Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Qianlong Emperor’s bamboo copy of Art of War


Although the phrase ‘strike while the iron’s hot’ only goes back as far as an 18th century early marriage strategy, the sentiment goes back at least as far at 6th century BCE Sun Tzu: “Overwhelming speed is of utmost importance, never miss opportunities, appear like thunder with startling suddenness to take advantage of your enemy’s unreadiness by taking unexpected routes and attacking unguarded places.” Sun Tzu focused on vital political strategies but his principles can apply equally to business, livelihood, education, the battle of the sexes, and to the survival of our species itself. Strategy epitomizes the kind of reasoning that expands human consciousness beyond that of unthinking animals. From an anonymous source: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

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Quotes (90)

“Tactics for extricating oneself from adverse battlefield situations emphasize speed, maneuverability, unified action, decisive commitment, the employment of misdirection, the establishment of ambushes, and the appropriate use of different types of forces.”

Jiang Ziya 姜子牙 1
"Master of Strategy"

Themes: Strategy

“No shame in running,fleeing disaster, even in pitch darkness. Better to flee from death than feel its grip.”

Homer 1
Primogenitor of Western culture
from Iliad

Themes: Strategy

“Do not talk a little on many subjects, but much on a few.”

Pythagorus 570 – 495 BCE
(of Samos)
"The most influential philosopher of all time"
from Golden Verses of Pythagoras Χρύσεα

Themes: Strategy

“Oneself is one's own refuge, what other refuge an there be?”

Buddha गौतम बुद्ध 563 – 483 BCE via Ven. Dr. Rewata Dhamma
(Siddhartha Shakyamuni Gautama)
Awakened Truth
from Dhammapada धम्मपद

Themes: Strategy

“When young, beware of the desire to fight. When in manhood, beware of sex. When one has grown old, beware of the desire for possessions.”

Confucius 孔丘 551 – 479 BCE via Lin Yutang
(Kongzi, Kǒng Zǐ)
History's most influential "failure"

Themes: Sex Strategy

“Trust in self interest, spread one’s awesomeness over the enemy... Victory can be known. It cannot be made… And so the superior military cuts down strategy. Its inferior cuts down alliances. Its inferior cuts down the military. The worst attacks walled cities.”

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: Victory Strategy

54. Planting Well
28. Turning Back

“In peace prepare for war, in war prepare for peace. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Under no circumstances can it be neglected.”

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

Themes: Strategy Peace

“It is a profitable thing, if one is wise, to seem foolish.”

Aeschylus Αἰσχύλος 525 – 455 BCE
The Father of Tragedy

“The end excuses any evil.”

Sophocles Σοφοκλῆς 497 – 405 BCE
“The Wise and Honored One”
from Electra, 414 BCE

Themes: Strategy

“honoring the worthy is the foundation of government... sage kings of ancient times showed no special consideration for their own kin, no partiality for the eminent and rich, no favoritism for the good-looking and attractive.”

Mozi 墨子 470 – 391 BCE via Burton Watson
Chinese personification of Newton, da Vinci, and Jesus
from Honoring the Worthy

Themes: Strategy

“It is more important to know where you are going than to get there quickly. Do not mistake activity for achievement.”

Isocrates Ἰσοκράτης 436 – 338 BCE

“the most important part of a task is the beginning, for that is the time when character is formed, when impressions readily taken.”

Plato Πλάτων 428 – 348 BCE
from Republic Πολιτεία

Themes: Strategy

76. The Soft and Flexible

“The Master achieves success, yet he never does a thing… People don’t see him as a leader since he lets them find their own way”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 369 – 286 BCE

Themes: Success Strategy

30. No War

“Test a servant while in the discharge of his duty, a relative difficulty, a friend in adversity, and a wife is misfortune.”

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

Themes: Strategy

“If you climb to a height and beckon, it’s not that your arm grows longer, but it's seen from farther away. If you yell downwind it’s not that the sound gets swifter, but it is heard more clearly.”

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

Themes: Strategy

32. Uncontrived Awareness

“This sets out the way of military strategy. Lao Tzu was disgusted with the use of military force at the time. Thus he took up himself to explain its principles.”

Heshang Gong 河上公 202 – 157 BCE
(Ho-shang Kung or "Riverside Sage”)

Themes: Strategy

31. Victory Funeral

“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

Anonymous 1
Freedom from the narrow boxes defined by personal history

Themes: Business Strategy

“If you chase two rabbits, you will lose them both.”

Anonymous 1
Freedom from the narrow boxes defined by personal history
from Russian Proverb

“One may rely on strategy and deception to impress but these can hardly compare with an impression made without these.”

Yang Xiong 揚雄 53 BCE – 18 CE via Michael Nylan, Shan Dao
from Fayan 法言, Exemplary Figures or Model Sayings

“If you would be loved, be lovable.”

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

from Art of Love, 2 CE

Themes: Strategy

“Take things with a grain of salt and profit by the follow of others.”

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

from Natural History

Themes: Strategy

“When defeat is inevitable, it is wisest to yield.”

Quintilian 35 – 100 CE

Themes: Failure Strategy

“First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.”

Epictetus Ἐπίκτητος 55 – 135 CE

“Where would I find enough leather to cover the entire surface of the earth? But with leather soles beneath my feet, it’s as if the whole world has been covered.”

Shantideva ཞི་བ་ལྷ།།། 685 – 763 CE
(Bhusuku, Śāntideva)
from Bodhisattva Way of Life, Bodhicaryavatara

29. Not Doing

“Plan for this world as if you expect to live forever; but plan for the hereafter as if you expect to die tomorrow.”

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

“Final decisions should be made face to face... with verbal consensus, mental concurrence, and equality of intention.”

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

Themes: Strategy

“It is necessary to accept hard and inconvenient advice, to punish bad people with merciless law, to protect the numerous subjects with kindness, to strive after a good name that is honored everywhere.”

Genghis Khan 1162 – 1227 CE via Paul Kahn
from Secret History of the Mongols, Монголын нууц товчоо, 元朝秘史

“Wise enemies can help us but foolish friends will only harm.”

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)

“For us there can be no attachment to a particular manner of behavior in this life, nor has this ever been right, however successful we may have been.”

Meister Eckhart 1260 – 1328 CE
(Eckhart von Hochheim)

Themes: Success Strategy

6. The Source

“You should never play to win but so as not to lose. Think what moves will be quickest beaten, avoid making them, and make whatever move will take most time to beat. In learning any accomplishment, in controlling one's own conduct, and in governing a nation, the same rule applies.”

Yoshida Kenkō 兼好 1284 – 1350 CE via Sir George Bailey Sansom
Inspiration of self-reinvention
from Essays in Idleness

Themes: Strategy Success

“Do you defend me with the sword, and I will defend you with the pen.”

William of Ockham 1287 – 1347 CE

Themes: Strategy

“Never increase, beyond what is necessary, the number of entities required to explain anything.”

William of Ockham 1287 – 1347 CE

Themes: Strategy

“Injuries should be done all at one time—being tasted less, they offend less. Benefits should be given little by little—so that the flavor of them may last longer.”

Machiavelli 1469 – 1527 CE via W. K. Marriott, Shan Dao
(Niccolò Machiavelli)
from The Prince

Themes: Strategy

“Appear as you may wish to be.”

Machiavelli 1469 – 1527 CE via W.K. Marriott
(Niccolò Machiavelli)
from The Prince

Themes: Strategy

“Act in a crisis with calm, and act during a calm by thinking ahead of a crisis.”

Chén Jìrú 陳繼儒 1558 – 1639 CE via Lin Yutang

“Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.”

William Shakespeare 1564 – 1616 CE
from All's Well That Ends Well

Themes: Strategy

“Study people as deeply as you study books and you won't make painful mistakes about character. (chapter 157)”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE via Shan Dao
from Art of Worldly Wisdom

Themes: Strategy Mistakes

“In times of prosperity, prepare for adversity.”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE via Joseph Jacobs, chapter #113
from Art of Worldly Wisdom

Themes: Strategy

“While living, be a dead man, be thoroughly dead – whatever you do, then, will always be good.”

Bunan 至道無難 1603 – 1676 CE
(Shido Bunan Zenji Munan)

“Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; seek what they sought.”

Matsuo Bashō 松尾 芭蕉 1644 – 1694 CE

“The Emperor Constantine was a villain; a patricide who had smothered his wife in a bath, cut his son's throat, assassinated his father-in-law, his brother-in-law, and his nephew. A man puffed up with pride and immersed in pleasure, a detestable tyrant like his children—but he was a man of sense. He would not have obtained the Empire and subdued all his rivals had he not reasoned justly.”

Voltaire, François-Marie Arouet 1694 – 1778 CE via Naves
from Philosophical Letters (1730)

Themes: Strategy

“Neither trust, nor contend, lay wagers, nor lend; and you’ll have peace until your life's end.”

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

Themes: Strategy Peace

57. Wu Wei

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”

Benjamin Franklin 1706 – 1790 CE

Themes: Strategy

“Strategy is the art of making use of time and space.”

Napoleon Bonaparte 1769 – 1821 CE

Themes: Strategy Time

“Power is not revealed by striking hard or often, but by striking true.”

Balzac 1799 – 1850 CE
(Honoré de Balzac)

Themes: Strategy Power

“My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side.”

Abraham Lincoln 1809 – 1865 CE

Themes: Strategy Victory

“From each according to his faculties; to each according to his needs.”

Mikhail Bakunin 1814 – 1876 CE
Romantic rebel, revolutionary anarchist, founding father of modern socialism
from Gesammelte Werke

Themes: Strategy

“Now he found out a new thing - namely, that to promise not to do a thing is the surest way in the world to make a body want to go and do that very thing.”

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

Themes: Desire Strategy

53. Shameless Thieves

“they know that they will sooner gain their end by appealing to men's pockets, in which they have generally something of their own; than to their heads which contain for the most part little but borrowed or stolen property”

Samuel Butler 1835 – 1902 CE
Iconoclastic philosopher, artist, composer, author, and evolutionary theorist
from Erewhon

Themes: Strategy

“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”

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

“Dey stretch out dey neck en step high wid dey foot, yit dey aint git too close ter Mr. Wildcat.”

Joel Chandler Harris 1848 – 1908 CE
from Legends of the old Plantation

Themes: Strategy

“'I don't keer w'at you do wid me, Brer Fox,' sezee, 'so you don't fling me in dat brier-patch. Roas' me, Brer Fox' sezee, 'but don't fling me in dat brier-patch,' sezee.”

Joel Chandler Harris 1848 – 1908 CE
from Legends of the old Plantation

Themes: Strategy

“It does not take much strength to do things, but it requires a great deal of strength to decide what to do.”

Elbert Hubbard 1856 – 1915 CE

Themes: Strategy

33. Know Yourself

“I always act as though I were immortal.”

Georgios Zorbas Γεώργιoς Ζορμπάς 1865 – 1941 CE via Nikos Kazantzakis
(Alexis Zorba)
"Zorba the Greek"

“If you can dream—and not make dreams your master… Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it”

Rudyard Kipling 1865 – 1936 CE
Greatest—in-English—short-story writer

from If—

Themes: Dream Strategy

“We suffer not only the evils that actually befall us, but all those what our intelligence tells us we have reason to fear... forethought averts physical disaster at the cost of worry, and general lack of joy.”

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

Themes: Evil Strategy

“How you think when you lose determines how long it will be until you win.”

G. K. Chesterton 1874 – 1936 CE

43. No Effort, No Trace

“Go to the country. Raise children, raise pigs, and raise carrots.”

Carl Jung 1875 – 1961 CE
Insightful shamanistic scientist

Themes: Strategy

“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”

Albert Schweitzer 1875 – 1965 CE

“A clever person solves a problem. A wise person avoids it.”

Albert Einstein 1879 – 1955 CE

“The market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent.”

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

Themes: Strategy

“When I encounter a sunrise, a painting, a woman, or an idea that makes my heart bound like a young calf, then I know that I am standing in front of happiness... Throughout my life this has served me as an infallible sign.”

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

“It is quite possible to admire a hundred women or men while remaining resolutely faithful to one. In that way we may get the best of both—the transient ardor of sexual emotion and the quiet content of lasting love.”

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

Themes: Strategy

“We learn to desist from concentrating on what might be good for us in the short run; because, when we study underlying trends, we often find that what is good for us in the short run may be far from good in the long run.”

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

from Inner Structure of the I Ching

Themes: Strategy Paradox

“It is a laborious madness and an impoverishing one, the madness of composing vast books, setting out in five hundred pages an idea that can be perfectly related orally in five minutes. The better way to go about it is to pretend that those books already exist, and offer a summary, a commentary on them... I have chosen to write notes on imaginary books.”

Jorge Luis Borges 1899 – 1986 CE
Literary Explorer of Labyrinthian Dreams, Mirrors, and Mythologies

Themes: Strategy

“Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now.”

Viktor Frankl 1905 – 1997 CE
Brave and insightful concentration camp survivor

from Man's Search for Meaning

Themes: Strategy

“If it's a good idea, go ahead and do it. It's always easier to apologize for something you've already done than to get approval for it in advance.”

Grace Hopper 1906 – 1992 CE
(Grace Brewster Murray Hopper )

Themes: Freedom Strategy

“The real action is in the enemy's reaction.”

Saul Alinsky 1909 – 1972 CE
from Rules for Radicals

Themes: Strategy

“the I Ching teaches us how nature's currents flow and makes it easier for us to fit into them—their main function helping us see into nature's ways with a view to bending ourselves to suit those ways instead of trying to conquer nature and win power over it.. almost every kua [trigram or hexagram] tells us one of 4 things: When a situation is favorable, we go forward swiftly and joyfully. When it is not favorable, we know how to go slowly cautiously, or else to halt, or go back.”

John Blofeld 1913 – 1987 CE
from Talk (1978)

“You know what charm is: a way of getting the answer yes without having asked any clear question.”

Albert Camus 1913 – 1960 CE

Themes: Success Strategy

“The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.”

John Kennedy 1917 – 1963 CE
Modern America's most popular president

“It's funny. All you have to do is say something nobody understands and they'll do practically anything you want them to.”

J. D. Salinger 1919 – 2010 CE
from Catcher in the Rye

“I believe The Art of War shows quite clearly how to take the initiative and combat the enemy—any enemy… Sun Tzu’s truths can equally show the way to victory in all kinds of ordinary business conflicts, boardroom battles, and in the day to day fight for survival we all endure—even in the battle of the sexes! It has been a constant companion to me… I would make it obligatory study… I believe, very much, that Sun Tzu’s knowledge is vital to our survival.”

James Clavell 1921 – 1994 CE
Fictionalizing and fictional historian
from The Art of War, 1983

Themes: Strategy Conflict

“Sometimes it's wiser to give a quarry extra line -- that's how to catch a fish, neh?”

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

Themes: Strategy

“We are looking ahead, as is one of the first mandates given us as chiefs, to make sure and to make every decision that we make relate to the welfare and well-being of the seventh generation to come. ... What about the seventh generation? Where are you taking them? What will they have?”

Oren Lyons 1930 CE –

Themes: Strategy

“How can we ‘plan ahead’ when the the speed of change makes it almost completely impossible to have any clear idea about what the future will look like? The only reliable strategy may consist in developing mindful awareness, the ability to think for ourselves, and ripen innate wisdom.”

Shan Dao 山道 1933 CE –

Themes: Change Strategy

“Act the way you'd like to be and soon you'll be the way you act.”

Leonard Cohen 1934 – 2016 CE

“Live your life as an experiment so that you're always experimenting.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE via Shambhala Sun (tr: Pema Chodrin)
from Interview with Pema Chodrin and Alice Walker, 1999

Themes: Strategy

“The problems arise because of too many presented ideas about how to save ourselves rather than about why we should save ourselves or what the problem actually is… the how comes spontaneously.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE via Shan Dao
from Orderly Chaos — The Mandala Principle

Themes: Strategy

“One of the biggest problems in this country is short term solutions”

Mary Catherine Bateson 1939 CE –

Themes: Strategy

“A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.”

Bob Dylan 1941 CE –

Themes: Success Strategy

“The early Mongol rulers clearly recognized that knowledge constituted their most potent weapon and controlling the flow of information served as their organizing principle.”

Jack Weatherford 1945 CE –
from Secret History of the Mongol Queens

Themes: Strategy Control

“People have to come up with a clever strategy if they want what they know and what they don't know to live together in peace. And that strategy is thinking. We have to find a secure anchor. Otherwise, no mistake about it, we're on an awful collision course.”

Haruki Murakami 1949 CE – via Philip Gabriel, Shan Dao
from Sputnik Sweetheart

“Never show a weapon before you need to use it.”

Amy Tan 1952 CE –
Rock and roll singer, bartender, and insightfully talented author
from Saving Fish From Drowning

Themes: Strategy

“Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.”

Steve Jobs 1955 – 2011 CE

Themes: Strategy

“Any strategy that involves crossing a valley—accepting short-term losses to reach a higher hill in the distance—will soon be brought to a halt by the demands of a system that celebrates short-term gains and tolerates stagnation, but condemns anything else as failure. In short, a world where big stuff can never get done.”

Neal Stephenson 1959 CE –
(Stephen Bury)
Speculative futurist and cultural social commentator

from Diamond Age

Themes: Strategy Failure

“What got us here won't get us there.”

Simon Sinek 1973 CE –
from Infinite Game

Themes: Strategy

“Do not push away, do not invite.”

Mingyur Rinpoche 1975 CE –
Modern-day Mahasiddha

from In Love With the World

Themes: Strategy

“the real question facing us is not, 'What do we want to become?', but 'What do we want to want?' Those who are not spooked by this question probably haven't given it enough thought.”

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

from Sapiens

Themes: Strategy

“Strategy has to meet the demands of simple logic, but it should never become a slave to it.”

Deepak Malhotra 1
"Professor of the Year"

from Peacemaker's Code

Themes: Strategy


I Ching

by Fu Xi

Emperor/shaman progenitor of civilization symbol

Aesop's Fables, the Aesopica

by Aesop

Hero of the oppressed and downtrodden

Art of War 孙子兵法

by Sun Tzu

HIstory's supreme strategist

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