age

“The myth of unlimited production brings war in its train as inevitably as clouds announce a storm.”

Albert Camus 1913 – 1960 CE

“At long last it has become clear that the growth of materialistic civilization does not bring happiness to man. We see now that it both destroys nature and blights the heart of man... Today we are seeing a period of disintegration and destruction.”

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

Themes: Materialism

“The oldest, easiest to swallow idea was that the earth was man's personal property, a combination of garden, zoo, bank vault, and energy source, placed at our disposal to be consumed, ornamented, or pulled apart as we wished.”

Lewis Thomas 1913 – 1993 CE
Gestaltist of science and art

Themes: Materialism

“What advantage is there in multiplying need? REST AND BE HAPPY”

Jack Kerouac 1922 – 1969 CE
from Some of the Dharma

“The situation the Earth is in today has been created by unmindful production and unmindful consumption. We consume to forget our worries and our anxieties. Tranquilizing ourselves with over-consumption is not the way.”

Thích Nhất Hạnh tʰǐk ɲɜ̌t hɐ̂ʔɲ 1926 CE –

Themes: Materialism

“The re-establishment of an ecological balance depends on the ability of society to counteract the progressive materialization of values. The ecological balance cannot be re-established unless we recognize again that only persons have ends and only persons can work towards them.”

Ivan Illich 1926 – 2002 CE
"an archaeologist of ideas"

“Billboards, billboards, drink this, eat that, use all manner of things, everyone, the best, the cheapest, the purest and most satisfying of all their available counterparts. Red lights flicker on every horizon”

Neal Cassady 1926 – 1968 CE

“We cannot go beyond the consumer society unless we first understand that obligatory public schools inevitably reproduce such a society, no matter what is taught in them.”

Ivan Illich 1926 – 2002 CE
"an archaeologist of ideas"

Themes: Materialism

“The greatest change we need to make is from consumption to production, even if on a small scale, in our own gardens. If only 10% of us do this, there is enough for everyone.”

Bill Mollison 1928 – 2016 CE
Permaculture's Founder-Father

“The illusion of comfort - belief that kicking back, relaxing without challenge will somehow make us happy. Actually, the very opposite is true for both individuals and countries.”

Shan Dao 山道 1933 CE –

“To 'make America great again' would mean individuals seeing through all the materialistic, consumerism lies and re-finding real meaningfulness and inspiration in their lives; it doesn’t have anything to do with all of our 'Homer Simpsons' regaining the prestige and respect they’ve lost through their laziness, arrogance, and egomania.”

Shan Dao 山道 1933 CE –

“The root of materialism is a poverty of ideas about the inner and outer world... Materialism is a disease of the mind starved for ideas.”

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

Themes: Materialism
“I understood why… their children, inevitably, took those things for granted… Hence the materialistic and often greedy and selfish lifestyle of so many young people in the Western world, especially in the United States. ”

Jane Goodall 1934 CE –

Themes: Materialism Greed

“we must save ourselves from the products that we are asked to buy”

Wendell Berry 1934 CE –

44. Fame and Fortune

“all addictions stem from this moment when we meet our edge and we just can't stand it... the rampant materialism that we see in the world stems from this moment.”

Pema Chödrön 1936 CE –
(Deirdre Blomfield-Brown)
First American Vajrayana nun
from When Things Fall Apart

“What we have to deal with is the kind of psychological materialism in our heads. We are allowing ourselves to be fed ideas and concepts from outside in a way that never lets us really be free. It is inward materialism that we have to deal with first.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE
from The New Age

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“The materialistic outlook dominates everywhere and the mind is intoxicated with worldly concerns.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE via Nalanda Translation Committee
from Sadhana of Mahamudra

“He's as blind as he can be, just sees what he wants to see… Isn't he a bit like you and me?”

John Lennon 1940 – 1980 CE
from Rubber Soul

“Imagine no possessions.”

John Lennon 1940 – 1980 CE

Themes: Materialism

75. Greed

“The percentage of Americans who considered themselves happy peaked in 1957, although consumption has more than doubled since then... The fact that we in the developed world are now consuming so much more does not seem to be having much effect on our level of contentment.”

David Loy 1947 CE –
from A Buddhist History of the West

“You can be totally entranced by the glow of something one minute, be willing to sacrifice everything to make it yours, but then a little time passes, or your perspective changes a bit, and all of a sudden you're shocked at how faded it appears.”

Haruki Murakami 1949 CE – via Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen

“Financial dealings have become a religious activity... People worship capital, adore its aura, genuflect before Porsches and land values”

Haruki Murakami 1949 CE – via Alfred Birnbaum
from Dance, Dance, Dance

53. Shameless Thieves

“Money, the most influential god in America—untouchable asshole but his stock never falls.”

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

Themes: Money Materialism

“Aldous Huxley predicted, ‘What we love will ruin us’ and described a human race destroyed by ignorance, lust for constant entertainment, technology, and too many goods.”

Nina Lvovna Khrushcheva Нина Львовна Хрущёва 1964 CE –

“Every fall into love involves the triumph of hope over self-knowledge. We fall in love hoping we won't find in another what we know is in ourselves, all the cowardice, weakness, laziness, dishonesty, compromise, and stupidity… We fall in love because we long to escape from ourselves with someone as beautiful, intelligent, and witty as we are ugly, stupid, and dull. We can only be somewhat shocked-how can they be as wonderful as we had hoped when they have the bad taste to approve of someone like us?”

Alain de Botton 1969 CE –
Philosophic link between ancient wisdom and modern challenge
from On Love

Themes: Hope Materialism

“Very often, finite-minded leaders believe the source of will is externally motivated—pay packages, bonuses, perks or internal competition. If only that's all it took to inspire a human being! Money can buy a lot of things but it can't buy true will... the difference between an organization filled with mercenaries versus one filled with zealots. [ cf. Russian mercenaries and draftees vs the inspired Ukrainians defending their home. ]”

Simon Sinek 1973 CE – via Shan Dao
from Infinite Game

“Consumerism encourages people to treat themselves, spoil themselves, and even kill themselves slowly by overconsumption. Frugality is a disease to be cured.”

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

from Sapiens

Themes: Materialism


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