Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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In different places and times in history, called either a simple way of life, a religion, a philosophy, a way of governing, or simply a tradition; Confucianism became well known because of Confucius who only thought of himself as transmitting wisdom from the past, from a golden age of China during the Zhou dynasty. It came in and out of favor during the centuries, competed against Taoism and Buddhism, complemented them, and merged in significant ways to form the Neo-Confucianism becoming a major influence under Zhu Xi during the 12th century. A tradition of the words over these sense and the dominant influence on Chinese culture and politics until 1905, it was at first blamed for China’s weaknesses and now credited for establishing the work ethic that’s created the rapidly rising Asian economies of today.

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Quotes (64)

“At 15, I set my mind and heart on learning. At 30, I stood on my own. At 40 I had no doubts. At 50 I knew heaven’s decree. At 60 my ears were in accord. At 70 I followed the desires of my mind -and-heart.”

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

2. The Wordless Teachings

“From the birth of mankind until now, there has never been the equal of Confucius… I have all my life had the sky over my head, but I do not know its height, and the earth under my feet, but I do not know its thickness. In my serving of Confucius, I am like a thirsty man who goes with his pitcher to the river, and there he drinks his fill, without knowing the river's depth.”

Duanmu Ci 端木赐 520 – 456 BCE
(Tzu Kung, Zigong)
Confucius’ most important disciple

Themes: Confucianism

“Knowing how to cultivate oneself is to know how to govern others; knowing how to govern others is to know how to govern the empire, the state, and the family.”

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

“Confucians believe firmly in the existence of fate and propound this doctrine... if officials believe such ideas, they will be lax in their duties; and if the common people believe them, they will neglect their tasks.”

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

“Confucians corrupt men with their elaborate and showy rites and music and deceive parents with lengthy mournings and hypocritical grief. They propound fatalism, ignore poverty, and behave with the greatest arrogance... Such men are the destroyers of the people of the world!”

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

“The gentleman knows that whatever is imperfect and unrefined does not deserve praise. ... He makes his eyes not want to see what is not right, makes his ears not want to hear what is not right, makes his mouth not want to speak what is not right, and makes his heart not want to deliberate over what is not right. ... For this reason, power and profit cannot sway him, the masses cannot shift him, and nothing in the world can shake him.”

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

“The world has known innumerable princes and worthies who enjoyed fame and honor in their day but were forgotten after death, while Confucius, a commoner, has been looked up to by scholars for ten generations and more. From the emperor, princes and barons downwards, all in China who study the Six Arts take the master as their final authority. Well is he called the Supreme Sage!”

Sima Qian 司馬遷 145 – 86 BCE
(Ssu-ma Ch'ien)
Father of Chinese historians

Themes: Confucianism Fame

“Cultivating ourselves is like a bow, straightening our thoughts like arrow.”

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

“If I decrease expenses and lower taxes, permit only honest officials, the people will have enough food and clothing. This will do more to abolish robbery than the most severe punishments.”

Taizong of Tang 唐太宗 唐太宗 598 – 649 CE via Will Durant, Shan Dao
(Li Shimin)

“When good governance prevails in the empire, [the scholar] is in evidence. When it is without good governance, he withdraws. It is better, O scholar, to retire early. After all, what is Confucianism to us? Confucius and the bandit So-and-So: Are they not both dust?”

Du Fu 杜甫 杜甫 712 – 770 CE

“The Five Joys:
1. Long life
2. Wealth
3. Health—soundness of body, serenity of mind
4. Love of Integrity
5. An end crowning the life”

Sima Guang 司马光 1019 – 1086 CE via Jonathan D. Spence, Shan Dao
"Greatest of all Chinese historians”
from Book of History

“Confucius relied on kindness and justice, ritual and music to order the kingdom. Lao-tzu’s only concern was to open people’s minds”

Su Che 呂洞 1039 – 1112 CE via Red Pine
(Su Zhe)
Great writer of the Tang and Sung dynasties
from Tao-te-chen-ching-chu

19. All Methods Become Obstacles

“The sovereign without the small man suffers from hunger; the small man without the sovereign lives in chaos.”

Zhu Xi 朱熹 1130 – 1200 CE via Daniel K. Gardner
(Zhū Xī)

“The words of the sages and men of wisdom are spread out in books... They may be compared to the prescriptions in a medicine basket... However, what a good doctor uses need not be extraordinary, it need only be good enough to cure an illness.”

Lù Jiǔyuān 陸九淵 1139 – 1192 CE
(Lu Xiangshan)
from Hsiang-shan ch'uan-chi

“When we asked our school teacher why he took naps, he said 'Like Confucius who dreamed about ancient sages, I go to dreamland and meet them.' When we took naps however he would get angry so we told him that we also went to meet Confucius and the sages. When he challenged us asking what they said, one of us told him, 'We asked them if our schoolmaster met them every afternoon but they said they had never met any such fellow.'”

Mujū Dōkyō 無住道曉 1227 – 1312 CE via Paul Reps, Shan Dao
(Ichien Dōkyō )
”The Non-Dweller”
from Shaseki-shu (Collection of Stone and Sand)

“Whenever there is help, there must be harm. But when Heaven helps, it doesn’t harm, because it helps without helping. Action is the start of struggle. Wherever there is action, there must be struggle. But when sages act, they don’t struggle, because they act without acting.”

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

Themes: Confucianism

81. Journey Without Goal

“Though you have talent, do not trust in it. Confucius himself was unsuited to his times... Do not trust in promises. Truth is rare.”

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

“Once the Buddhist scriptures are penetrated, the sayings of Confucius and Mencius will be understood immediately—there are not two separate principles.”

Chiao Hung 1540 – 1620 CE
(Jiao Hung)

Themes: Confucianism

“Confucianists and Buddhists quarrel and dispute with each other because the Confucianists do not read Buddhist books annd the Buddhists do not read Confucianist books Both are talking about what they do not know.”

Chén Jìrú 陳繼儒 1558 – 1639 CE via Lin Yutang

“The differences between Confucius and Lao Tzu are no more significant than the preference for wheat in North China and rice in the South.”

Li Hungfu 1574 – 1574 CE
from Lao-tzu-chieh

“The daily decline in the art of learning is due to the lack of clarification of the differences between Confucianism and Buddhism.”

Sun Qifeng 孫奇逢 1583 – 1675 CE

“No one knows the art of living better than Confucius. I know that because he did not sleep like a corpse or sit like a statue.”

Lǐ Yú 李漁 1610 – 1680 CE via Lin Yutang, Shan Dao
(Li Liweng)
from Art of Living

Themes: Confucianism

“Superior and alone, Confucius stood
Who taught that useful science,—to be good.”

Alexander Pope 1688 – 1744 CE
Second most quoted English writer
from Temple of Fame

“The Six Classics are all history.”

​Zhang Xuecheng 章学诚 章学诚 1738 – 1801 CE
(Chang Hsüeh-ch'eng)

“One of he essential figures to be considered in connection with any history of China… There can be do doubt that Confucius has had a greater influence on the development of the Chinese national character than many emperors taken together.”

Friedrich Hirth 1845 – 1927 CE
Ancient History of China
from Ancient History of China

Themes: Confucianism

“Although Confucian philosophy has become the guiding star of the Chinese government, Lao Tzu has taken a firm hold on the hearts of the people. In the progress of time, his figure has grown in significance into the stature of a Christ-like superhuman personality.”

Paul Carus 1852 – 1919 CE
The Teachings of Lao Tzu
from The Teachings of Lao Tzu (1913)

“Neither Gautama nor Lao Tzu nor Confucius had any inkling of this idea of a jealous God who would not tolerate any lurking belief in magic or old customs… The intolerance of the Jewish mind did keep its essential faith clear and clean”

H. G. Wells 1866 – 1946 CE
A father of science fiction and One World Government apostle
from Outline of History

“the teaching of Confucius was not so overlaid, because it was limited and planin and straightforward and lent itself to no such distortions.”

H. G. Wells 1866 – 1946 CE
A father of science fiction and One World Government apostle
from Outline of History

Themes: Confucianism

“I must confess that I am unable to appreciate the merits of Confucius. His writings are largely occupied with trivial points of etiquette, and his main concern is to teach people how to behave correctly on various occasions. When one compares him, however, with the traditional religious teachers of some other ages and races, one must admit that he has great merits... It certainly has succeeded in producing a whole nation possessed of exquisite manners and perfect courtesy. Nor is Chinese courtesy merely conventional; it is quite as reliable in situations for which no precedent has been provided.”

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

Themes: Confucianism

“since Confucianism has a broad common base with Taoism, the union of these two sets of ideas does not cause a loss in coherence.”

Richard Wilhelm 1873 – 1930 CE
Translator bridging East and West
from Introduction to Secret of the Golden Flower

“To Confucianism, the final principle of an undivided One is the Tai Chi (the great ridge-beam)... the word Tao here has an inner-world significance and means the 'right way;' on one hand the way of Heaven, on the other, the way of man.”

Richard Wilhelm 1873 – 1930 CE
Translator bridging East and West
from Introduction to Secret of the Golden Flower

Themes: Confucianism

“Since the creation of heaven and earth, men have been eating each other. I have been living in a place where for 4000 years they have been eating human flesh… But if you will just change your ways immediately, then everyone will have peace.”

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

from A Madman's Diary

“Confucius had the wisdom to forbid that a religion be based on his personality or codes; and his injunction against graven images has fared better than a similar injunction in the Ten Commandment. Hence Confucius continues unchanged as a realistic philosopher, an early pragmatist, while Lao Tzu and Jesus, his ethical fellows, have been tampered with by prelates, have been more and more removed from human living and relegated as mystics to a supernatural world.”

Witter Bynner 1881 – 1968 CE
(Emanuel Morgan)
from The Way of Life According to Lao Tzu

“Confucius so ritualized his ethical culture that conduct of life took on forms similar to those of religion, whereas Lao Tzu spurned both religious and civil ceremony as misleading and harmful, his faith and conduct depending upon no outward prop but upon inner accord with the conscience of the universe.”

Witter Bynner 1881 – 1968 CE
(Emanuel Morgan)
from The Way of Life According to Lao Tzu

Themes: Confucianism

“The success of Confucius was posthumous, but complete… after death had removed the possibility of his insisting upon its realization… and for 2000 years, the doctrine of Confucius moved and dominated the Chinese mind.”

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

Themes: Confucianism

“Called by the Middle Ages, The Philosopher, Confucius alone has had as great an influence. But it is not that we love him; his texts expound so monotonously a passionless moderation that—after feeling the radiance of Plato—freeze at the touch of his tempered mind. But, an intellect of almost unbelievable depth and range, we shall not find again another name that so long inspired and enthralled the minds of men.”

Will Durant 1885 – 1981 CE via Shan Dao
Philosophy apostle and popularizer of history's lessons
from Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Time, 1968

Themes: Confucianism

“Confucianism checked too thoroughly the natural and vigorous impulse of mankind…kept women in supine debasement… froze the nation into a conservatism hostile to progress... no room was left for pleasure and adventure, little for friendship and love”

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

Themes: Confucianism

“This burst of spiritual activity... the Confucian humanism of the 5th century BCE... was ephemeral. It degenerated from a study of human nature into a system of ritualized etiquette. In the administrative sphere it became a tradition that every administrative act required the sanction of historical precedent.”

Arnold Toynbee 1889 – 1975 CE
from A Study of History

Themes: Confucianism

“Somehow I had learned from Thoreau, who doubtless learned it from Confucius, that if a man comes to do his own good for you, then must you flee that man and save yourself.”

Pearl Buck 1892 – 1973 CE

67. Three Treasures

“Confucians worship culture and reason; Taoists reject them in favor of nature and intuition, and the one who rejects anything always seems to stand on a higher level and therefore always seems more attractive than the one who accepts it... Lao Tzu's aphorisms communicate an excitement which Confucian humdrum good sense cannot. Confucian philosophy is a philosophy of social order, and order is seldom exciting.”

Lín Yǔtáng 林語堂 1895 – 1976 CE
from Wisdom of Laotse

“When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European, or anything else, you are being violent… separating yourself from the rest of mankind.”

Krishnamurti 1895 – 1986 CE
(Jiddu Krishnamurti)

Confucianism stood for a rationalized social order through the ethical approach, based on personal cultivation. It aimed at political order by laying the basis for it in a moral order, and it sought political harmony by trying to achieve the moral harmony in man himself. Thus its most curious characteristic was the abolition of the distinction between politics and ethics.”

Lín Yǔtáng 林語堂 1895 – 1976 CE
from Wisdom of Confucius (1938)

Themes: Confucianism

“I would characterize the Confucian political ideal as strictly anarchism, in which moral culture of the people making government unnecessary become the ideal. If it is asked why the people of Chinatown in New York never have any use for the the police, the answer is Confucianism. There never were any police in China for 4000 years.”

Lín Yǔtáng 林語堂 1895 – 1976 CE
from Wisdom of China and India

“Confucius saw in their wisdom a guide for statesmen, prime ministers and people like that. So his commentaries are very much concerned with how a man who has mastered the I Ching and mastered himself can be of use to his emperor or ruler in helping him to guide the State.”

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

from Inner Structure of the I Ching

Themes: Confucianism

“The prejudice against shamanism went hand in hand with the rise and spread of Confucianism. It was founded, I think, on the saying attributed in more than one place to Confucius that one should 'revere Spirits, but keep them at a distance.'”

Arthur Waley 1899 – 1969 CE
from Nine songs: a study of shamanism in ancient China (1955)

Themes: Confucianism

“Taoism wants the concentration of chi (vital force) to be weak, whereas Confucianism wants it to be strong... Such is the contrast between Confucianism and Taoism.”

Wing-tsit Chan 陳榮捷 1901 – 1994 CE
from Way of Lao Tzu

“[Taoists] not exalting worthy men of superior talent and virtue is directly opposed to that of the Confucianists who honor them”

Wing-tsit Chan 陳榮捷 1901 – 1994 CE
from Way of Lao Tzu

Themes: Fame Confucianism

“In the traditional Orient and generally in all traditionally grounded societies, the individual is cookie-molded. His duties are put upon him in exact and precise terms, and there’s no way of breaking out from them.”

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

Themes: Confucianism

“As the centuries passed, the fragmentary teachings of Confucius were petrified into 'Confucianism.' The very word, which would have horrified Confucius, seems to have been invented about 1862 by European Christians to fit their simplistic view of the 'religions' of the non-Christian world.”

Daniel J. Boorstin 1914 – 2004 CE
American intellectual Paul Revere
from Creators: Heroes of the Imagination

Themes: Confucianism

“Unlike the Western world of surprising Creation, of man at war with nature; the world of Confucius transformed by Taoist and Buddhist currents saw man at home among transformations, procreations, and recreations.”

Daniel J. Boorstin 1914 – 2004 CE
American intellectual Paul Revere
from Creators: Heroes of the Imagination

Themes: Confucianism

“Confucianism preoccupies itself with conventional knowledge... presides over the socially necessary task of forcing the original spontaneity of life into the rigid rules of convention...The individual defines himself and his place in society in terms of the Confucian formulae... a task that involves not only conflict and pain, but also the loss of that peculiar naturalness and un-self-consciousness for which little children are so much loved, and which is sometimes regained by saints and sages.”

Alan Watts 1915 – 1973 CE

Themes: Confucianism

“Confucius may have had access to the manifest aspects of the Tao ‘that can be named,’ but the basis of all Chuang Tzu’s critique of Ju philosophy is that it never comes near to the Tao ‘that can not be named,’ and indeed takes no account of it.”

Thomas Merton 1915 – 1968 CE

56. One with the Dust

“Whereas Confucianism is concerned with day-to-day rules of conduct, Taoism is concerned with a more spiritual level of being... The essence of Taoism is contained in the 84 chapters of the book [Tao Te Ching]—roughly 5000 words—which have for 2500 years provided one of the major underlying influences in Chinese thought and culture, emerging also in proverbs and folklore.”

Gia-Fu Feng 馮家福 1919 – 1985 CE
Counterculture Patriarch, translator, teacher and Taoist rogue

“Reserved as he [Confucius] was about the supernatural, he was not without it; somewhere in the universe there was a power that was on the side of right.”

Huston Smith 1919 – 2016 CE

“That in China the scholar ranked at the top of the social scale may have been Confucius’ doing, but Taoism is fully as responsible for placing the soldier at that bottom.”

Huston Smith 1919 – 2016 CE
from World's Religions

“Confucius stresses social responsibility, Lao Tzu praises spontaneity and naturalness… Confucius roams within society, Lao Tzu wanders beyond.”

Huston Smith 1919 – 2016 CE
from World's Religions

“I maintain that Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Sikhism, Taoism, and Zoroastrianism all hold up love as an ideal, seek to benefit humanity through spiritual practice, and strive to make their followers better people.”

Dalai Lama XIV Tenzin Gyatso 1935 CE –

“Ranked with Confucius and Hsun Tzu as the foremost teachers of the philosophy knows as Confucianism, [Mencius] studied with Confucius' grandson. The work that bears his name records his conversations with his disciples and various rulers of the day.”

Red Pine 1943 CE –
( Bill Porter)
Exceptional translator, cultural diplomat
from Lao-Tzu's Taoteching

Themes: Confucianism

“In Confucianism, the whole of an ethical life can be summarized by ‘doing unto others as you would have them do unto you;’ the highest calling is to be true to your conscience, to your true moral nature; in government, that rulers must be educated and must govern for the benefit of their fellow citizens rather than for their own pleasure.”

J. Rufus Fears 1945 – 2012 CE

Themes: Confucianism

“Confucius taught the art of government as it should be. Machiavelli taught government as it is in fact… concerned with power, how to get and how to keep it. The ruler governs for his own benefit, not for the benefit of those he rules…. as useful today to corporate CEOs as it is to politicians, ethics consists of one maxim: ‘Do others in before they do you in.’”

J. Rufus Fears 1945 – 2012 CE

“Han Confucianism turned to despotism and Han Taoism took to magic and drugs.”

Thomas Cleary 1949 CE –
from Wen-Tzu Understanding the mysteries (1991)

Themes: Confucianism

“The history of ethics is a sad tale of wonderful ideals that nobody can live up to. Most Christians did not imitate Christ, most Buddhists failed to follow Buddha, and most Confucians would have caused Confucius a temper tantrum. In contrast, most people today successfully live up to the capitalist–consumerist ideal.”

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

from Sapiens

“Confucianism is primarily concerned with rites or propriety, a body of rules governing action in virtually every area of life.”

Yi-Ping Ong 1978 CE –
from Tao Te Ching - Introduction and Notes

Themes: Confucianism

“Buddhism was accepted as another aspect of the native Taoism when it was first introduced into China... the Buddha was worshiped together with Confucius in the same temple that also enshrined the Yellow Emperor and Lao Tzu.”

Edward T Chʻien 1986 CE –
Chiao Hung and the restructuring of in the late Ming
from Chiao Hung and the restructuring of in the late Ming


Comments (1)

  1. Shan Dao
    Shan Dao 6 years ago
    One of Confucius' disciples, Zengzi, explained his path in this way: "The Way of our Master is being true to oneself and empathetic toward others, nothing more." (Dan Gardner)