Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Birds sing the same songs over and over, generation to generation. As a force of evolutionary conservatism most animals have a narrow range of sounds narrowly repeated again and again. Humans feel independent and unique yet like most animal species, think and repeat the same thoughts and beliefs as their parents, their ancestors, and name this their cultures. Evolutionary change makers however say something new and as a consequence must face antipathy and often persecution from the herd committed to the status quo, against change, and afraid of any new notes. This inherited culture becomes both a building block enabling us to see farther, innovate beyond, and further evolve as well as a conceptual chain that prevents us from going beyond. Studying and learning from different cultures and different wisdom traditions help break these golden chains that ensnare us to the words over the sense within the philosophy and practices of our favorite beliefs and practices

When an individual gets feedback that they’re making mistakes, when people get abusive and violent toward them, when their safety, security, and lifestyle are threatened; they most often find a serious motivation for change and prioritizes that above almost everything else. Nations, civilizations, and cultures though seem to often lack even this modicum of common sense. For example, much of American culture has gotten lazy. To a large extent becoming a country of Homer Simpsons. Each generation needs to translate the wisdom and skillful strategies of the past into modern terms and this kind of laziness prevents that from happening.

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Quotes (53)

“The god-given is called Nature; to follow that nature is called Tao; to cultivate the Tao is called Culture.”

Zisi 子思 481 – 402 BCE via Lin Yutang, Shan Dao
(Kong Ji or Tzu-Ssu)
Confucius' grandson and early influence on Neo-Confucianism

“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 4th C. BCE via Eva Wong, Shan Dao
(Liè Yǔkòu, Liezi)
from Liezi "True Classic of Simplicity and Perfect Emptiness”

“Politeness is the main ingredient of culture — a kind of witchery that wins regard as surely as discourtesy gains opposition.”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE via Joseph Jacobs, chapter #118
from Art of Worldly Wisdom

Themes: Culture

“Custom is the tyrant from which nothing frees us... But being compelled to live under its foolish laws, the wise man is never the first to follow nor the last to keep”

Blaise Pascal 1623 – 1662 CE
One of the greatest French writers of all time
from Pensées (1669)

“National hatred is something peculiar. You will always find it strongest and most violent where there is the lowest degree of culture.”

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 1749 – 1832 CE via Johann Peter Eckermann, 1830

“No blessing is equal to the blessings of work. To know and practice a craft lends greater culture than half-knowledge, a hundred times over.”

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 1749 – 1832 CE via Ungar

“All religion is antagonistic to culture... genuine morality is dependent on no religion”

Arthur Schopenhauer 1788 – 1860 CE via R.J. Hollingdale
from Parerga and Paralipomena, "Appendices" and "Omissions"

Themes: Culture Integrity

“Culture opens the sense of beauty... A cultivated man—wise to know and bold to perform—is the end to which nature works.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803 – 1882 CE
Champion of individualism
from The Conduct of Life, 1860

Themes: Culture

“The despotism of custom is everywhere standing up to human advancement... He who does anything because it is the custom, makes no choice.”

John Stuart Mill 1806 – 1873 CE

Themes: Culture

“Habit is habit, and not to be thrown out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.”

Mark Twain 1835 – 1910 CE
(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)

“If you're anxious for to shine in the high aesthetic line as a man of culture rare,
You must get up all the germs of the transcendental terms, and plant them everywhere.”

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

from Patience, 1881

“Habit is the enormous flywheel of society, its most precious conservative agent. There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision.”

William James 1842 – 1910 CE
"Father of American psychology”

“Sublimation of instinct is an especially conspicuous feature of cultural evolution… civilization is built up on renunciation of instinctual gratifications… This ‘cultural privation’ dominates the whole field of social relations and is the cause of the antagonism against which all civilization has to fight.”

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

“Great thoughts require a great mind... Culture is on the horns of this dilemma: if profound and noble , it must remain rare if common, it must become mean.”

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: Culture

“The price of culture is a Lie.”

W. E. B. Du Bois 1868 – 1963 CE
from Souls of Black Folk

Themes: Culture Lies

“Culture is the accumulation of highest Bliss, highest Beauty, highest Knowledge.”

Nicholas Roerich Никола́й Константи́нович Ре́рих 1874 – 1947 CE

Themes: Culture

“Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes—our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking around.”

G. K. Chesterton 1874 – 1936 CE

Themes: Culture

“The gnarled fidelity of an old habit.”

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

Themes: Culture

“opposites always balance on the scales – a sign of high culture. One-sidedness, though it lends momentum, is a mark of barbarism.”

Carl Jung 1875 – 1961 CE
Insightful shamanistic scientist
from Secret of the Golden Flower 太乙金華宗旨; Tàiyǐ Jīnhuá Zōngzhǐ

2. The Wordless Teachings

“Nor is it possible to devote oneself to culture and declare that one is 'not interested' in politics.”

Thomas Mann 1875 – 1955 CE
Deep, psychologically insightful author
from Freedom (1940)​

“Human life is reduced to real suffering, to hell, only when two ages, two cultures and religions overlap.”

Hermann Hesse 1877 – 1962 CE
from Steppenwolf

Themes: Culture

“To break sharply with the past is to court the madness that may follow the shock... the sanity of a group lies in the continuity of its traditions”

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

“Culture is the one thing that we cannot deliberately aim at. It is the product of a variety of more or less harmonious activities, each pursued for its own sake.”

T. S. Eliot 1888 – 1965 CE
from Notes Toward the Definition of Culture, 1948

“Back to culture. Yes, actually to culture. You can’t consume much if you sit still and read books.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE
from Brave New World

Themes: Culture

“we are being conditioned by society, by the culture we live in… there is nothing holy, or divine, or eternal about culture.”

Krishnamurti 1895 – 1986 CE
(Jiddu Krishnamurti)

Themes: Culture

“That millions of people share the same forms of mental pathology does not make these people sane.”

Eric Fromm 1900 – 1980 CE
from The Sane Society

Themes: Culture

18. The Sick Society

“Culture is art elevated to a set of beliefs.”

Thomas Wolfe 1900 – 1938 CE
(Thomas Clayton Wolfe)
Father of autobiographical fiction

Themes: Culture Art

“Social evolution proceeds most rapidly when different cultures come into close contact with each other and thus can exchange information and goods, even though each retains its originality.”

René Dubos 1901 – 1982 CE
Influential scientific environmentalist

from Celebrations of life (1981)

Themes: Culture Pluralism

“Our culture made a virtue of living only as extroverts. We discouraged the inner journey, the quest for a center. So we lost our center and have to find it again.”

Anais Nin 1903 – 1977 CE

26. The Still Rule the Restless

“Instead of only criticizing your culture, you should devote your mind and body to practicing this simple way. Then society and culture will grow out of you.”

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi 1904 – 1971 CE

54. Planting Well

“Civilizations are grounded on myth [and] myths are so intimately bound to the culture, time, and place that unless the symbols, the metaphors, are kept alive by constant recreation through the arts, the life just slips away from them.”

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

“The amount of genuine leisure in a society is generally in inverse proportion to the amount of labor-saving machinery it employs.”

E. F. Schumacher 1911 – 1977 CE
The “People's Economist”
from Good Work

Themes: Culture

“Without culture, and the relative freedom it implies, society, even when perfect, is but a jungle. This is why any authentic creation is a gift to the future.”

Albert Camus 1913 – 1960 CE

Themes: Culture History

“when we have Eros dominated by reason instead of Eros expressing itself with reason, we create a culture this is simply against life”

Alan Watts 1915 – 1973 CE
from Psychotherapy East and West

Themes: Culture Control

“Respect ethical tradition not because is is sacrosanct but because it is the only way of being in communication with others.”

Alan Watts 1915 – 1973 CE
from Psychotherapy East and West

“The idea of saviors has been built into the entire culture. We have learned to look to stars, leaders, experts in every field, thus surrendering our own strength, demeaning our own ability, obliterating our own selves.”

Howard Zinn 1922 – 2010 CE
Historian of the oppressed and defeated

from A People's History of the United States​

“All culture is based on the past. For example... Islam is the reediting of Judaism and Christianity.”

Hua-Ching Ni 1925 CE –
from Complete Works of Lao Tzu

“Culture is simply how one lives and is connected to history by habit.”

Malcolm X الحاجّ مالك الشباز‎‎ 1925 – 1965 CE via Leroi Jones, 1966

“Whoever controls the media, the images, controls the culture.”

Allen Ginsberg 1926 – 1997 CE

Themes: Culture Control

13. Honor and Disgrace

“Preservation of one's own culture does not require contempt or disrespect for other cultures.”

César Chavez César Estrada Chávez 1927 – 1993 CE
(César Estrada Chávez)

“Care for what seems unimportant… Having replaced instinct with language, society, and culture, we are the only species that depends on teaching and learning. We aren’t human without them… But are they the occupations of the rich and mighty?”

Ursula Le Guin 1929 – 2018 CE

Themes: Culture

27. No Trace

“When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; a culture-death is a clear possibility.”

Neil Postman 1931 – 2003 CE
from Amusing Ourselves to Death

60. Less is More

“Man not only creates culture, inhabits it, he carries it around within him—man is culture... Tell me how you dress, how you act, what are your habits, which gods you honor—and I will tell you who you are.”

Ryszard Kapuściński 1932 – 2007 CE
“One of the most credible journalists the world has ever seen"
from Travels with Herodotus (2004)

“When we write down our thoughts, they become solid which makes them less creative but more secure as a foundation for thinking further and deeper. The same principle may apply to culture and civilization—the philosophies and wisdom of the past makes a strong foundation but also a ‘golden chain’ that prevents creativity and evolution. Like a tall building with a firm and strong base but an open and ever-changing top.”

Shan Dao 山道 1933 CE –

“American culture is going down the drain… an enormous degeneration… a culture that has no spiritual center, a culture that has money and education, but no sense of being at peace with the world, no sense of purpose in life.”

Woody Allen 1935 CE –

“It is the time where we partner with Creation in the creation of ourselves, in the restoration of the biosphere, the regenesis of society and in the assuming of a new type of culture; the culture of Kindness.”

Jean Houston 1937 CE –

“It wasn't that I was anti-popular culture or anything and I had no ambitions to stir things up. i just thought of popular culture as lame as hell and a big trick. It was like the unbroken sea of frost that lay outside the window and you had to have awkward footgear to walk on it.”

Bob Dylan 1941 CE –
from Chronicles

Themes: Culture

“This recipe for long life has been repeated in every civilized culture, and yet it has forever fallen on deaf ears.”

Red Pine 1943 CE –
( Bill Porter)
Exceptional translator, cultural diplomat

Themes: Culture

9. Know When to Stop

“civilizations, cultures are organisms seeded (seeds = teachings) from another unseen world and planted”

Peter Kingsley 1953 CE –
from A Story Waiting to Pierce You

Themes: Culture Gardening

“For more than 2,000 years there has been a long war against pleasure... Carpe diem hedonism was far more than the pursuit of sensory pleasures: it was a subversive political act with the power to reshape the cultural landscape.”

Roman Krznaric c. 1964
Practical, popular, modern philosopher

from Carpe Diem Regained

Themes: Pleasure Culture

“The pursuit of erotic pleasure has been a powerful force for social equality and cultural transformation [and]—perhaps surprisingly— the place to begin exploring this neglected virtue of sexual hedonism is... in the apparently prim and proper Victorian era... We love to depict the Victorians as prudish moralists who would blanche at the mention of sexual pleasure... but it is far from the truth.”

Roman Krznaric c. 1964
Practical, popular, modern philosopher

from Carpe Diem Regained (2017)

Themes: Culture Change

“True wisdom is free of the dramas of culture or religion and should bring us only a sense of peace and happiness.”

Dzogchen Pönlop 1965 CE –

“Biology enables, Culture forbids. ”

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

from Sapiens

Themes: Culture

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