Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Habitual Patterns

Habitual Patterns
We couldn’t survive without habits; we can’t create without destroying them. We couldn’t organize our life and be “successful” in the world without nurturing good habits; we couldn’t wake up and discover reality without dissolving our habitual patterns. We couldn’t become an expert, a scholar, a professional without concentrated learning and experience; we can’t become wise without forgetting what we think we know and understand.

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Quotes (89)

“If we answer hate with hate, the world will never be free of hate.”

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

“Everyone believes his own native customs, and the religion he was brought up in, to be the best.”

Herodotus Ἡρόδοτος c. 484 - 425 BCE
“The Father of History”
from Histories

“they confuse what is habitual with what is proper, and what is customary with what is right.”

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

“Any one who takes any business in hand, cannot dispense with a standard pattern.”

Mozi 墨子 470 – 391 BCE
Chinese personification of Newton, da Vinci, and Jesus

“Habit, my friend, is practice long pursued that at the last become the man himself.”

Aristotle Ἀριστοτέλης 382 – 322 BCE
from Nicomachean Ethics

“As for the ceremonies of bowing and giving way, people still observed them, yet how contrary to them were all their actions!”

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

“The way is long if one follows precepts, but short... if one follows patterns.”

Seneca ˈsɛnɪkə 4 BCE – 65 CE
(Lucius Annaeus)

“Desire and aversion, though powerful, are but habits. And we can train ourselves to have better habits.”

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

“All habits come from imitation and similitude: temples imitate the heavens, altars the earth; statues resemble life, and on this account they are similar to animals; prayers imitate that which is intellectual; herbs and stones resemble matter; and animals which are sacrificed, the irrational life of our souls.”

Proclus Lycaeus Πρόκλος ὁ Διάδοχος 412 – 485 CE
"The most influential Ancient Greek philosopher you've never heard of"

“When you fail to go beyond the world of thoughts and senses, your actions have no significance or meaning.”

Huangbo Xiyun 黄檗希运 ? - 850 CE via Shan Dao
(Huangbo Xiyun, Huángbò Xīyùn, Obaku)

“From time without beginning, the tree of unknowing has been watered by the monsoon of mental habit.”

Cauraṅgipa ཙཽ་རངྒི་པ། 10th century CE via Keith Dowman
("The Dismembered Stepson")
Mahasiddha #10
from Masters of Enchantment

49. No Set Mind

“Make perception of reality as perfect awareness a constant habit.”

Shantipa ཤཱནྟི་པ། late 10th to mid-11th century via Keith Dowman, Shan Dao
("The Academic")
Mahasiddha #12

“kill the louse of habit-forming thoughts, self-originated and self-destructive”

Tilopa 988 – 1069 CE

21. Following Empty Heart

“On the whirling wheel of habitual actions, the music and dance of existence takes form.”

Kumbharipa ཀུམྦྷ་རི་པ། 10th century CE via Keith Dowman, Shan Dao
(“The Eternal Potter”)
Mahasiddha #63

“Purify, cure, grind down, or brush away all the tendencies you have fabricated into habits... reside in the field of boundless emptiness”

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

“When the stains from old habits are exhausted the original light appears, blazing through your skull, not admitting any other matters. Vast and spacious, like sky and water merging during autumn, like snow and moon having the same color, this field is without boundary, beyond direction, magnificently one entity without edge or seam.”

Hóngzhì Zhēngjué 宏智正覺 1091 – 1157 CE

54. Planting Well

“For those without pure perception, there is no recognition or awareness of habitual, dualistic patterns”

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

“He beats me and I rail at him: O worthy satisfaction! would it be otherwise—that I could beat him while he railed at me.”

Geoffrey Chaucer 1343 – 1400 CE
“Father of English literature”
from Troilus and Cressida

“To experience constant success, it's necessary to change habits and attitudes, to recreate yourself according to the changing times.”

Machiavelli 1469 – 1527 CE via Shan Dao
(Niccolò Machiavelli)
from The Prince

“It is commonly seen by experience that excellent memories do often accompany weak judgements.”

Montaigne 1533 – 1592 CE
Grandfather of the Enlightenment

“And so from hour to hour we ripe and ripe,
And then from hour to hour we rot and rot,
And thereby hangs a tale.”

William Shakespeare 1564 – 1616 CE
from As You Like It

“This [evil practice] is one of the worst habits of great officials, that if they are not recommending their teachers or their friends for high office then they recommend their relations.”

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

“Though near to reality by nature, people become estranged from it by habit—descending lower and lower by daily repetition, they fall into a state of ignorant obstinacy and do not know how to stop.”

Liu Yiming 刘一明 1734 – 1821 CE via Thomas Cleary
(Liu I-ming)
from Taoist I Ching, , Zhouyi chanzhen 周易闡真

“To make a vow is a greater sin than to break one.”

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

“I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's.”

William Blake 1757 – 1827 CE

“When we destroy an old prejudice we have need of a new virtue.”

Madame de Staël 1766 – 1817 CE
(Anne Louise Germaine de Staël-Holstein)
"The greatest woman of her time"

“Etiquette is the prison of kings.”

Napoleon Bonaparte 1769 – 1821 CE via Bertaut

“Habit rules the unreflecting herd.”

William Wordsworth 1770 – 1850 CE

20. Unconventional Mind

“The heaviest charge we can bring against the general texture of society is that it is commonplace.”

William Hazlitt 1778 – 1830 CE
One of the English languages best art and literature critics of all time

from Selected Essays

“Marriage should war incessantly with that monster that is the ruin of everything, the monster of habit.”

Balzac 1799 – 1850 CE
(Honoré de Balzac)
from The Physiality of Marriage, 1930

“It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves… how worn and dusty, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity!”

Henry David Thoreau 1817 – 1862 CE
Father of environmentalism and America's first yogi
from Walden or Life in the Woods

20. Unconventional Mind

“It is never too late to give up your prejudices.”

Henry David Thoreau 1817 – 1862 CE
Father of environmentalism and America's first yogi
from Walden or Life in the Woods

71. Sick of Sickness

“The eager and often inconsiderate appeals of reformers and revolutionists are indispensable to counterbalance the inertness and fossilism making so large a part of human institutions.”

Walt Whitman 1819 – 1892 CE
Premier "poet of democracy" and model for Dracula
from Democtratic Vistsa (1870)

“It was not simply that beneficent harness of routine which enables silly men to live respectably and unhappy men to live calmly; it was a perpetual claim on the immediate fresh application of thought and on the consideration of another's need”

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

from Middlemarch

“We are so habituated to satisfying our innumerable, self-invented wants that we quickly sink into a kind of slavery, disunion, and isolation.”

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky Фёдор Миха́йлович Достое́вский 1821 – 1881 CE via Constance Garnett, Shan Dao
from Brothers Karamatzov

“Everything is habit with men, everything even in their social and political relations. Habit is the great motive-power.”

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky Фёдор Миха́йлович Достое́вский 1821 – 1881 CE via Constance Garnett
from Brothers Karamatzov

“Habit is habit, and not to be thrown out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.”

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

“Habit is the enormous flywheel of society, its most precious conservative agent. There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision.”

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

“If this be the whole fruit of victory— that a race of creatures of such unexampled insipidity should succeed, and protract... their contented and inoffensive lives— better to lose rather than win the battle.”

William James 1842 – 1910 CE
"Father of American psychology”
from Pragmatism (1907)

“Consciousness is a phase of mental life which arises in connection with the formation of new habits. When habit is formed, consciousness only interferes to spoil our performance.”

Dean Inge 1860 – 1954 CE
Christian mystic and philosopher

“Most men's conscience, habits, and opinions are borrowed from convention and gather continually comforting assurances from the same social consensus that originally suggested them.”

Santayana, George 1863 – 1952 CE
(Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás)
Powerfully influential, true-to-himself philosopher/poet

“We easily become attached to everything in this life—to our imagination, to our stupidity, we become attached even to our suffering; probably to our suffering more than anything else.”

G. I. Gurdjieff 1866 – 1949 CE via Shan Dao

“Were it not for habit, life would seem delightful—even to those constantly threatened with death, that is all men.”

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

“Master the habitual patterns that make you resist any change in your body, speech, and mind, even in the most insignificant activities.”

Shechen Gyaltsap 1871 – 1926 CE via Matthieu Ricard
Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche's main teacher
from Chariot of Complete Liberation

“Habit is a second nature which prevents us from knowing the first, of which it has neither the cruelties nor the enchantments.”

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

“wisdom is... more needed now than ever before, because the rapid growth of technique has made ancient habits of thought and action more inadequate than in any earlier time.”

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

“New roads, new ruts.”

G. K. Chesterton 1874 – 1936 CE

“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

“Habituation is a falling asleep or fatiguing of the sense of time; which explains why young years pass slowly, while later life flings itself faster and faster upon its course.”

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

“Most people come to know only one corner of their room, one spot near the window, one narrow strip on which they keep walking back and forth.”

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

“Worship in Christian churches almost entirely represents the course of repetition… prayers, hymns, responses, all had their own meaning in this repetition as well as holidays and all religious symbols, though their meaning has been forgotten long ago.”

Ouspensky Пётр Демья́нович Успе́нский 1878 – 1947 CE
(Pyotr Demianovich Ouspenskii)

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Albert Einstein 1879 – 1955 CE

18. The Sick Society

“Man—like every other animal—is by nature indolent. If nothing spurs him on, he will hardly think, and will behave from habit like an automaton.”

Albert Einstein 1879 – 1955 CE
from Out of My Later Years (1950)

“Blake wrote, "I will not cease from mental flight." Mental flight means thinking against the current, not with it. And the current flows fast and furious. It issues a spate of words from the loudspeakers and the politicians.”

Virginia Woolf 1882 – 1941 CE
from New Republic, 1940

“Rigid, the skeleton of habit alone upholds the human frame.”

Virginia Woolf 1882 – 1941 CE
from Mrs. Dalloway

“The moral problem of our day is concerned with the love of money, with the habitual appeal to the money motive in nine-tenths of the activities of life, with the universal striving after individual economic security as the prime object of endeavor”

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

“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

“the natural inequality of men was producing a new degree of comfort and luxury for the strong, and a new routine of hard and disciplined labor for the rest. The theme was struck on which history would strum its myriad variations.”

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

“A child-like man is not a man whose development has been arrested; on the contrary, he is a man who has given himself a chance of continuing to develop long after most adults have muffled themselves in the cocoon of middle-aged habit and convention.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE

55. Forever Young

“The vast majority of human beings dislike and even actually dread all notions with which they are not familiar... Hence it comes about that at their first appearance innovators have generally been persecuted, and always derided as fools and madmen.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE

41. Distilled Life

The problem goes much deeper than religion or politics, it starts in our minds, in our habits, in the constant conditioning that has gone on and on for centuries. Judging, prejudice, likes and dislike are all part of this same problem.”

Krishnamurti 1895 – 1986 CE via Satish Kumar, Shan Dao
(Jiddu Krishnamurti)

“Some got stuck in magic, some in religion, some in science, some in metaphysics or other logical speculations. Only very few remained open to all facets of reality without getting caught in the nets of speculation and wishful thinking.”

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

from Inner Structure of the I Ching

“Laws are never as effective as habits.”

Adlai Stevenson 1900 – 1965 CE

“The map is not the territory, and the name is not the thing named.”

Gregory Bateson 1904 – 1980 CE
from Mind and nature: a necessary unity (1988)​

“For a man to change the basic beliefs that determine his perception—his epistemological premises—he must first become aware that reality is not necessarily as he believes it to be.”

Gregory Bateson 1904 – 1980 CE
from Steps to an Ecology of the Mind

“An irresistible cycle seems to operate, repeating patterns of the ancient world where civil strife and war brought disaster... rooted in the very nature of civilization—itself a product and expression of rapid technological and social change.”

William Hardy McNeill 1917 – 2016 CE
from Keeping Together in Time, 1995

“I don't want you to go away with the impression that there're any—you know—inconveniences in the religious life. I mean a lot of people don't take it up just because they think it's going to involve a certain amount of nasty application and perseverance”

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

“Many a time we ease ourselves into convenient clichés and… once more we are trapped by habits that are the dunghills upon which the creeds feed.”

Reb Zalman 1924 – 2014 CE
from Paradigm Shift

20. Unconventional Mind

“I have no routines or personal history. One day I found out that they were no longer necessary for me and, like drinking, I dropped them.”

Carlos Castaneda 1925 – 1998 CE
from Journey to Ixtlan

57. Wu Wei

“Culture is simply how one lives and is connected to history by habit.”

Malcolm X الحاجّ مالك الشباز‎‎ 1925 – 1965 CE via Leroi Jones, 1966

“We will be more successful in all our endeavors if we can let go of the habit of running all the time, and take little pauses to relax and re-center ourselves.”

Thích Nhất Hạnh tʰǐk ɲɜ̌t hɐ̂ʔɲ 1926 CE –

“It is always very difficult and painful to move from an old familiar place to a new unfamiliar place. It is very difficult to change... Habits follow wherever we go and changing our habits remains the greatest difficulty.”

Thinley Norbu གདུང་སྲས་ཕྲིན་ལས་ནོར་བུ 1931 – 2011 CE
(Kyabjé Dungse)
from Magic Dance (1981)

“Man not only creates culture, inhabits it, he carries it around within him—man is culture... Tell me how you dress, how you act, what are your habits, which gods you honor—and I will tell you who you are.”

Ryszard Kapuściński 1932 – 2007 CE
“One of the most credible journalists the world has ever seen"
from Travels with Herodotus (2004)

“In science, as elsewhere… fashions of the moment, the weight of institutions, and authoritarianism are always to be feared.”

Hubert Reeves 1932 CE –

“…you are without set ideas and patterns; you are not bound by any social, philosophical, or religious standards. You are free from that indoctrination; therefore you are able to see…”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE
from Journey Without Goal

38. Fruit Over Flowers

“Names, once they are in common use, quickly become mere sounds, their etymology being buried, like so many of the earth's marvels, beneath the dust of habit.”

Salman Rushdie 1947 CE –
Fearless antagonist of Islamic fundamentalism

“The market itself makes no distinction between genuine needs and the most questionable manufactured desires—a set of habits as manufactured as the goods supplied to satisfy it... the greatest effort in mental manipulation that humanity has ever experienced”

David Loy 1947 CE –
from A Buddhist History of the West (2002)

“Irrepressible curiosity vied with an instinctive fear... The principle that made other choices possible was missing. Or was it the choice that made the principle possible that was missing?”

Haruki Murakami 1949 CE – via Philip Gabriel
from Sputnik Sweetheart

“Perhaps as the sway of tradition in our eating decisions weakens, habits we once took for granted are thrown up in the air, where they're more easily buffeted by a strong idea or a breeze of fashion.”

Michael Pollan 1955 CE –
Champion for Sustainable Agriculture

“emotions are just evolution’s executioners… stratagems of the genes… genetic weapons”

Robert Wright 1957 CE –
from Moral Animal — Why we are the Way we Are

“Our emotions and desires are shortcuts that allow humans to economize on expensive brain tissue and steer us in directions that have proved advantageous for us in the past. Our taste for sugar, for instance, was a reliable guide to adaptive eating in the Pleistocene era, but in the very different conditions of modern life, it threatens us with obesity and diabetes.”

Paul Seabright 1958 CE –
Author and British Professor of Economics
from War of the Sexes

“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

“The problem is when that fun stuff becomes the habit—and I think that's what's happened in our culture—fast food has become the everyday meal. It's not enough just to limit ads for foods that aren't healthy. It's also going to be critical to increase marketing for foods that are healthy.”

Michelle Obama 1964 CE –

“"If you could reason with religious people, there wouldn’t be any religious people."”

David Mitchell 1969 CE –
from Bone Clocks

56. One with the Dust

“It's the suburbs, where conformity trumps comfort... They are eerily similar in frame, these homes, though they've all got different paint jobs and siding and hedges.”

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

“We inherently have free will yet this only arises from an examined mind... Until we learn how to examine our minds and direct our behavior, our karmic tendencies will compel habits to reseed themselves.”

Mingyur Rinpoche 1975 CE –
Modern-day Mahasiddha

from In Love with the World

“But we get scared of change, because when we identify with a pattern of behavior, giving it up can feel like death itself... the death of the masks.”

Mingyur Rinpoche 1975 CE –
Modern-day Mahasiddha

from In Love with the World

“Those who blindly replicate what 'succeeded' and abandon what 'failed' do not only relinquish the mantle of leadership, they also risk losing their status as human beings. They reduce themselves to mere algorithms—and mediocre ones at that.”

Deepak Malhotra 1978
"Professor of the Year"

from Peacemaker's Code

“Habits can be reshaped. We can shift to productive, sustainable practices that end our current cycles of harm—harming other people, animals, and the natural world.”

Karmapa XVII ཨོ་རྒྱན་འཕྲིན་ལས་རྡོ་རྗ 1985 CE –
(Orgyen Thrinlay Dorje)
from Interconnected (2017)

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