Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Imagination may be one of the least acknowledged forces of nature. A powerful influence fostering both clarity and delusion, both evolution and corruption; it generates both progress and decline, both science and superstition, both love and hate. It fathered both 250 years of European belief that millions of devils and witches roamed the earth causing calamities and tormenting humans; and, the artistic pinnacles of paintings, music, sculpture, and literature. It manifests as both hypochondria’s experience of illness that doesn’t exist as well as the placebo effect dissolving illness that does. How can we channel the immense power of imagination into a beneficial rather than a detrimental direction?

Imagination takes us to a road fork. One path leads to the world of illusion where we continually chase rainbows but only create more pain and suffering. The other direction takes us to the world of true creativity, authentic presence, and awakened awareness.

Schopenhauer describes the interplay between imagination and perceptions, how imagination flourishes when there are less perceptions. And how when we’re traveling, caught up in the busy intensity of our lives, and in visually stimulating environments; our imaginations take a vacation. He also notes however that imagination can only bloom in those private, dark, unstimulated moments when a great deal of material from the external world has already been gathered and stored in our consciousness.

See also Creativity.

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Quotes (77)

“Would anyone fall in love if he had never heard or read about such a delirium?”

Anonymous -800 to present via Will Durant
Freedom from the narrow boxes defined by personal history

Themes: Love Imagination

“"secret sewers of vice ... canalized in its flood of unimaginable thoughts, images, and pornographic words, revolting blasphemies [which] debases and perverts and degrades the noble gift of imagination"”

Anonymous -800 to present via Newspaper review
Freedom from the narrow boxes defined by personal history

Themes: Imagination

“We suffer more from imagination than from reality.”

Seneca ˈsɛnɪkə 4 BCE – 65 CE
(Lucius Annaeus)

“Don’t recall, don’t imagine, don’t think, don’t examine, don’t control, rest.”

Tilopa 988 – 1069 CE

57. Wu Wei

“Without leaving a trace, let mind and dharma become one and wander into the circle of wonder.”

Hóngzhì Zhēngjué 宏智正覺 1091 – 1157 CE
from Cultivating the Emplty Field

“We are all meant to be mothers of God...for God is always needing to be born.”

Meister Eckhart 1260 – 1328 CE
(Eckhart von Hochheim)

54. Planting Well

“Since that mind has no cause and is not an object that comes into being, it does not abide in any finite way, is inexpressible, and transcends the realm of the imagination... It is not within the realm of the imagination, for it defies illustration or description.”

Longchenpa ཀློང་ཆེན་རབ་འབྱམས་པ། 1308 – 1364 CE via Padma Translation Committee
(Longchen Rabjampa, Drimé Özer)
from The Basic Space of Phenomena

Themes: Imagination

“Imagination leads man's life. If he thinks of fire, he is on fire; if he thinks of war, he will cause war. All depends only upon man's imagination; that he imagines wholly that which he wills.”

Paracelsus 1493 – 1541 CE via Kurt Seligman
(Theophrastus von Hohenheim)
Revolutionary, shamanistic alchemist

Themes: Imagination

“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

“And, as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.”

William Shakespeare 1564 – 1616 CE
from A Midsummer Night's Dream

“The imagination always jumps too soon and paints things in brighter colors than the real.”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE via Joseph Jacobs, chapter #182
from Art of Worldly Wisdom

Themes: Imagination

“Men are linked with animals, these with plants, and these again with fossils which in their turn are connected with elements that sense and imagination represents to us as completely dead”

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

“Vision is the art of seeing things invisible.”

Jonathan Swift 1667 – 1745 CE
"Foremost prose satirist in the English language"

Themes: Imagination

“The world of reality has its limits; the world of imagination is boundless.”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1712 – 1778 CE

“The ripening of reason regulates the imagination. This is the work of years, and the most important of all employments.”

Mary Wollstonecraft 1759 – 1797 CE
Seminal feminist
from Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)

“Imagination rules the world.”

Napoleon Bonaparte 1769 – 1821 CE

Themes: Imagination

“The poet brings the whole soul of a man into activity, diffuses a tone and spirit of unity that blends each into each by that magical power we call imagination.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge 1772 – 1834 CE via Shan Dao
from Biographia Literaria, 1817

“The more active the imagination, the fewer perceptions from outside transmitted to us by the senses. Long periods of silence and solitude nurture it, journeys, the bustle of life, and high noons of stimulation chase it far away.”

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

“I am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the heart's affections, and the truth of Imagination… My Imagination is a Monastery and I am its Monk.”

John Keats 1795 – 1821 CE
Writer of "poems as immortal as English"
from Letters

Themes: Doubt Imagination

“Reason is intelligence taking exercise; imagination is intelligence with an erection.”

Victor Hugo 1802 – 1885 CE via Robb
Literary pioneer, poet, and social justice provocateur

“All religion, my friend, is simply evolved out of fraud, fear, greed, imagination, and poetry.”

Edgar Allan Poe Edgar Allen Poe 1809 – 1849 CE

“Without speculation there is no good and original observation.”

Charles Darwin 1809 – 1882 CE

Themes: Imagination

“The refuge of radiant awareness is closer, more profound, easier, and more wondrous than we can imagine.”

Jamgon Kongtrul the Great འཇམ་མགོན་ཀོང་སྤྲུལ་བློ་གྲོས་མཐའ་ཡས། 1813 – 1899 CE via Judith Hanson
(Jamgön Kongtrül Lodrö Thayé)
from Torch of Certainty

33. Know Yourself

“Philosophy and Art both render the invisible visible by imagination.”

George Henry Lewes 1817 – 1878 CE
English philosopher and soul mate to George Eliot
from The Principles of Success in Literature (1865)

Themes: Imagination

“...the imagination that reveals subtle actions inaccessible by any sort of lens, but tracked in that outer darkness through long pathways of necessary sequence by the inward light which is the last refinement of energy, capable of bathing even the etheral atoms in its ideally illuminated space.”

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

from Middlemarch

Themes: Imagination

“What is imagination? Psychologists tell us that it is the plastic or creative power of the soul; but materialists confound it with fancy... Imagination, Pythagoras maintained to be the remembrance of precedent spiritual, mental, and physical states, while fancy is the disorderly production of the material brain.”

Blavatsky, Helena Еле́на Петро́вна Блава́тская 1831 – 1891 CE
Co-founder of Theosophy
from Isis Unveiled

Themes: Imagination

“To imagine a set of utterly strange and impossible contingencies and require the youths to give intelligent answers to the question that arise is reckoned the fittest conceivable way of preparing them for the actual conduct of their affairs in after life... to teach a boy merely the nature of the things which exist in the word around him would be giving him but a narrow and shallow conception of the universe”

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

“An Englishman is a person who does things because they have been done before. An American is a person who does things because they haven't been done before.”

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

Themes: Imagination

“Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact.”

Henry James 1843 – 1916 CE

“To imagine is everything, to know is nothing at all.”

Anatole France 1844 – 1924 CE
(Jacques Anatole Thibault)

Themes: Imagination

37. Nameless Simplicity

“The reinvention of daily life means marching off the edge of our maps.”

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

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”

Oscar Wilde 1854 – 1900 CE

“I do not rush into actual work. When I get an idea I start at once building it up in my imagination. I change the construction, make improvements, and operate the device entirely in my mind.”

Nikola Tesla Никола Тесла 1856 – 1943 CE
from My Inventions

“It is a common mistake to avoid imaginary, and ignore the real dangers”

Nikola Tesla Никола Тесла 1856 – 1943 CE

“Imagination is the only key to the future. Without it none exists - with it all things are possible.”

Ida Tarbell 1857 – 1944 CE

Themes: Imagination

“Every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of imagination.”

John Dewey 1859 – 1952 CE
The "Second Confucius"

“An ideal society is a drama enacted exclusively in the imagination.”

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 (1905)

“Let us leave pretty women to men with no imagination.”

Marcel Proust 1871 – 1922 CE
Apostle of Ordinary Mind
from In Search of Lost Time

Themes: Imagination

12. This Over That

“The only way to attack language is to attack it... there are no certainties, even grammatical ones... Every writer is obliged to create his own language, as every violinist is obliged to create his own 'tone'... they begin to write well only on condition that they're original, that they create their own language... only that which bears the imprint of our choice, our taste, our uncertainty, our desire and our weakness can be beautiful.”

Marcel Proust 1871 – 1922 CE
Apostle of Ordinary Mind
from In Search of Lost Time

“Old age is like death in that some face it with indifference, not because they have more courage than others, but because they have less imagination.”

Marcel Proust 1871 – 1922 CE via Justin O'Brien
Apostle of Ordinary Mind
from Le Temps retrouvé

“Life holds hardly any interest except on the days when the dust of reality is mingled with magic sand—when some ordinary incident of life becomes a springboard for the imagination.”

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

“What is demanded is a change in our imaginative picture of the world.”

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

Themes: Imagination

“In order to understand fully the inner worldly order, one must imagine it as transparent, so that the primordial order is seen through it.”

Richard Wilhelm 1873 – 1930 CE via Lama Govinda
Translator bridging East and West
from Der Mensch und das Sein

“she still had that something which fires the imagination… that somehow revealed the meaning in common things… to make you feel the goodness of planting and tending and harvesting at last… It was no wonder that her sons stood tall and straight. She was a rich mine of life, like the founders of early races.”

Willa Cather 1873 – 1948 CE
Modern day Lao Tzu

62. Basic Goodness

“What a glorious gift is imagination, and what satisfaction it affords!”

Thomas Mann 1875 – 1955 CE
Deep, psychologically insightful author
from Confessions of Felix Krull (1954)

Themes: Imagination

“Spontaneous fantasies become more and more profound concentrating in abstract structures, 'principles,' true gnostic archai that create intuitive formulations that tend to be dramatized or personified.”

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

Themes: Imagination

“Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions. Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

Albert Einstein 1879 – 1955 CE

Themes: Imagination

“This struggle between reality and imagination had momentarily intoxicated my heart... By means of imagination I had obliterated reality, and I felt relieved... the ashes had turned back into an apple, and I was holding this apple in my hand.”

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

Themes: Imagination

“We must unlearn our ideas about an unchangeable human nature and an omnipotent environment. There is no knowable limit to change or growth; and perhaps there is nothing impossible but thinking makes it so.”

Will Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
Philosophy apostle and popularizer of history's lessons
from The Story of Philosophy, 1926

“Imagination is the voice of daring. If there is anything Godlike about God it is that. He dared to imagine everything.”

Henry Miller 1891 – 1980 CE
from Tropic of Capricorn (1939)

Themes: God Imagination

“We can only become what we are able to consciously imagine,”

Dane Rudhyar 1895 – 1985 CE
( Daniel Chennevière)
Agent of cultural evolution

Themes: Imagination

“his heart was in a constant, turbulent riot.. For awhile these reveries provided an outlet for his imagination; they were a satisfactory hint of the unreality of reality, a promise that the rock of the world was founded securely on a fairy's wing.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald 1896 – 1940 CE
Prototype of "Jazz Age" exuberance
from Great Gatsby

“The power of the creative imagination is not only merely content with observing the world as it is, accepting a given reality, but is capable of creating a new reality by transforming the inner as well as the outer world”

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

Themes: Imagination

“every man's mind ought to keep working all his life long; every man's imagination should be touched as often as possible by great works of imagination... education ought to end only with life itself.”

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

“Man's memory shapes
Its own Eden within”

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

“The imagination, like certain wild animals, will not breed in captivity.”

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

Themes: Imagination

“Rigor alone is paralytic death, but imagination alone is insanity.”

Gregory Bateson 1904 – 1980 CE

“Against the ruin of the world, there is only one defense—the creative act.”

Kenneth Rexroth 1905 – 1982 CE
"Father of the Beats”

“A sense of humor is incompatible with the complete acceptance of any dogma, any religious, political, or economic prescription for salvation. It synthesizes with curiosity, irreverence, and imagination.”

Saul Alinsky 1909 – 1972 CE

“We are so obsessed with doing that we have no time and no imagination left for being. As a result, men are valued not for what they are but for what they do or what they have - for their usefulness.”

Thomas Merton 1915 – 1968 CE

7. Lose Yourself, Gain Your Soul

“What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination?”

Allen Ginsberg 1926 – 1997 CE
from Howl

“If you cannot or will not imagine the results of your actions, there's no way you can act morally or responsibly,”

Ursula Le Guin 1929 – 2018 CE

Themes: Imagination

“Imagination should be used, not to escape reality but to create it.”

Colin Wilson 1931 – 2013 CE

“This is certainly our most remarkable human characteristic: imagination. Animals require actual physical stimuli to trigger their experience. A man can retreat into a book—or a daydream... Such a curious ability is far beyond the power of any animal.”

Colin Wilson 1931 – 2013 CE
from G. I. Gurdjieff: The War Against Sleep (1980)

Themes: Imagination

“You have to be able to imagine lives that are not yours.”

Wendell Berry 1934 CE –

“we constantly assume that there is a 'mystery,' something which we do not know—the meaning of life, the key to happiness—as long as we continue to look for a conceptual answer, there will always be areas of mystery”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE
from Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism

Themes: Imagination

“Imagine there's no countries, it isn't hard to do”

John Lennon 1940 – 1980 CE

“Imagine all the people, living for today.”

John Lennon 1940 – 1980 CE

37. Nameless Simplicity

“And all of the colors are black... It's just imagination they lack. Everything's the same back in my little town.

Paul Simon 1941 CE –

“The only deserts are deserts of the imagination.”

Paulo Lugari 1944 CE – via Alan Weisman

“From Ushikawa’s perspective, they were irretrievably shallow. To him, their minds were dull, their vision narrow and devoid of imagination, and all they cared about was what other people thought… completely lacking in… any degree of wisdom.”

Haruki Murakami 1949 CE –

44. Fame and Fortune

“There are plenty of things in history that are best left in the shadows. Accurate knowledge does not improve people’s lives… The objective does not necessarily surpass the subjective, you know. Reality does not necessarily extinguish fantasy…”

Haruki Murakami 1949 CE –
from Killing Commendatore

“Imagine feeling completely satisfied and content with your life just as it is.”

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

48. Unlearning

“Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared.”

J.K. Rowling 1965 CE –
from Harvard Commencement address, 2008

Themes: Imagination

“Imagining a world creates it, if it isn't already there. That's the great secret of existence: it's supersensitive to thought. Decisions, wishes, lies—that's all you need to create a new universe.”

N. K. Jemisin 1972 CE –
from The City We Became (2020)

“Our perceptions are false. The objects of our perceptions are neither false nor true... Is the body real? Is there such a thing as a 'real' self or a 'false' self? The term no-self does not mean 'false self' yet it's not real in ways that we imagine.”

Mingyur Rinpoche 1975 CE –
Modern-day Mahasiddha

from In Love With the World

Themes: Imagination

“Large numbers of strangers can cooperate successfully by believing in common myths. Any large-scale human cooperation – whether a modern state, a medieval church, an ancient city or an archaic tribe – is rooted in common myths that exist only in people’s collective imagination.”

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

from Sapiens

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