Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Most live on the surface of life repeating the patterns and cliches of their family, culture, religion, social group, nationality. Seeing deeper requires an unexpected bravery to step outside the status quo, a skillfulness to do so without persecution, and a wisdom to do so in ways that create positive change. Without serious contemplation, none of that is possible. With it as historical figures like Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Lao Tzu, and Buddha demonstrated, everything is possible.

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Quotes (76)

“How prone to doubt, how cautious are the wise!”

Homer 1
Primogenitor of Western culture
from Iliad

63. Easy as Hard

“That man is best who sees the truth himself. Good too is he who listens to wise counsel. But who is neither wise himself nor willing to ponder wisdom is not worth a straw.”

Hesiod 846 – 777 BCE
“History’s first economist”
from Works and Days

Themes: Contemplation

“If you consider something easy, it is bound to become hard. If you consider something hard, it is bound to become easy.”

Duke Wen of Jin 晉文公; 697 – 628 BCE
(Jìn Wén Gōng, Chong'er)
Innovative political reformer

Themes: Contemplation

63. Easy as Hard

“Like rain breaking through an ill-thatched house; ignorance, passion, and aggression will break through an unreflecting mind.”

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

“He who learns but does not think is lost. He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger.”

Confucius 孔丘 551 – 479 BCE
(Kongzi, Kǒng Zǐ)
History's most influential "failure"
from Analects

“When in early antiquity Fu Xi ruled the world, he looked upward and contemplated the images in the heavens; he looked downward and contemplated the patterns on earth… He proceeded directly from himself and indirectly from objects. Thus he invented the eight trigrams”

Confucius 孔丘 551 – 479 BCE via Richard Wilhelm
(Kongzi, Kǒng Zǐ)
History's most influential "failure"
from Ta Chuan: The Great Treatise

Themes: Contemplation

33. Know Yourself

“Those who win success, think deeply before doing anything. Those who suffer failure, avoid contemplation and make few calculations beforehand.”

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

“The skilled reader turns it over and over in his mind, and once he gets it, draws on it his whole life, finding that it has no limits.”

Zisi 子思 481 – 402 BCE via Daniel K. Gardner
(Kong Ji or Tzu-Ssu)
Confucius' grandson and early influence on Neo-Confucianism
from Doctrine of the Mean, Maintaining Perfect Balance, Zhongyong 中庸

Themes: Contemplation

“Wise words sleep in a foolish ear.”

Euripides 480 – 406 BCE via Philip Vellacott, Shan Dao
Ancient humanitarian influence continuing today
from Bacchae Βάκχαι

Themes: Contemplation

“To live is to think. Reason is the mistress and queen of all things.”

Cicero 106 – 43 BCE
from Tuscalanes Disputationes, 47-44 BCE

“No one is wise on horseback.”

Anonymous 1 via Joseph Jacobs, Spanish proverb
Freedom from the narrow boxes defined by personal history

“Illiterate leisure is a form of death, a living tomb.”

Seneca ˈsɛnɪkə 4 BCE – 65 CE via Arthur Schopenhauer
(Lucius Annaeus)

“Once Contemplative Wisdom comes into play, all the virtues may have to yield.”

Plotinus 204 – 249 CE via Stephen MacKenna, B.S. Page, Shan Dao
from Enneads Ἐννεάδες Plotinus / Porphyry

“To see truth, contemplate all phenomenon as a lie.”

Thaganapa 1

Themes: Contemplation

40. Returning

“This is the time and place to leap beyond the ten thousand emotional entanglements of innumerable kalpas. One contemplation of ten thousand years finally goes beyond all the transitory, and you emerge with spontaneity.”

Hóngzhì Zhēngjué 宏智正覺 1091 – 1157 CE

57. Wu Wei

“Even animals know what to do when commanded but only the wise know when not told.”

Sakya Pandita ས་སྐྱ་པཎྜ་ཏ་ཀུན་དགའ་རྒྱལ་མཚན། 1182 – 1251 CE via John T. Davenport, Shan Dao #21
(Kunga Gyeltsen)
from Ordinary Wisdom, Sakya Legshe (Jewel Treasury of Good Advice)

“The wise carefully contemplate before taking action; fools quickly act before thinking.”

Sakya Pandita ས་སྐྱ་པཎྜ་ཏ་ཀུན་དགའ་རྒྱལ་མཚན། 1182 – 1251 CE via John T. Davenport, Shan Dao #27
(Kunga Gyeltsen)
from Ordinary Wisdom, Sakya Legshe (Jewel Treasury of Good Advice)

“Amazed at the heights of mountains, the ocean’s wideness, the power of nature, and the distance of stars; ourselves we consider not.”

Petrarch 1304 – 1374 CE

33. Know Yourself

“It is foolish to think that we will enter heaven without entering into ourselves.”

Teresa of Avila 1515 – 1582 CE
from Way of Perfection

Themes: Contemplation

33. Know Yourself

“At first it was very hard. But once I learned how to use my mind, it became very easy. What the world considers hard, the sage considers easy. What the world considers easy, the sage considers hard.”

Deqing 1546 – 1623 CE

Themes: Contemplation

63. Easy as Hard

“All phenomena—from form through omniscience—are not established whatsoever as any extreme elaboration such as existent, nonexistent, arisen, ceased, permanent, impermanent, empty, not empty, true, or false. Although conventional terms such as 'emptiness' and 'suchness' are given, it is nothing more than looking at the essence of thoughts.”

Wangchuk Dorje 1556 – 1603 CE
(9th Gyalwa Karmapa)

“Some books are best tasted, some swallowed, and a very few best if chewed and digested... read not to impress, to debate, to believe; but to contemplate and consider.”

Francis Bacon 1561 – 1626 CE via Shan Dao
from Of Goodness and the Goodness of Nature

“Learn less, contemplate more.”

René Descartes 1596 – 1650 CE

26. The Still Rule the Restless

“Don't lose your way in useless discussion and wearisome verbosity wasting time and patience on matters best left along and then not have any time left for what's important.”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE via Joseph Jacobs, Shan Dao, chapter #136

Themes: Contemplation

“some make much of what matters little and little of much… Many never lose their common sense, because they have none to lose… The wise person thinks over everything, but with a difference, most profoundly where there is some profound difficulty.”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE via Joseph Jacobs, chapter #35

21. Following Empty Heart

“If you have to deny something, mature the 'no' by appealing to an inner court of revision.”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE via Joseph Jacobs, Shan Dao, chapter #132
from Art of Worldly Wisdom

Themes: Contemplation

“All the troubles of man come from his not knowing how to sit still.”

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

“Make a practice of quietness and so lengthen the days of your life… If one an get even two or three hours of quiet relaxation, it makes up for days of hardship.”

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

Themes: Contemplation

“Dare to think for yourself.”

Voltaire, François-Marie Arouet 1694 – 1778 CE

38. Fruit Over Flowers

“Consider how hard it is to change yourself and you’ll understand what little chance you have in changing others.”

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

29. Not Doing

“The role of reason is not to make us wise but to reveal our ignorance.”

David Hume 1711 – 1776 CE
"One of the most important philosophers"

“Skepticism is a resting-place for human reason, where it can reflect upon its dogmatic wanderings… but it is no dwelling-place for permanent settlement.”

Immanuel Kant 1724 – 1804 CE
from Critique Of Pure Reason

“Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind.”

Immanuel Kant 1724 – 1804 CE
from Critique Of Pure Reason

“Practice contemplation in action by combining flexibility with firmness, solidity with openness, and returning the nonexistent to existence.”

Liu Yiming 刘一明 1734 – 1821 CE via Thomas Cleary, Shan Dao, #53 Gradual Progress
(Liu I-ming)
from Taoist I Ching, , Zhouyi chanzhen 周易闡真

12. This Over That

“We know accurately only when we know little; doubt grows with knowledge... With wisdom grows doubt.”

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 1749 – 1832 CE

67. Three Treasures

“I meditate a great deal. If I seem equal to the occasion and ready to face it when it comes, it is because I have thought the matter over a long time before undertaking it.”

Napoleon Bonaparte 1769 – 1821 CE via Will Durant

“For the more one reads the fewer are the traces left of what one has read; the mind is like a tablet that has been written over and over... If one reads straight ahead without pondering over it later, what has been read does not take root, but is for the most part lost.”

Arthur Schopenhauer 1788 – 1860 CE

Themes: Contemplation

48. Unlearning

“Message to his son’s teacher: 'Teach him the wonder of books but also give him quiet time to ponder the eternal mystery of birds in the sky, bees in the sun, and the flowers on a green hillside. Teach him it is far more honorable to fail than to cheat.'”

Abraham Lincoln 1809 – 1865 CE

“I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon and I grew in those seasons like corn in the night... I realized what the Orientals mean by contemplation”

Henry David Thoreau 1817 – 1862 CE
Father of environmentalism and America's first yogi

Themes: Contemplation

“the fullness of contemplative thought—the mind not searching, but beholding, and the glance seeming to be filled with what is behind it”

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

from Middlemarch

Themes: Contemplation

“First doubt, then inquire, then discover. This has been the process with all our great thinkers…He who knows most believes the least.”

Henry Thomas Buckle 1821 – 1862 CE
from History of Civilization

“It's on the strength of observation and reflection that one finds a way. So we must dig and delve unceasingly.”

Claude Monet 1840 – 1926 CE
"the driving force behind Impressionism"

“I myself do not believe that anybody ever looked into the world with a distrust as deep as mine... a constant, subtle, incitement to an overturning of habitual opinions and of approved customs.”

Friedrich Nietzsche 1844 – 1900 CE
from Human All Too Human - A Book for Free Spirits

“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

“The man who listens to Reason is lost: Reason enslaves all whose minds are not strong enough to master her.”

George Bernard Shaw 1856 – 1950 CE
UK playwright second only to Shakespeare
from Maxims for Revolutionists

“Conflict stirs us to observation and memory, instigates invention, shocks us out of sheep-like passivity, and sets us at noting and contriving…conflict is a sine qua non of reflection and ingenuity.”

John Dewey 1859 – 1952 CE
The "Second Confucius"

“Anyone who has begun to think, places some portion of the world in jeopardy.”

John Dewey 1859 – 1952 CE
The "Second Confucius"

“Think like a man of action, act like a man of thought.”

Henri-Louis Bergson 1859 – 1941 CE

“To understand is hard. Once one understands, action is easy.”

Sun Yat-sen 孙逸仙 1866 – 1925 CE

“You must learn not what people around you consider good or bad, but to act in life as your conscience bids you. An untrammelled conscience will always know more than all the books and teachers put together.”

G. I. Gurdjieff 1866 – 1949 CE

64. Ordinary Mind

“At heart Plato was a reformer, not the philosophical contemplative men called him. A life of contemplation was far from what he wanted for his pupils... to change injustice into justice, to put self-control in the place of outside control”

Edith Hamilton 1867 – 1963 CE

“It is not the joy of the present moment but the wise reflections of the past that help us to preserve the future.”

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

“I have been circling for a thousand years, and I still don't know if I am a falcon, or a storm, or a great song.”

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

Themes: Contemplation

“You’ve never lived what you are thinking, and that isn’t good. Only the ideas we actually live are of any value.”

Hermann Hesse 1877 – 1962 CE

“The man incapable of contemplation cannot be an artist, but only a skillful workman.”

Ananda Coomaraswamy குமாரசுவாமி 1877 – 1947 CE
Perennial philosophy's Citizen of the World

Themes: Contemplation

“True, we must dare look things in the face before we dare think, speak, act, or assume responsibility. If we dare not even look, what else are we good for?”

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

from Epigrams of Lusin

Themes: Contemplation

“the power which adds the supreme floor to existence,—the power of taking hold of experience, of turning it around, slowly in the light”

Virginia Woolf 1882 – 1941 CE
from Mrs. Dalloway

Themes: Contemplation

“Is not religion all deeds and all reflection... a wonder and a surprise ever springing in the soul?”

Kahlil Gibran 1883 – 1931 CE
from The Prophet

“To do the useful thing, to say the courageous thing, to contemplate the beautiful thing: that is enough for one man's life.”

T. S. Eliot 1888 – 1965 CE

43. No Effort, No Trace

“Every man, when he gets quiet, when he becomes desperately honest with himself, is capable of uttering profound truths.”

Henry Miller 1891 – 1980 CE

Themes: Contemplation

“Those who are wise won't be busy, and those who are too busy can't be wise.”

Lín Yǔtáng 林語堂 1895 – 1976 CE

Themes: Contemplation

“I am slow thinking and full of interior rules that act as brakes on my desires... Everyone suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine”

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

“One of the basic causes for all the trouble in the world today is that people talk too much and think too little. They act impulsively without thinking.”

Margaret Chase Smith 1897 – 1995 CE

Themes: Contemplation

“When young people are asked, ‘What are you interested in?’ they answer that they are interested in justice: they want justice for the Negro, they want justice for the Third World. If you say, ‘Well, what is justice?’ they haven't any idea.”

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

“Besides, rereading, not reading, is what counts.”

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

Themes: Contemplation

“The quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning. Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers.”

Eric Fromm 1900 – 1980 CE
from The Sane Society

58. Goals Without Means
38. Fruit Over Flowers

“A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry 1900 – 1944 CE

25. The Mother of All Things

“When you get to be older, and the concerns of the day have all been attended to , and you turn to the inner life—if you don’t know where it is or why it is, you’ll be sorry.”

Joseph Campbell 1904 – 1987 CE
Great translator of ancient myth into modern symbols
from Power of Myth

Themes: Contemplation

“Mental reflection is so much more interesting than TV it's a shame more people don't switch over to it.”

Robert M. Pirsig 1928 – 2017 CE
from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

“Simple statements have complex implications and need thinking about.”

Ursula Le Guin 1929 – 2018 CE
from Lao Tzu - A Book about the Way and the Power of the Way

Themes: Contemplation

27. No Trace

“The more information we take in, the less we have. The less contemplation, the more new writes over the old, the more mindless and meaningless our lives become.”

Shan Dao 山道 1933 CE –

“Everyday I wonder how many things I am dead wrong about.”

Jim Harrison 1937 – 2016 CE
"untrammeled renegade genius”

“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.”

Meg Wheatley 1944 CE –
Bringing ancient wisdom into the modern world.

“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

“Self-reflection is the gateway to freedom, grater appreciation and enjoyment. We begin to enjoy spending time with our own mind.”

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

16. Returning to the Root, Meditation

“The happiness which may emerge from taking a second look... reveals the extent to which our dissatisfactions may be the result of failing to look properly at our lives rather tan the result of anything inherently deficient about them... a certain way of looking, as opposed to a mere process of acquiring or possessing.”

Alain de Botton 1969 CE –
Philosophic link between ancient wisdom and modern challenge
from How Proust Can Change Your Life

Themes: Contemplation


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