Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Arrogance and Pride

Though arrogance almost always casts a dark aura that increases delusion, ego-centrism, and failure; consequences of pride have more ambiguous results. The other side of Erasmus’ observation that “humility is truth” may be that pride means living in delusion. This delusion runs deep but could be necessary in some ways for a functioning society. It also obviously manifests in many more negative and destructive ways. There also though seems to be a pride based on truth—the truth of egolessness, basic goodness, and the sacredness of experience.

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Quotes (87)

“Man is the vainest of all creatures that have their being upon earth.”

Homer 1
Primogenitor of Western culture
from Odyssey, Ὀδύσσεια

“The smaller the mind, the greater the conceit.”

Aesop 620 – 546 BCE
Hero of the oppressed and downtrodden
from Aesop's Fables, the Aesopica

77. Stringing a Bow

“He who feels punctured must once have been a bubble.”

Lao Tzu 老子 1 via Witter Bynner
from Way of Life According to Lao Tzu

36. The Small, Dark Light

“Pretend to be weak so that your opponent may grow arrogant.”

Sun Tzu 孙武 544 – 496 BCE via Lionel Giles and James Clavell
(Sun Zi)
HIstory's supreme strategist
from Art of War 孙子兵法

“The gods love to thwart whatever is greater than the rest. They do not suffer pride in anyone but themselves.”

Herodotus Ἡρόδοτος 1
“The Father of History”
from Histories

“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

“Confucians corrupt men with their elaborate and showy rites and music and deceive parents with lengthy mournings and hypocritical grief. They propound fatalism, ignore poverty, and behave with the greatest arrogance... Such men are the destroyers of the people of the world!”

Mozi 墨子 470 – 391 BCE via Burton Watson
Chinese personification of Newton, da Vinci, and Jesus
from Against Confucians

“Those who trust themselves cannot be swayed by slander or flattery. Those whose knowledge is sufficient cannot be enticed by power or profit.”

Liú Ān 劉安 1
from Huainanzi

“The lofty pine is oftenest shaken by the winds; High towers fall with a heavier crash; And the lightning strikes the highest mountain.”

Horace 65 – 8 BCE

66. Go Low

“How little is required to enslave a mind greedy for praise.
(Sic leve, sic parvum est, animum quod laudis avarum Subruit ac reficit)”

Horace 65 – 8 BCE via Shan Dao

“Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Jesus 3 BCE – 30 CE via Matthew
from New Testament Διαθήκη

“Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes.”

Rabbinic Sages 20 – 200 CE
from Isiah

“The only certainty is that nothing is certain... nothing is more pitiable, or more presmptuous, than man!”

Pliny 23 – 79 CE
(Pliny Gaius Plinius Secundus, Pliny the Elder)
Founding father of the encyclopedia

from Natural History

“Arrogance is the banal mask for cowardice but far more important, it is the most potent impediment to the flourishing life. Clear thinking and self-importance cannot logically coexist... Conceit is an iron gate that admits no new knowledge, no expansive possibilities, nor constructive ides.”

Epictetus Ἐπίκτητος 55 – 135 CE via Sharon Labell
from Discourses of Epictetus, Ἐπικτήτου διατριβαί

“It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels”

Augustine ɔːɡəstiːn 354 – 430 CE
(Saint Augustine, Saint Austin, Augustine of Hippo)

67. Three Treasures

“If you say, 'It's enough, I have reached perfection,' all is lost. The task of perfection is to help us see our imperfection.”

Augustine ɔːɡəstiːn 354 – 430 CE via Aldous Huxley, Shan Dao
(Saint Augustine, Saint Austin, Augustine of Hippo)

“The rich and successful who become arrogant bring calamity upon themselves; the wise do not try to possess their achievements.”

Wang Zhen 809 – 859 CE via Ralph D. Sawyer, Shan Dao
from Daodejing Lunbing Yaoyishu, The Tao of War

“The main characteristics of noble people are not to be pleased by praise; not to be displeased by criticism.”

Sakya Pandita ས་སྐྱ་པཎྜ་ཏ་ཀུན་དགའ་རྒྱལ་མཚན། 1182 – 1251 CE via John T. Davenport; Shan Dao
(Kunga Gyeltsen)
from Ordinary Wisdom, Sakya Legshe (Jewel Treasury of Good Advice)

“Those who display themselves don’t shine for long. Those who flatter themselves don’t succeed for long. And those who parade themselves don’t lead for long”

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

24. Unnecessary Baggage

“Pride, envy, avarice—these are the sparks that set on fire the hearts of a all men.”

Dante 1265 – 1321 CE via Inferno
(Durante degli Alighieri)
from Divine Comedy

“It is a great error to act superior to others.... anyone truly versed in any art will be clearly aware of his own deficiency; and therefore, his ambition being never satisfied, he ends by never being proud.”

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

“A young woman is flighty, eager for many lovers; she rates her beauty beyond what the mirror shows and is proud… She know neither virtue nor intelligence and is always giddy like a leaf in the wind.”

Giovanni Boccaccio dʒoˈvanni bokˈkattʃo 1313 – 1375 CE via Will Durant

“Humility is truth.”

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

67. Three Treasures

“he to whom he has from cowardice conceded the one thing will not be satisfied but will want to take other things from him, and his arrogance will increase as his esteem for the prince is lessened.”

Machiavelli 1469 – 1527 CE via Luigi Ricci
(Niccolò Machiavelli)
from Discourses on Livy

“Pride thinks it's own happiness shines the brighter by comparing it with the misfortunes of others.”

Thomas More 1478 – 1535 CE
from Utopia

“People raise themselves up on their tiptoes to see over the heards of others,but they cannot stand like ths for long.”

Deqing 1546 – 1623 CE

24. Unnecessary Baggage

“The pompous speak with an echo and at every sentence look for applause or flattery but contempt is the only reward for self-satisfaction.

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE via Joseph Jacobs, Shan Dao chapter #141
from Art of Worldly Wisdom

“Everyone has a high opinion of himself, especially those who have the least ground for it.”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE via Joseph Jacobs, chapter #194
from Art of Worldly Wisdom

“Many would be wise if they did not think themselves wise.”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE via Joseph Jacobs

28. Turning Back

“If you don’t take the thought of death to heart, your spiritual practice will stray into conceit, arrogance, and materialism.”

Karma Chagme Rinpoche I ཀརྨ་ཆགས་མེད་རཱ་ག་ཨ་སྱས། 1613 – 1678 CE via Shan Dao

24. Unnecessary Baggage

“Pride is pleasure arising from a man's thinking too highly of himself.”

Baruch Spinoza 1632 – 1677 CE

67. Three Treasures

“The more we learn what humility is, the less we discover of it in ourselves”

Madame Guyon Jeanne-Marie Bouvier de la Motte-Guyon 1648 – 1717 CE via Thomas Taylor Allen
from Autobiography of Madame Guyon

67. Three Treasures

“Arrogance means that one knows how to press forward but not how to draw back… knows something about winning but nothing about losing.”

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

“Pride, the never-failing vice of fools.”

Alexander Pope 1688 – 1744 CE
Second most quoted English writer
from An Essay on Criticism, 1709

“He must be very ignorant for he answers every question he is asked.”

Voltaire, François-Marie Arouet 1694 – 1778 CE

15. Inscrutability

“From all those ideas which have crowded into my brain in conflict with each other, I have obtained nothing but uncertainty. However, it is much more sad and foolish for a man to believe he knows what in fact he does not.”

Voltaire, François-Marie Arouet 1694 – 1778 CE via Raymond Naves, Shan Dao
from Philosophical Dictionary

“Good Sense is a thing all need, few have, and none think they lack.”

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

33. Know Yourself

“If you stroke a cat, it will purr; if you praise a man, a sweet expression of delight will appear on his face even though the praise is a palpable lie.”

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

“Pride works from within; it is the direct appreciation of oneself. Vanity is the desire to arrive at this appreciation indirectly, from without.”

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

“What everyone most aims at in ordinary contact with his fellows is to prove them inferior to himself; and how much more is this the case in politics.”

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

“Nothing so fortifies a friendship as a belief on the part of one friend that he is superior to the other.”

Balzac 1799 – 1850 CE
(Honoré de Balzac)

“the mistakes that we male and female mortals make when we have our own way might fairly raise some wonder why we are so fond of it”

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

from Middlemarch

“Pride helps us; and pride is not a bad thing when it only urges us to hide our own hurts—not to hurt others.”

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

“Whenever someone brags about their common sense, you can be sure they have very little, either common or uncommon.”

Henry Thomas Buckle 1821 – 1862 CE
from History of Civilization

21. Following Empty Heart

“A man is like a fraction whose numerator is what he is and whose denominator is what he thinks of himself. The larger the denominator, the smaller the fraction.”

Leo Tolstoy 1828 – 1910 CE

67. Three Treasures

“the man who stands in the midst of the struggle and says, 'I have it.' only shows by doing so that he has just lost it.”

Henrik Ibsen 1828 – 1906 CE
"The world's 2nd most-performed playwright"

“Praise is the shipwreck of historians.”

Lord Acton 1834 – 1902 CE
(John Dalberg-Acton)
Prolific historian and politician
from Lecture, Cambridge 1895

“Human pride is not worthwhile; there is always something lying in wait to take the wind out of it.”

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

67. Three Treasures

“If we think of our existence not as that of a little god outside, but as that of a ganglion within, we have the infinite behind us.”

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. 1841 – 1935 CE
Game-changing Supreme Court Justice
from Collected Legal Papers

“I am done with great things and big plans, great institutions and big success. I am for those tiny, invisible loving human forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets which will rend the hardest monuments of pride.”

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

“There was one who thought himself above me, and he was above me until he had that thought.”

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

“The only cure for vanity is laughter, and the only fault that is laughable is vanity.”

Henri-Louis Bergson 1859 – 1941 CE
from Laughter

9. Know When to Stop

“Discussion is impossible with someone who claims not to seek the truth, but already to possess it.”

Romain Rolland 1866 – 1944 CE
“The moral consciousness of Europe”
from Above the Battle

“Snobbery is a disease of the soul which, though serious, is localized and hence does not destroy in utterly.”

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

“Insanity is possession by an unconscious content when consciousness has denied its existence… this narrowness of consciousness, this hubris is always the shortest way to the insane asylum.”

Carl Jung 1875 – 1961 CE
Insightful shamanistic scientist
from Introduction to Secret of the Golden Flower

“Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.”

Albert Einstein 1879 – 1955 CE

“Surrounded by treasure, you lie ill at ease; proud beyond measure, you come to your knees”

Witter Bynner 1881 – 1968 CE
(Emanuel Morgan)

9. Know When to Stop

“Nothing can be more arrogant, though nothing is commoner than to assume that of Gods there is only one, and of religions none but the speaker's.”

Virginia Woolf 1882 – 1941 CE
from Orlando: A Biography

“You bowed to yourself in the mirror, stepping forward to applause earnestly”

James Joyce 1882 – 1941 CE
from Ulysses

“there was poverty, and as if this were not enough, the pride which demanded that no one discover the poverty.”

Nikos Kazantzakis 1883 – 1957 CE
from Report to Greco

“There is nothing so shallow as sophistication; it judges everything from the surface, and thinks it is profound. All modern life has been misled by it.”

Will (and Ariel) Durant 1885 – 1981 CE

21. Following Empty Heart

“If any one idea dominates the teachings of Jesus, it is his opposition to the self-righteousness of the righteous.”

Reinhold Niebuhr 1892 – 1971 CE

67. Three Treasures

“To his dog, every man is Napoleon; hence the constant popularity of dogs.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE

53. Shameless Thieves

“Exceptional human qualities only arise when a person over the course of many years lives and works with only a generosity without any expectation of reward and without a shred of egoism.”

Jean Giono 1895 – 1970 CE via Shan Dao
from Man Who Planted Trees

“Wisdom is principally a sense of proportion, more often a sense of our human limitations... a keen sense of what we are not—that we are not gods, for instance”

Lín Yǔtáng 林語堂 1895 – 1976 CE
from On the Wisdom of America, 1950

“There appears to be an innate human tendency to underestimate the capacity of those who do not belong to ‘our’ group. Those who do not share our background cannot have our ability. Foreigners, people who are in a different economic status, and the young seem invariably to be regarded as intellectually backward”

Robert Hutchins 1899 – 1977 CE
(Robert Maynard Hutchins)
from The Great Conversation

“But the conceited man did not hear him. Conceited people never hear anything but praise.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry 1900 – 1944 CE

66. Go Low

“The surest cure for vanity is loneliness.”

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

“One who thinks he is a good father is not a good father; one who thinks he is a good husband is not a good husband. One who thinks he is one of the worst husbands may be a good one if he is always trying to be a good one with single-hearted effort.”

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi 1904 – 1971 CE via Trudy Dixon
from Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

“The arrogance of the artist is a very profound thing, and it fortifies you.”

James Michener 1907 – 1997 CE
Historical and Generational Saga Master

“young people—when they think they are beginning to understand nature—they can be sure that they are on the wrong track.”

Masanobu Fukuoka 福岡 正信 1913 – 2008 CE via Larry Korn
from One Straw Revolution

56. One with the Dust

“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

“you're beginning to give off a little stink of piousness. God damn it, there isn't any prayer in any religion in the world that justifies piousness.”

J. D. Salinger 1919 – 2010 CE via Zooey
from Franny and Zooey

“What’s the point of being better than someone else?”

Noam Chomsky 1928 CE –

“To believe that our beliefs are permanent truths which encompass reality is a sad arrogance.”

Ursula Le Guin 1929 – 2018 CE

2. The Wordless Teachings

“You can only be kind or cruel if you have, and cherish, a self… Altruism is the other side of egoism.”

Ursula Le Guin 1929 – 2018 CE

5. Christmas Trees

“‘No … big … deal’… don’t make too big a deal because that leads to arrogance and pride, or a sense of specialness. On the other hand, making too big a deal about your difficulties takes you in the other direction; it takes you into poverty, self-denigration, and a low opinion of yourself.”

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

48. Unlearning

“All (Buddhist) teachings are basically related with a way of subjugating our ego, shedding our ego.”

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

3. Weak Wishes, Strong Bones

“Arrogant people are so involved with themselves and they are competing so much with others that they won’t even look. When you are fully gentle, without arrogance and without aggression, you see the brilliance of the universe.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE

36. The Small, Dark Light

“If you can get humor and seriousness at the same time, you've created a special little thing, and that's what I'm looking for, because if you get pompous, you lose everything.”

Paul Simon 1941 CE –
Prolific planter of musical, cultural wisdom seeds

“The first will be last and the last will be first.”

Bob Dylan 1941 CE –

76. The Soft and Flexible

“Humiliation is the most underestimated force in international relations”

Thomas L. Friedman 1953 CE –

“Anyone who claims to know what's going on will lie about the little things too.”

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

“Where there’s bluster, there’s duplicity.”

David Mitchell 1969 CE –
from Cloud Atlas

63. Easy as Hard

“Power is crack cocaine for your ego and battery acid for your soul.”

David Mitchell 1969 CE –

9. Know When to Stop

“We think we’re better than average at not being biased in thinking that we’re better than average.”

Robert Kurzban 1969 CE –

“Most people tend to believe they are the center of the world and their culture is the linchpin of human history... Personally, I am all too familiar with such crass egotism because the Jews, my own people, also think that they are the most important thing in the world... Needless to say, the British, French, Germans, Americans, Russians, Japanese, and countless other groups are similarly convinced that humankind would have lived in barbarous and immoral ignorance if it hadn't been for the spectacular achievements of their nation.”

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

from 21 Lessons for the 21st Century

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