Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Golden Chains

Even the deepest wisdom and most beneficial practices can lock us in, create walls and fences imprisoning our inspirations and creativity. Spiritual materialism is an example in the religious world but the same kind of shrinking corruption occurs in politics, education, science, and in any bureaucracy. Studying and learning from different cultures and different wisdom traditions help break the golden chains that ensnare us to the words over the sense within our favorite philosophies, beliefs, and practices.

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Quotes (95)

“I do not wish to sell my soul to God, to what all you others call God; I do not wish to sell my soul to the devil, to what all you others call the devil. I do not wish to sell myself to anyone. I am free! Happy the man who escapes the claws of God and the devil. He, and he alone, is saved.”

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

“Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse.”

Sophocles Σοφοκλῆς 497 – 405 BCE
“The Wise and Honored One”

“It is the Savior who shall deliver mankind from salvation.”

Ananda 阿難 1 via Nikos Kazantzakis
"Guardian of the Dharma"

Themes: Golden Chains

“The sweetest of all sounds is praise.”

Xenophon of Athens Ξενοφῶν 1
General, Socratic biographer, philosopher

Themes: Golden Chains

“One who believes all of a book would be better off without books.”

Mencius 孟子 372 – 289 BCE
from Book of Mencius 孟子

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“Beware when the so-called sagely men come limping into sight.”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 369 – 286 BCE via J. D. Salinger

“The wise leave the road and find the Way; fools cling to the Way and lose the road.”

Liú Ān 劉安 1 via Thomas Cleary
from Huainanzi

Themes: Golden Chains

38. Fruit Over Flowers

“It is a great piece of folly to sacrifice the inner for the outer and trade the whole or greater part of our quiet leisure and independence for fame, fortune, pleasure, power or any of the other external seductions.”

Horace 65 – 8 BCE via Arthur Schopenhauer, Shan Dao

“Freeing oneself from words is liberation.”

Bodhidharma 菩提達磨 1

2. The Wordless Teachings

“Don't belittle the sky by looking through a pipe. The great elephant does not loiter on the rabbit's path. Great enlightenment is not concerned with details.”

Yòngjiā Xuānjué 永嘉玄覺 665 – 713 CE
(Yung-chia Ta-shih; Yōka Genkaku; "The Overnight Guest")
from Song of Enlightenment 证道歌

Themes: Golden Chains

“If you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha.

Rinzai Gigen 臨済義玄 1 via Irmgard Schloegl
(Línjì Yìxuán)
from Zen Teachings of Rinzai (Record of Rinzai), Irmgard Schloegl translation 1976

38. Fruit Over Flowers

“Just to portray it in literary form is to stain it with defilement.”

Dongshan Liangjie 洞山良价 807 – 869 CE
(Dòngshān Liángjiè; Tōzan Ryōkai)
from Song of the Precious Mirror Samadhi

Themes: Golden Chains

“If you cling to the words with which you have learned to interpret the truth, you will be held in bondage by them and will never realize the truth.”

Huating Decheng 華亭德誠 820 – 858 CE via Charles Luk

“This world is such a wide world! Why then do you answer to a temple bell and don ceremonial robes?”

Yunmen Wenyan 雲門文偃 862 – 949 CE
(Ummon Daishi, Yúnmén Wényǎn)
The most eloquent Chan master

Themes: Golden Chains

“Three objects, three poisons, three virtuous seeds.”

Atisha ཨ་ཏི་ཤ་མར་མེ་མཛད་དཔལ་ཡེ་ཤེས་ 980 – 1054 CE
(Atiśa Dīpaṃkara Śrījñāna)

Themes: Golden Chains

67. Three Treasures

“Self-liberate the antidotes.”

Atisha ཨ་ཏི་ཤ་མར་མེ་མཛད་དཔལ་ཡེ་ཤེས་ 980 – 1054 CE via Chögyam Trungpa
(Atiśa Dīpaṃkara Śrījñāna)
from Seven Points of Mind Training, Lojong བློ་སྦྱོངས་དོན་བདུན་མ;

Themes: Golden Chains

19. All Methods Become Obstacles

“The Ultimate in which all become the same is free of habit-forming thought and limitations.”

Tilopa 988 – 1069 CE

20. Unconventional Mind

“As long as a word remains unspoken, you are its master; once you utter it, you are its slave.”

Solomon ibn Gabirol שלמה בן יהודה אבן גבירול 1021 – 1070 CE via Ascher
from Choice of Pearls

“Freedom from conceptualization is the secret of the great secret.”

Gesar of Ling གེ་སར་རྒྱལ་པོ། 1 via Robin Kornman
from Gesar of Ling Epic

Themes: Golden Chains

“I've burned my own house down, the torch is in my hand. Now I'll burn down the house of anyone who wants to follow me.”

Kabīr कबीर 1399 – 1448 CE via Linda Hess and Shukdeo Singh.
from Bijak of Kabir

Themes: Golden Chains

38. Fruit Over Flowers

“A man who wishes to act entirely up to this professions of virtue soon meets with what destroys him”

Machiavelli 1469 – 1527 CE via W. K. Marriott
(Niccolò Machiavelli)
from The Prince

Themes: Golden Chains

“To study the writings of the ancients is right, because it is a great boon for us to be able to make use of the labors of so many men... But yet there is a great danger lest in a too absorbed study of these works we should become infected with their errors”

René Descartes 1596 – 1650 CE via Haldane and Ross
from Rules for the Direction of the Mind

Themes: Golden Chains

“We make an idol of truth itself; for truth apart from charity is not God, but his image and idol, which we must neither love nor worship.”

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

“It is harder to die to our virtues than to our vices… our attachments are the stronger as they are more spiritual.”

Madame Guyon Jeanne-Marie Bouvier de la Motte-Guyon 1648 – 1717 CE via Thomas Taylor Allen
from Autobiography of Madame Guyon

“A little Learning is a dang’rous Thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring:
There shallow Draughts intoxicate the Brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.”

Alexander Pope 1688 – 1744 CE
Second most quoted English writer
from An Essay on Criticism

Themes: Golden Chains

“It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere.”

Voltaire, François-Marie Arouet 1694 – 1778 CE via Tallentyre

Themes: Golden Chains

“We swallow greedily any lie that flatters us, but we sip only little by little at a truth we find bitter.”

Diderot 1713 – 1784 CE
from Encyclopédie

“Just as we outgrow a pair of trousers, we outgrow acquaintances, libraries, principles, etc., at times before they're worn out and at times—and this is the worst of all—before we have new ones.”

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

Themes: Golden Chains

“What the hammer? What the chain? In what furnace was thy brain? What the anvil? What dread grasp dare its deadly terrors clasp!”

William Blake 1757 – 1827 CE

Themes: Golden Chains

73. Heaven’s Net

“Too much reading robs the mind of all elasticity... the surest way of never having any thoughts of your own is to pick up a book (smart phone or computer) every time you have a free moment.”

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

“A man who prides himself on going in a straight line through life is an idiot who believes in infallibility.”

Balzac 1799 – 1850 CE
(Honoré de Balzac)
from Le Père Goriot​

Themes: Golden Chains

“He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness... A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803 – 1882 CE
Champion of individualism
from Self-Reliance

“Truth is our element of life; yet if a man fasten his attention on a single aspect of truth and apply himself to that alone for a long time, the truth becomes distorted, and not itself, but falsehood”

Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803 – 1882 CE
Champion of individualism
from The Over-Soul

Themes: Golden Chains

“You are chained, entangled in the barbed wire of hope and fear. So give it up!”

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

Themes: Golden Chains

15. Inscrutability

“Time sanctifies everything it doesn’t destroy. The mere fact of anything being spared by this great foe makes it a favorite with us, who are sure to fall his victims.”

Charles Mackay 1814 – 1889 CE
from Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

“that seemingly wealthy, but most terribly impoverished class of all, who have accumulated dross, but know not how to use it… and thus have forged their own golden or silver fetters.”

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

44. Fame and Fortune

“The traditions of all the dead generations weighs like an incubus on the brains of the living.”

Karl Marx 1818 – 1883 CE
from Letter to Joseph Wedemeyer (1852)

Themes: Golden Chains

“The imaginary flowers of religion adorn our chains. We must throw off the flowers, and also the chains.”

Karl Marx 1818 – 1883 CE via Simon Emler

Themes: Golden Chains

“No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck.”

Frederick Douglass 1818 – 1895 CE
International symbol of social justice

68. Joining Heaven & Earth

“Her blooming, full-pulsed youth stood there in a moral imprisonment which made itself one with the chill, colorless, narrowed landscape, with the shrunken furniture, the never-read-books, and the ghastly stag in a pale, fantastic world that seemed to be vanishing from the daylight.”

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

from Middlemarch

Themes: Golden Chains

“a sleeping apartment should never be furnished with a fire, which is one of the luxurious discomforts of the rich. … the height of this sort of deliciousness is to have nothing but the blanket between you and your snugness and the cold of the outer air… to lie like the one warm spark in the heart of an arctic crystal.”

Herman Melville 1819 – 1891 CE
from Moby Dick or The Whale

“Virtue and wisdom are sublime things, but if they create pride and a consciousness of separateness from the rest of humanity, they are only the snakes of self reappearing in a finer form.”

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

“Loyalty to a petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul.”

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

21. Following Empty Heart

“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

“Public opinion, a vulgar, impertinent, anonymous tyrant who deliberately makes life unpleasant for anyone who is not content to be the average person.”

Dean Inge 1860 – 1954 CE
Christian mystic and philosopher

“Was there ever a more horrible blasphemy than the statement that all the knowledge of God is confined to this or that book? How dare men call God infinite, and yet try to compress Him within the covers of a little book!”

Swami Vivekananda ʃami bibekanɔnd̪o 1863 – 1902 CE
"The maker of modern India"

Themes: Golden Chains

“I am, by calling, a dealer in words; and words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”

Rudyard Kipling 1865 – 1936 CE
Greatest—in-English—short-story writer

“Man is becoming a willing slave. He no longer needs chains. He begins to grow fond of his slavery, to be proud of it. And this is the most terrible thing that can happen to a man.”

G. I. Gurdjieff 1866 – 1949 CE

80. A Golden Age

“Reading is on the threshold of the spiritual life—only an incitement—it can introduce us to it: it does not constitute it”

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

“If you own something you cannot give away, then you don't own it, it owns you.”

Albert Schweitzer 1875 – 1965 CE

“If your virtues hinder you from salvation, discard them, since they have become evil to you. The slave to virtue finds the way as little as the slave to vices.”

Carl Jung 1875 – 1961 CE
Insightful shamanistic scientist
from Red Book, Liber Novus

“he did not know the immediate, living God who stands—omnipotent and free—above His Bible and His Church... In his trial of human courage God refuses to abide by traditions, no matter how sacred”

Carl Jung 1875 – 1961 CE
Insightful shamanistic scientist
from Memories, Dreams, Reflections

Themes: Golden Chains God

“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)

“Is it right because its always been like that?”

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

“religious ecstasy made people callous as did causes; dulled their feelings”

Virginia Woolf 1882 – 1941 CE
from Mrs. Dalloway

“I will not be ‘famous,’ ‘great.’ I will go on adventuring, changing, opening my mind and my eyes, refusing to be stamped and stereotyped.”

Virginia Woolf 1882 – 1941 CE

“They who define their conduct by ethics imprison their song-bird in a cage.”

Kahlil Gibran 1883 – 1931 CE
from The Prophet

“break the chains which you at the dawn of your understanding have fastened”

Kahlil Gibran 1883 – 1931 CE
from The Prophet

“Free yourself from one passion to be dominated by another and nobler one. But is not that, too, a form of slavery? To sacrifice oneself to an idea, to a race, to God? Or does it mean that the higher the model, the longer the tether of our slavery?”

Nikos Kazantzakis 1883 – 1957 CE
from Zorba the Greek

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“we must conquer the minor virtues you talk about—courtesy, pity, expediency. I am less afraid of the major vices than of the minor virtues, because these have lovely faces and deceive us all too easily.”

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

Themes: Golden Chains

“If you should enter the temple for no other purpose than asking, you shall not receive.”

Kahlil Gibran 1883 – 1931 CE
from The Prophet

“Difficulty lies not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones.”

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

“The last word must be one of humility... We need not be ashamed to worship heroes, if our sense of discrimination is not left outside their shrines.”

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

“A nation, like an individual, can be too sensible, too prosaically sane and unbearably right... an intellectual bureaucracy irksome and hostile to every free and creatively erring soul.”

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

“In the Hindu religion, one cannot have freedom of speech. A Hindu must surrender his freedom of speech. He must act according to the Vedas… He is not supposed to reason. Hence, so long as you are in the Hindu religion, you cannot expect to have freedom of thought”

B.R. Ambedkar 1891 – 1956 CE

“Not to see the infinite number of things to be done is to prove the damage that privelege does to the perceptions; not to do after she sees is to prove the damage already done to her will.”

Pearl Buck 1892 – 1973 CE
from Of Men and Women, 1941

Themes: Golden Chains

“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 moment we want to be something we are no longer free.”

Krishnamurti 1895 – 1986 CE
(Jiddu Krishnamurti)

“Only he who handles his ideas lightly is master of his ideas, and only he who is master of his ideas is not enslaved by them.”

Lín Yǔtáng 林語堂 1895 – 1976 CE

Themes: Golden Chains

“The saints and Yogis, by immense efforts and sacrifices, acquire many miraculous powers [yet] it is not a way to reality, but merely an enrichment of the false.”

Nisargadatta Maharaj 1897 – 1981 CE via Maurice Frydman
Householder guru of non-duality
from I Am That

Themes: Golden Chains

“This is what most religions overlook in their yearning after perfection—the fact that absolute perfection would be mere stagnation, ultimate spiritual death. Therefore, the ideal of the perfect saint would result in an inhuman abomination, a robot, an insensible, cold, petrified, closed, and in every sense finished individual.”

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

from Inner Structure of the I Ching

“We want to hold on to life as it is is now; we want to eternalize our present state, our small ego, our limited individuality. Therefor we resist change instead of understanding the the necessity of growth, which is the very function of life.”

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

from Inner Structure of the I Ching

“We are most of us governed by epistemologies that we know to be wrong”

Gregory Bateson 1904 – 1980 CE

Themes: Golden Chains

“You can keep an old tradition going only by renewing it in terms of current circumstances… When the world changes, the religion has to be transformed.”

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

“But Zen can be dangerous to innocent minds…that may easily see Zen as something good or special by which they can gain something. This attitude can lead to trouble.”

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi 1904 – 1971 CE
from Crooked Cucumber: the Life and Zen Teaching of Shunryu Suzuki

68. Joining Heaven & Earth

“The sacred is the prime obstacle to his freedom. He will become himself only when he is totally demysticized. He will not be truly free until he has killed the last god.”

Mircea Eliade 1907 – 1986 CE

“the medicine of the discipline becomes a diet, the cure an addiction, and the raft a houseboat... liberation turns into just another social institution and dies of respectability”

Alan Watts 1915 – 1973 CE
from Psychotherapy East and West

“Zen practice and sitting can be the biggest escape there is if you stop paying attention... Our true self is always blocked by our glittering images.”

Charlotte Joko Beck 1917 – 2011 CE
Authentic, pioneering Western Zen master

from Ordinary Wonder

Themes: Golden Chains

“I got the idea in my head—and I could not get it out—that college was just one more dopey, inane place in the world dedicated to piling up treasure on earth... I mean treasure is treasure, for heaven's sake. What's the difference whether the treasure is money, or property, or even culture, or even just plain knowledge?”

J. D. Salinger 1919 – 2010 CE
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 don't care about honor. I want to be free.”

Ursula Le Guin 1929 – 2018 CE
from Matter of Seggri

“Almost all Western teachers of Buddhism are either nihilists or eternalists, and not actual Buddhist lineage holders…Sometimes American Buddhism looks like communism, sometimes like democracy, sometimes like socialism, and sometimes like nothing, only circling between worldly systems, never cutting from them but only circling between negative phenomena.”

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

“These are the limits of the scientific method and of logic itself… words can become obstacles.”

Hubert Reeves 1932 CE –

“When we write down our thoughts, they become solid which makes them less creative but more secure as a foundation for thinking further and deeper. The same principle may apply to culture and civilization—the philosophies and wisdom of the past makes a strong foundation but also a ‘golden chain’ that prevents creativity and evolution. Like a tall building with a firm and strong base but an open and ever-changing top.”

Shan Dao 山道 1933 CE –

“Wanting approval and appreciation easily becomes a strong chain in the herd instinct dynamic, something noticeably diminished in the lives of history-changing innovators.”

Shan Dao 山道 1933 CE –

19. All Methods Become Obstacles

“No matter how you care to define it, I do not identify with the local group. Planet, species, race, nation, state, religion, party, union, club, association, neighborhood improvement committee; I have no interest in any of it. I love and treasure individuals as I meet them, I loathe and despise the groups they identify with and belong to.”

George Carlin 1937 – 2008 CE
One of the most influential social commentators of his time
from Brain Droppings

“I love and treasure individuals as I meet them; I loathe and despise the groups they identify with and belong to.”

George Carlin 1937 – 2008 CE
One of the most influential social commentators of his time

Themes: Golden Chains

71. Sick of Sickness

“It can happen that a phrase intended to indicate a state beyond concepts just becomes another concept in itself, in the same way that if you ask a person their name and they reply that they have no name, you will then perhaps mistakenly call them ‘No name’.”

Namkhai Norbu ཆོས་རྒྱལ་ནམ་མཁའི་ནོར་བུ་ 1938 – 2018 CE via John Shane
Dzogchen Master
from Dzogchen: The Self-Perfected State

“Again and again it happens… the methods become obstacles… The problem seems to be the attitude that the pain should go and then we will be happy. This is our mistaken belief. The pain never goes, and we will never be happy.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE
from Illusion's Game

19. All Methods Become Obstacles

“What we have to deal with is the kind of psychological materialism in our heads. We are allowing ourselves to be fed ideas and concepts from outside in a way that never lets us really be free. It is inward materialism that we have to deal with first.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE
from The New Age

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“Goals too clearly defined can become blinders.”

Mary Catherine Bateson 1939 CE –

“I'm absolutely a feminist [but] feminism has betrayed women, alienated men and women, replaced dialogue with political correctness.
PC feminism has boxed women in. The idea that feminism — that liberation from domestic prison — is going to bring happiness is just wrong. Women have advanced a great deal, but they are no happier. The happiest women I know are not those who are balancing their careers and families, like a lot of my friends are. The happiest people I know are the women — like my cousins — who have a high school education, got married immediately graduating and never went to college. They are very religious and they never question their Catholicism. They do not regard the house as a prison. … I look at my friends who are on the fast track. They are desperate, frenzied and frazzled, the most unhappy women who have ever existed. They work nights and weekends and have no lives. Some of them have children who are raised by nannies. … The entire feminist culture says that the most important woman is the woman with an attache case. I want to empower the woman who wants to say, 'I'm tired of this and I want to go home.'”

Camille Paglia 1947 CE –
Fearless and insightful status quo critic
from Playboy Interview, 1995:

Themes: Golden Chains

“Any explanation or logic that explains everything so easily has a hidden trap it it... if it's something a single book can explain, it's not worth having explained.”

Haruki Murakami 1949 CE –
from Sputnik Sweetheart

Themes: Golden Chains

“Without the burdens and problems associated with fame and fortune, Lieh-tzu could live leisurely and be free to do what he liked and go where he wanted… being an unknown citizen was better than being a person of power and responsibility… it was better to remain silent and be truthful to oneself.”

Eva Wong 1
Champion of Qigong, Fengshui, and a Taoist approach to health and healing

“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

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