Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Central to Hinduism, Jainism, and at the core of the Buddha’s first teachings, the Dharmapada describes impermanence as one of the Three Marks of Existence—the fundamental characteristics of humans as well as all of existence. It taught that our confusion and delusion about these basic qualities of life results in our suffering and a that seeing through this delusion ends that same suffering. As far as the impermanence side, we all know that everything changes but most of us, most of the time act and think like nothing or very little will ever change. Our attachment to keeping things the same dooms our desires to disappointment by constantly creating unrealistic expectations. The idea of change can stir up fear and anxiety but is also a doorway into the realization of the sacredness at the heart of our experience. We all struggle with an intrinsic quality of change, the contradictory attachments to peacefulness and to improvement. We all want things to get better but we’re attached to the peace and calm of things staying the same. And most fail to see the obvious, double-binding contradiction between wanting things to change for the better but not wanting the stress and anxiety inevitably liked with change.

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Quotes (74)

“As for man, his days are as grass; as a flower in the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.”

King David 1000 – 920 BCE via Will Durant, Shan Dao
"The baffled king composing Hallelujah!"
from Book of Psalms

Themes: Impermanence

“As is the generation of leaves, so is that of humanity.”

Homer 850 BCE - ?
Primogenitor of Western culture
from Iliad

Themes: Impermanence

“All things that appear in this world are transient. If you view all things that appear as never having appeared, then you will realize your true self.”

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

“Nothing endures but change.”

Heraclitus Ἡράκλειτος 535 – 475 BCE
(of Ephesus, the "Weeping Philosopher")
A Greek Buddha

Themes: Impermanence

“Into the same river no man can step twice; for fresh waters are ever flowing in upon you.”

Heraclitus Ἡράκλειτος 535 – 475 BCE
(of Ephesus, the "Weeping Philosopher")
A Greek Buddha

“Oh vain is man,
Who glories in his joy and has no fears;
While to and fro the chances of the years
Dance like an idiot in the wind!”

Euripides 480 – 406 BCE via Will Durant, Shan Dao
Ancient humanitarian influence continuing today
from Trojan Women

“Remember that there is nothing stable in human affairs, therefore avoid undue elation in prosperity or undue depression in adversity.”

Isocrates Ἰσοκράτης 436 – 338 BCE

“The wise do not rejoice when they succeed or lament when they fail because they know that conditions aren’t constant”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 369 – 286 BCE via Lin Yutang, Shan Dao

from Zhuangzi

“Since nothing is permanent, why become so attached to success and failure?”

Lie Yukou 列圄寇/列禦寇/列子 4th C. BCE via Zhang Zhan (370 CE) / Eva Wong
(Liè Yǔkòu, Liezi)
from Liezi "True Classic of Simplicity and Perfect Emptiness”

“If we may find anything that approaches permanence in the midst of change, it is the lasting power of goodness. Evil destroys the doer, but good endures.”

Sima Qian 司馬遷 145 – 86 BCE via Burton Watson
(Ssu-ma Ch'ien)
Father of Chinese historians
from Shiji, Records of the Grand Historian, 太史公書

Themes: Evil Impermanence

“No single thing abides, but all things flow
Fragment to fragment clings; the things thus grow”

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

Themes: Impermanence

“In youth alone, unhappy mortals live;
But, ah! the mighty bliss is fugitive:
Discolored sickness, anxious labor, come,
And age, and death's inexorable doom.”

Virgil 70 – 19 BCE via John Dryden
(Publius Vergilius Maro)
from Georgics (29 BC)

“Everything changes, nothing perishes.”

Ovid oʊvɪd 43 BCE – 18 CE
(Publius Ovidius Naso)
Great poet and major influence on the Renaissance, Humanism, and world literature

from Metamorphoses, 8 CE

Themes: Impermanence

“Everything that has a beginning comes to an end.”

Quintilian 35 – 100 CE
from Institutio Oratoria

Themes: Impermanence

“So many things can unexpectedly end our lives. We are impermanent like a bubble on water than can easily break in the wind. It's a miracle that after exhaling, we can take a next breath; after falling asleep, we can wake up again.”

Nagarjuna नागर्जुन c. 150-250 CE via Alexander Berzin, Shan Dao

Themes: Impermanence

“My poem is done, I laugh and my delight is vaster than the sea.
Oh deathless poetry! The songs of Chu-ping are ever glorious as the sun and moon.
While the palaces and towers of the Chu kings have vanished from the hills.”

Li Bai 李白 701 – 762 CE
(Li Bo)

“In comparison with Heaven and Earth, man is like a mayfly. But compared to the Great Meaning, Heaven and Earth, too, are like a bubble and a shadow. Only the primordial spirit and the true essence overcome time and space.”

Lü Dongbin 呂洞賓 796 CE -
(Lü Tung-Pin)

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

“Consider the sunlight. Follow it and, behold, it escapes you; run from it and it follows you close. You can neither possess it nor have done with it. From this example you can understand how it is with the true Nature of all things and, henceforth, there will be no need to grieve or to worry about such things.”

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: Impermanence

“Realization is like writing in water.”

Ḍeṅgipa ཌེངྒི་པ། 9th Century CE
(“The Courtesan's Brahmin Slave”)
Mahasiddha #31

1. The Unnamed

“But all this world is like a tale we hear;
Men's evil, and their glory, disappear.”

Ferdowsi فردوسی 940 – 1020 CE
(Abul-Qâsem Ferdowsi Tusi)
"undisputed giant of Persian literature"
from Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings (977–1010 CE)

Themes: Impermanence

“One thing is certain, and the Rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blow for ever dies.”

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

from Rubaiyat

Themes: Impermanence Lies

“The best mental exercise for letting go of egotism is contemplating impermanence.”

Dōgen Zenji 道元禅師 1200 – 1253 CE

Themes: Impermanence

“The beauty of life is in its impermanence. If we lived forever, if the dews of Adashino never vanished, if the crematory smoke on Toribeyama never faded, men would hardly feel the pity of things.”

Yoshida Kenkō 兼好 1284 – 1350 CE
Inspiration of self-reinvention
from Harvest of Leisure

Themes: Impermanence

“Life passes in an instant—the leaf doesn’t go back to the branch. Get up, stop sleeping—the days of a life are short.”

Meera 1498 – 1546 CE
(Mirabai, Meera Bai )
Inspiring poet, cultural freedom inspiration

Themes: Impermanence

“The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, the solemn temples, the great globe itself—
Yea, all which it inherit—shall dissolve,
And like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind.”

William Shakespeare 1564 – 1616 CE
from The Tempest

Themes: Impermanence

“All bodies are in perpetual flux like rivers, and parts are passing in and out of them continually”

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

“I have enjoyed the veneration of my country and the riches of the world; there is no object I do not have, nothing I have not experienced. But now that I have reached old age, I cannot rest easy for a moment. Therefore, I regard the whole country as a worn-out sandal, and all riches as mud and sand.”

Kāngxī 康熙帝 1654 – 1722 CE via Jonathan D. Spence
from Emperor of China, Self-Portrait of K'ang-hsi

“...the rarest of all human qualities is consistency”

Jeremy Bentham 1748 – 1832 CE
from Principles of Morals and Legislation

Themes: Impermanence

“There is no past we can bring back by longing for it. There is only an eternal now that builds and creates out of the past something new and better.”

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 1749 – 1832 CE

40. Returning

“Those who serve a revolution only plow the seas. I plowed furrows in the ocean... Independence is the only benefit we have acquired, to the detriment of all the rest.”

Simon Bolivar Simón Bolívar 1783 – 1830 CE via Shan Dao
El Libertador

“Time is that by virtue of which everything becomes nothingness in our hands and loses all real value... the most insignificant present has over the most significant past the advantage of actuality... the former bears to the latter the relation of something to nothing.”

Arthur Schopenhauer 1788 – 1860 CE via R. J. Hollingdale
from Essays and Aphorisms

“Maidens and youths fling their wild arms in air…
Throw back their heads and loose their streaming hair
Kindle invisibly; and as they glow
Like moths by light attracted and repelled,
Oft to new bright destruction come and go”

Percy Bysshe Shelley 1792 – 1822 CE via Shan Dao
from Triumph of Life

Themes: Impermanence

“She dwells with Beauty—Beauty that must die;
Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
Ay, in the very temple of Delight
His soul shalt taste the sadness of her might”

John Keats 1795 – 1821 CE
Writer of "poems as immortal as English"
from Ode on Melancholy, 1819

“He will/I shall learn the truth with sorrow;
Here today and gone tomorrow.”

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

from H.M.S. Pinafore, 1878

Themes: Impermanence

“The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.”

Rabindranath Tagore 1861 – 1941 CE

49. No Set Mind

“All things hang like a drop of dew upon a blade of grass.”

W.B. (William Butler) Yeats 1865 – 1939 CE

Themes: Impermanence

13. Honor and Disgrace

“Everything that seems to us imperishable tends toward its destruction.”

Marcel Proust 1871 – 1922 CE via Justin O'Brien
Apostle of Ordinary Mind
from In Search of Lost Time

Themes: Impermanence

“Change is one thing, progress is another. Change is scientific, progress is ethical; change is indubitable, progress is a matter of controversy.”

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

“The doctrine of the perpetual flux, as taught by Heraclitus, is painful, and science can do nothing to refute it.”

Bertrand Russell 1872 – 1970 CE
“20th century Voltaire”
from History of Western Philosophy

Themes: Impermanence

“The life of man is a dubious experiment... so fleeting, so insufficient, that it is literally a miracle that anything can exist and develop at all... We are a psychic process which we do not control, or only partly direct.”

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

“Is not impermanence the very fragrance of our days?”

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

Themes: Impermanence

“Time cools, time clarifies, no mood can be maintained quite unaltered through the course of hours.”

Thomas Mann 1875 – 1955 CE
Deep, psychologically insightful author
from The Magic Mountain (1924)

Themes: Impermanence

“If a beautiful thing were to remain beautiful for all eternity, I'd be glad, but all the same I'd look at it with a colder eye. I'd say to myself: You can look at it any time, it doesn't have to be today.”

Hermann Hesse 1877 – 1962 CE
from Knulp

Themes: Impermanence

“Nothing in human judgment is final. One may courageously take the step that seems right today because it can be modified tomorrow if it does not work well.”

Frances Perkins 1880 – 1965 CE
One of the most influential champions for worker's rights
from The Roosevelt I Knew (1946)

Themes: Impermanence

“Perfection is a momentary equilibrium above chaos, a most difficult and dangerous balance. throw a little weight to one side or the other and it falls.”

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

Themes: Impermanence

“Here is history, a futile circle of infinite repetition: these youths with eager eyes will make the same errors as we, they will be misled by the same dreams; they will suffer, and wonder, and surrender, and grow old... All life living at the expense of life, every organism eating other organisms forever.”

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

Themes: Impermanence

“It is almost a law of history that the same wealth that generates a civilization announces its decay. For wealth produces ease as well as art; it softens a people to the ways of luxury and peace, invites invasion from stronger arms and hungrier mouths.”

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

“Civilization is always older than we think; and under whatever sod we tread are the bones of men and women who also worked and loved, wrote songs and made beautiful things, but whose names and very being have been lost in the careless flow of time.”

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

Themes: Impermanence Time

“This chapter seems to be the summing up of Lao Tzu's teachings in a nutshell. Most basic of all is the statement of the principle of reversion... each ending becoming a new beginning. The life of things passes by like a rushing, galloping horse, changing at every turn, at every hour.”

Lín Yǔtáng 林語堂 1895 – 1976 CE
from Wisdom of Laotse

Themes: Impermanence

40. Returning

“changelessness is a sign of death, transformation a sign of life; decay is the negative aspect of transformation, while the positive aspect is generally hidden from our eyes.”

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

from Inner Structure of the I Ching

Themes: Impermanence

“You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood, back home to romantic love, back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame… back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time”

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

“There came to him an image of man’s whole life upon the earth… a tiny spurt of flame that blazed out briefly in an illimitable and terrifying darkness… And he knew that he would die with defiance on his lips, and that the shout of his denial would ring with the last pulsing of his heart into the maw of all-engulfing night.”

Thomas Wolfe 1900 – 1938 CE
(Thomas Clayton Wolfe)
Father of autobiographical fiction
from Look Homeward, Angel

Themes: Impermanence

“The secret of Soto Zen is just two words: not always so”

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi 1904 – 1971 CE

Themes: Impermanence

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“A sense of humor enables [successful tacticians] to maintain their perspective and see themselves for what they really are: a bit of dust that burns for a fleeting second.”

Saul Alinsky 1909 – 1972 CE

Themes: Impermanence

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”

Alan Watts 1915 – 1973 CE

“Isn't man but a blossom taken by wind, and only the mountains and the sea and the stars… everlasting?”

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

Themes: Impermanence

“Nothing lasts forever - not even your troubles”

Warren Bennis 1925 – 2014 CE
Authentic Leadership pioneering thought leader

Themes: Impermanence

“It is not impermanence tht makes us suffer. What makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent when they are not.”

Thích Nhất Hạnh tʰǐk ɲɜ̌t hɐ̂ʔɲ 1926 CE –

“eventually there will be no life… This is an interval. The cosmic process is hurrying on, crushing life back into the granite and methane; the wheel turns for all life. It is all temporary.”

Philip K. Dick 1928 – 1982 CE
Legendary consciousness provocateur
from Man in the High Castle,

Themes: Impermanence

“Spring passes and one remembers one's innocence.
Summer passes and one remembers one's exuberance.
Autumn passes and one remembers one's reverence.
Winter passes and one remembers one's perseverance.”

Yoko Ono 小野 洋子 1933 CE –
(“Ocean Child”)

“If a healthy soil is full of death, it is also full of life: worms, fungi, microorganisms of all kinds ... Given only the health of the soil, nothing that dies is dead for very long.”

Wendell Berry 1934 CE –

Themes: Impermanence

“Tradition is the illusion of permanence.”

Woody Allen 1935 CE –

Themes: Impermanence

“Some people—sweet and attractive, strong and healthy—happen to die young. They are masters in disguise teaching us about impermanence.”

Dalai Lama XIV Tenzin Gyatso 1935 CE –

Themes: Impermanence

“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

“We think of life as solid and are haunted when time tells us it is a fluid. Old Heraclitus couldn't have stepped in the same river once, let alone twice.”

Jim Harrison 1937 – 2016 CE
"untrammeled renegade genius”
from The Road Home​

Themes: Impermanence

“A book is like a river (and Into the same river no man can step twice) because the intellectual context, like the reader, changes steadily… We have changed and the broad intellectual climate has changed.”

Mary Catherine Bateson 1939 CE –

“Whatever you may be doing, every minute of every hour is a new chapter, a new page.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE
from Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior

Themes: Impermanence

55. Forever Young

“In the face of impermanence, if your next thought is good, this is what we call the realization body.”

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

Themes: Impermanence

“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

“True buddhist meditation - using any techniques or practices that help transform our habit of thinking that things are solid into the habit of seeing them as compounded, interdependent, and impermanent.”

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

16. Returning to the Root, Meditation

“Seeing that nothing is solid or permanent, you begin to make yourself at home in the unknown.”

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

Themes: Impermanence

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“The notion of a lasting, independently existing self urges us to expend enormous effort in resisting the inevitability of change making sure this 'self' remains safe and secure. When we've achieved some condition that makes us feel whole and complete, we want everything to stay exactly as it is. The deeper our attachment to whatever provides us with this sense of completeness, the greater our fear of losing it, and the more brutal our pain if we do lose it.”

Mingyur Rinpoche 1975 CE –
Modern-day Mahasiddha

from The Joy of Living (2007)

Themes: Impermanence

“see that the seeds for regeneration exist within change, with being delighted with the sand castles as they wash away... All this present moment's possibility rests with impermanence.”

Mingyur Rinpoche 1975 CE –
Modern-day Mahasiddha

from In Love With the World

Themes: Impermanence

“People are usually afraid of change because they fear the unknown. But the single greatest constant of history is that everything changes.”

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

from Homo Deus: A History of Tomorrow

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