Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
Search Quotes Search Sages Search Chapters


Our ideas and understandings about longevity and by extension immortality need to fall apart. The use of Lao Tzu’s teachings to support a “Taoist” tradition focused on immortality attested to how seductively easy these concepts become distorted. Shelley depicts a more aware view in his poem, Triumph of Life. After lamenting the fall of Rome and the deterioration of youth to age, he notices our transforming, immortal presence in nature:

That what I thought was an old root which grew
Was indeed one of that deluded crew,
And that the grass which methought hung so wide
And white, was but his thin discolored hair,
And that the holes it vainly sought to hide
Were or had been eyes

The egocentric understanding of immortality is based on illusion and of course could only conclude in disappointment. To the extent we can stretch our awareness beyond the deluded view of a separate self, we—like Shelley—begin to see our true longevity.

Read More

Quotes (75)

“Speaking waters touched me from your fountain, the source of life. I swallowed them and was drunk with the water that never dies.”

Solomon 990 – 931 BCE
Magician, exorcist, great prophet of Judaism and Islam
from Odes of Solomon (1st or 2nd century CE)

Themes: Water Longevity

“My heart is like that of a child.”

Sappho 612 – 570 BCE
“The Poetess” and most famous Greek woman

Themes: Longevity

55. Forever Young

“What goes against the Tao comes to an early end.”

Lao Tzu 老子 604 BCE - via Shan Dao, chapter #30
from Tao Te Ching 道德经 Dàodéjīng

Themes: Longevity

“Our bodies disappear but the eternal present goes on and on.”

Lao Tzu 老子 604 BCE - via Shan Dao, chapter #33
from Tao Te Ching 道德经 Dàodéjīng

“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, nor to worry about the future, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly.”

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

79. No Demands

“Genuineness is the path of immortality, thoughtlessness the path of death.”

Buddha गौतम बुद्ध 563 – 483 BCE via Shan Dao
(Siddhartha Shakyamuni Gautama)
Awakened Truth
from Dhammapada धम्मपद

“To learn is to be young, however old.”

Aeschylus Αἰσχύλος 525 – 455 BCE
The Father of Tragedy

Themes: Longevity Old Age

“You should eat to live; not live to eat. (Those who don’t work to live, live long – Yen Tsun, 53-24 BCE.)”

Socrates 469 – 399 BCE
One of the most powerful influences on Western Civilization

75. Greed

“After a long period of disuse, the spark of life dries up and vision collapses—a person can only feel their way around like a blind person using a staff.”

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

Themes: Longevity Health

“Life is very short and anxious for those who forget the past, neglect the present, and fear the future.”

Seneca ˈsɛnɪkə 4 BCE – 65 CE
(Lucius Annaeus)

Themes: Longevity

“As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.”

Seneca ˈsɛnɪkə 4 BCE – 65 CE
(Lucius Annaeus)

Themes: Longevity

“Getting distracted by trifles is the easiest thing in the world... If you are old, do not go far from the ship, or you might fail to appear when you are called.”

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

“In this immensity of past and future time, what is the difference between living three days or three generations?”

Marcus Aurelius 121 – 219 CE via Shan Dao
from Meditations Τὰ εἰς ἑαυτόν

Themes: Time Longevity

“the life of every man is short and yours is almost finished while you do not respect yourself but allow your happiness to depend upon others”

Marcus Aurelius 121 – 219 CE

“Remember the clear light, the pure bright shining white light of your own nature, it is deathless.”

Padmasambhava པདྨཱ་ཀ་ར། 8th century CE
("The Lotus-Born", Guru Rinpoche)
from Tibetan Book of the Dead

Themes: Longevity

“Hold fast to the primal and guard the One—it guards true power and can prolong the span of life.”

Lü Dongbin 呂洞賓 796 CE - via Richard Wilhelm, Shan Dao
(Lü Tung-Pin)

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

Themes: Longevity Power

“I shall not die, these seeds I've sown will save
My name and reputation from the grave,
And men of sense and wisdom will proclaim,
When I have gone, my praises and my fame.”

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

“The Wine of Life keeps dripping drop by drop;
The Leaves of Life keep falling one by one.”

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

from Rubaiyat

Themes: Longevity

“Since life is short and the time of death unknown, devote yourselves wholly to meditation. Even at the cost of your life, act wisely and courageously according to your innate insight.”

Milarepa རྗེ་བཙུན་མི་ལ་རས་པ། 1052 – 1135 CE

“The beauty of my garden is invisible... I use no magic to extend my life; Now, before me, the dead trees become alive.”

Kakuan Shien 廓庵師遠 1100 – 1200 CE
(Kuo-an Shih-yuan, Kuòān Shīyuǎn )
Most popular Ten Bulls artist/poet

from 10 Bulls

“Those who possess the Way are like children. They come of age without growing old.”

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

55. Forever Young

“If you pour water into a large vessel and then make a tiny hole in it, though it drips but a little, yet if it goes on steadily leaking, soon there is none left... Therefore the dealers in coffins can never make enough to keep a stock.”

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

“What benefit is youth, if corrupted with the severity of old age?”

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

Themes: Longevity

“You will say that I am old and mad, but I answer that there is no better way of keeping sane and free from anxiety than being mad.”

Michelangelo 1475 – 1564 CE
from Comment when 74 years old

“As long as art lives, never shall I accept that men are truly dead.”

Giorgio Vasari dʒordʒo vaˈzaːri 1511 – 1574 CE

“I will never be an old man. To me old age is always 15 years older than I am.”

Francis Bacon 1561 – 1626 CE

76. The Soft and Flexible

“The secret of a long life is to lead a good one. The two things that shorten life the most quickly are immorality and folly.”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE via Joseph Jacobs, Shan Dao chapter #90
from Art of Worldly Wisdom

Themes: Longevity

“Live and let live. Peacemakers rule life, sleep without bad dreams, and live a long happy life without dispute.”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE via Joseph Jacobs, Shan Dao chapter #192
from Art of Worldly Wisdom

Themes: Longevity Peace

“Though the years may creep ahead, mind itself can never age. This mind that's always just the same—Wonderful! Marvelous! When you've searched and found at last the one who never will grow old”

Bankei 盤珪永琢 1622 – 1693 CE
(Bankei Yōtaku)

Themes: Longevity Old Age

“Don't try to add more years to your life. Better add more life to your years.”

Blaise Pascal 1623 – 1662 CE
One of the greatest French writers of all time

Themes: Longevity

“Whether drifting through life on a boat or climbing toward old age leading a horse, each day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.”

Matsuo Bashō 松尾 芭蕉 1644 – 1694 CE

47. Effortless Success

“Good artisans concentrating on one specialty, refuse to dissipate their mental energy. This gives strength to their bodies and they often live to be 70 or 80, healthy and skillful as in their youth”

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

“Every man desires to live long; but no man would be old.”

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

from Thoughts on Various Subjects (1703)

Themes: Longevity

“Nothing is more fatal to health than an overcare of it.”

Benjamin Franklin 1706 – 1790 CE

“Nothing makes one old so quickly as the ever-present thought that one is growing older.”

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg 1742 – 1799 CE
One of history’s best aphorists

Themes: Longevity Reason

“An unused life is an early death.”

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 1749 – 1832 CE
from Iphigenie and Tauris (1787)

Themes: Longevity

“To desire immortality is to desire the perpetuation of a great mistake.”

Arthur Schopenhauer 1788 – 1860 CE
from The World as Will and Idea, 1819

“I feared, loved, suffered did, and died…
If I have been extinguished, yet there arise
A thousand beacons from the spark I bore
The great, the unforgotten: they who wore
Signs of thought’s empire over thought; their lore”

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

“I've got a great ambition to die of exhaustion rather than boredom.”

Thomas Carlyle 1795 – 1881 CE
"Great Man” theory of history creator

“To rise at six, to sleep at ten,
To sup at ten, to dine at six,
Make a man live for ten times ten.”

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

Themes: Health Longevity

“Life is unnecessarily long. Moments of insight, of fine personal relation, a smile, a glance, what ample borrowers of eternity they are!”

Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803 – 1882 CE
Champion of individualism

Themes: Longevity

“The greatest use of life is to spend it on something that will outlast it.”

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

“If you want to realize immortality you must realize the deathless nature of your mind.”

Jetsun Rinpoche, Shugsep ལོ་ཆེན་ཆོས་ཉིད་བཟང་མོ། 1852 – 1953 CE

“To get back my youth I would do anything in the world, except take exercise, get up early, or be respectable.”

Oscar Wilde 1854 – 1900 CE

“No matter what I did, I don't regret it... I did this, that, and the other thing in my life, yet I did very little, Men like me should live a thousand years. Good night!”

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

from Letter on deathbed to Nikos Kazantzakis

“I stop drinking and take cod liver oil to lengthen my life... principally because of those who are my enemies—so that some regret may remain in their too perfect world... to make the so-called gentlemen uncomfortable for a few more days.”

Lǔ Xùn 鲁迅 1881 – 1936 CE via Lin Yutang
(Zhou Shuren; Lusin)
Insightful satirist representing the "Literature of Revolt"

from Epigrams

“Did it matter that she must inevitably cease completely; all this must go on without her… somehow in the streets of London, on the ebb and flow of things, here, there, she survived”

Virginia Woolf 1882 – 1941 CE
from Mrs. Dalloway

“Separately, we die one by one, but all together we are immortal.”

Nikos Kazantzakis 1883 – 1957 CE
from Report to Greco

“Beauty is life when life unveils her holy face... eternity gazing at itself in a mirror... you are eternity and you are the mirror.”

Kahlil Gibran 1883 – 1931 CE
from The Prophet

“My soul suddenly longed to transcend its destiny, breathe free air, and become a bird—for a flash only, as long as it could endure. But that was enough; this flash was eternity. That is the meaning of eternity.”

Nikos Kazantzakis 1883 – 1957 CE
from Report to Greco

“Today is the oldest you've ever been, and the youngest you'll ever be again.”

Eleanor Roosevelt 1884 – 1962 CE

Themes: Longevity

40. Returning

“Literature is news that stays news.”

Ezra Pound 1885 – 1972 CE

Themes: Longevity

“What is old age? It is a hardening of the arteries and categories, an arresting of thought and blood; a man is as old as his arteries, and as young as his ideas.”

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

Themes: Longevity

“Life is that which can hold a purpose for three thousand years and never yield. The individual fails, but life succeeds. The individual is foolish, but life holds in its blood and seed the wisdom of generations. The individual dies, but life, tireless and undiscourageble, goes on, wondering, longing, planning, trying, mounting, longing.”

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

“To find joy in work is to discover the fountain of youth.”

Pearl Buck 1892 – 1973 CE

Themes: Longevity

“The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age, which means never losing your enthusiasm.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE

Themes: Old Age Longevity

76. The Soft and Flexible

“not based on the overcoming of time, but on the identification with the creative power of every moment… through participation in consciousness, the individual may become an organic part of a greater whole, and thus achieve immortality within that whole”

Dane Rudhyar 1895 – 1985 CE
( Daniel Chennevière)
Agent of cultural evolution
from Astrology of Personality, 1936

“The years between thirty-five and sixty-five revolve before the passive mind as one unexplained, confusing merry-go-round... For most men and women these thirty years are taken up with a gradual withdrawal from life, a retreat first from a front with many shelters, those myriad amusements and curiosities of youth, to a line with less... as, by turns frightened and tired, we sit waiting for death.”

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

Themes: Old Age Longevity

“We are mortal as long as we fear death, but we become immortal as soon as we do not identify ourselves with the confines of our present personality and yield to the eternal rhythm of the universe in which we live.”

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

from Inner Structure of the I Ching

“It is our higher aspirations that make us immortal—not the permanence of an immutable separate soul, whose very sameness would exclude us from life and growth and from the infinite adventure of the spirit and condemn us forever to the prison of our own limitations.”

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

“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

“Life is fragile, like the dew hanging delicately on the grass, crystal drops that will be carried away on the first morning breeze.”

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche དིལ་མགོ་མཁྱེན་བརྩེ། 1910 – 1991 CE via Matthieu Ricard
"Mind" incarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo
from Journey to Enlightenment

Themes: Longevity

“Youth passes – so does spring. Old age comes – so do winter’s lovely snowscapes… I’m bursting with energy, so I’ll jog or climb Mount Hua. I’m too ill to move, so I’ll enjoy my warm bed and meditate”

John Blofeld 1913 – 1987 CE

55. Forever Young

“People don't die of old age, they die of neglect.”

Jack LaLanne 1914 – 2011 CE

“The most important thing in your life is your health… you can have all the education and you can have millions of dollars in the bank, but if you've got headaches every day, if you're fat and you are out of shape - what good is your money?”

Jack LaLanne 1914 – 2011 CE

Themes: Health Longevity

“Lao Tzu is not saying that immortality or even longevity is desirable. The religion called Taoism has spent much imagination on ways to prolong life interminably or gain immortality… but the Lao Tzu who wrote this had no truck with such notions.”

Ursula Le Guin 1929 – 2018 CE

33. Know Yourself

“What is eternal is forever young, never grows old…The Way never fails. We are waves. It is the sea.”

Ursula Le Guin 1929 – 2018 CE

55. Forever Young

“It is strange that the years teach us patience; that the shorter our time, the greater our capacity for waiting.”

Elizabeth Taylor 1932 – 2011 CE

“We are living longer, but thinking shorter.”

Mary Catherine Bateson 1939 CE –

Themes: Longevity

“We have to liberate ourselves from the stereotypes of aging, they’re obsolete.”

Mary Catherine Bateson 1939 CE –

Themes: Longevity Old Age

“May you always know the truth and see the lights surrounding you…Forever young, forever young, May you stay forever young.”

Bob Dylan 1941 CE –

Themes: Truth Longevity

55. Forever Young

“To worry about length of life and fear of death creates tension that tends to shorten life”

Thomas Cleary 1949 CE –
from Essential Tao

Themes: Longevity

“In spite of your fears, no matter what happens to your physical body, your true nature is essentially indestructible.”

Mingyur Rinpoche 1975 CE –
Modern-day Mahasiddha

from Joy of Living, 2007

“In 2014 more than 2.1 billion people were overweight, compared to 850 million who suffered from malnutrition Half of humankind is expected to be overweight by 2030. In 2010 famine and malnutrition combined killed about 1 million people, whereas obesity killed 3 million.”

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

from Homo Deus

Themes: Longevity

“In 2012 about 56 million people died throughout the world; 620,000 of them died due to human violence (war killed 120,000 people, and crime killed another 500,000). In contrast, 800,000 committed suicide, and 1.5 million died of diabetes. Sugar is now more dangerous than gunpowder.”

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

from Sapiens

Themes: Health Longevity

Comments (1)

  1. Shan Dao
    Shan Dao 4 years ago
    Years don’t make us old, only loss of inspiration, meaningfulness, and creative activity.