Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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"Heaven, Earth, and Man" calligraphy by Chögyam Trungpa

Natural Hierarchy

“Natural Hierarchy” is at the core of Chögyam Trungpa’s political philosophy. Without the clarity of this principle, he thought the fundamental quality of democracy quickly becomes lost and corrupted. Based on the indivisibility of basic goodness, the natural world, and the hierarchy within ourselves; it appreciates true democracy while criticizing the tendency to conflate equality with an ego-centric individualism that denies the reality of our diversity in skills, intelligence, and realization.

The neo-Confucian political approach confuses the common tendency of power corrupting and creating economic and political divisions by applying the principles of leadership and power to everyone. The lowest level person in an organization has their own high place within their family. The lowest level person in a family or living alone in a society has the same leadership issues when dealing with themselves.

From a Darwinian perspective, survival of our species depends on two contradictory qualities: on one side, a conservatism that preserves, protects, and stabilizes society; on the other side, an innovative, creative, and sometimes radical approach that welcomes change. The conflict between these two approaches led Marshall McLuhan to comment that "All new technologies require a war"—cultural if not physical. And since evolution rarely confronts a need for rapid, radical change; humans most often inherit conservative genes and only infrequently the more creative propensity.

This genetic influence to keep things the same explains why most of our most wise and perceptive forefathers were ridiculed, banished, jailed, or even killed. This strong, conservative force led to the caste system in India, the class system in Great Britain, and the various forms of aristocracy around the world. While historically this rigid conservatism served us well for the majority of the human experience, it prevents or at least inhibits our ability to meet the challenges of this constantly and radically changing modern world.

Purely as a theory, it's easy to argue for Rule by Aristocracy as best. People can be trained by birth in all the best ways of policy and government. Already wealthy and powerful, they shouldn't be susceptible to bribery and other types of corruption. In the real world, however, enough is never enough and the wealthy most often only want more wealth, more power and privilege. China may have had more success with this but it seems to have dramatically failed every time tried in the West. For example, the English House of Lords who—throughout the 19th century—stridently opposed every attempt to improve the educational, financial, or status of the lower classes.

The English Empire could be a good example of how this dynamic can play out on a global, political scale. England's rigid class structure created a strong and efficient foundation for the industrialization that took England to the peaks of world influence and power. People taught to accept without challenge their born place in the world easily fit into the rigid drudgery of factory work. As more and more technological automation developed however, the need for more flexible creativity arose and England's class fixations brought the empire down.

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Quotes (78)

“Each new dawn is a miracle; each new sky fills with beauty. Their testimony speaks to the whole world and reaches to the ends of the earth.”

King David 1000 – 920 BCE
"The baffled king composing Hallelujah!"
from Book of Psalms

“United we stand, divided we fall.”

Aesop 620 – 546 BCE
Hero of the oppressed and downtrodden
from Aesop's Fables, the Aesopica

“Those who govern with virtue are like the North Star, which remains in its place while the myriad stars revolve around it.”

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

17. True Leaders

“It is impossible to withdraw from the world and associate with birds and beasts that have no affinity with us. The disorder that prevails is what requires my efforts. If right principles ruled through the kingdom, there would be no necessity for me to change its state.”

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

“To put the world in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order; we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right.”

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

54. Planting Well

“When rulers don't exploit them, the people naturally grow rich, when the rulers don't manipulate them, the people naturally become civilized.”

Wenzi 文子 1 via Thomas Cleary
"Authentic Presence of Pervading Mystery.”
from The Wenzi, Wénzǐ 文子

“Know the other and know oneself,
Then victory is not in danger.
Know earth and know heaven,
Then victory can be complete.”

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

24. Unnecessary Baggage

“The laws of men derive from the divine law, which is whole and single, which penetrates as it will to satisfy human purposes, but is mightier than any law know to men.”

Heraclitus Ἡράκλειτος 535 – 475 BCE via Anagarika Govinda
(of Ephesus, the "Weeping Philosopher")
A Greek Buddha

“just because a man happens to be rich and eminent or pleasant-featured and attractive, he will not necessarily turn out to be wise and alert when placed in office... this will lead to ruin.”

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

“know thyself, for once we know ourselves, we may learn how to care for ourselves… The unexamined life is not worth living.”

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

33. Know Yourself

“Those who labor with their mind-and-hearts govern others; those who labor with their strength are governed by others. Those who are governed provide for others, those who govern are provided for by others.”

Mencius 孟子 372 – 289 BCE via Daniel K. Gardner
from Book of Mencius 孟子

“The goal of life is living in agreement with Nature.”

Zeno Ζήνων ὁ Κιτιεύς 334 – 262 BCE
(of Citium)

26. The Still Rule the Restless

“Sages… treat the people as if they were their children. Thus, the whole world wants them for their leaders. The people never grow tired of them because sages don’t struggle against them. Everyone struggles against something but no one struggles against those who don’t struggle against anything.”

Heshang Gong 河上公 202 – 157 BCE
(Ho-shang Kung or "Riverside Sage”)

66. Go Low

“If youth knew how, and old age could!”

Anonymous 1 via Will Durant
Freedom from the narrow boxes defined by personal history
from French proverb

“If our deeds don’t influence others, we should look into ourselves and cultivate a greater goodness.”

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

“It is far from easy to determine whether she [Nature] has proved to man a kind parent or a merciless stepmother.”

Pliny 23 – 79 CE
(Pliny Gaius Plinius Secundus, Pliny the Elder)
Founding father of the encyclopedia

from Natural History

“A shoemaker should give no opinion beyond the shoes.”

Pliny 23 – 79 CE
(Pliny Gaius Plinius Secundus, Pliny the Elder)
Founding father of the encyclopedia

from Natural History

“Invoke the characteristics of the people you admire most and adopt their manners, speech, and behavior as your own. There is nothing false in this. We all carry the seeds of greatness within us, but we need an image as a point of focus in order that they may sprout.”

Epictetus Ἐπίκτητος 55 – 135 CE via Sharon Labell

“Dogs own space and cats own time. Kings travel from place to place like a cat but want to own those places like a dog. It's why there are wars.”

Hilda of Whitby 614 – 680 CE via Nicola Griffith

“O fool, know yourself. It is not a matter of meditation, or concentration… the diversity of existence is but a form of thought.”

Saraha 1

33. Know Yourself

“When someone uses laws to restrict the world, might to compel it, knowledge to silence it, and majesty to impress it, there are always those who don’t follow. When someone rules by means of the Tao, the world follows without thinking.”

Cao Daochong 道寵 1
(​Daochong or Ts’ao Tao-Ch’ung)
from Lao-tzu-chu, Red Pine Translation

54. Planting Well

“If there is transgression of the hierarchy, it is a matter of the secular law of the chieftains.”

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

“We bind ourselves together by taking hold of each others's hands so firmly and forming a circle so strong that if a tree should fall upon it, it could not shake nor break it, so that our people and grandchildren shall remain in the circle in security, peace, and happiness.”

Deganawida 1 via Hiawatha
(“The Great Peacemaker”)

“Nature is the highest good and the highest excellence lies in accepting the laws of Nature completely.”

Zhu Xi 朱熹 1130 – 1200 CE via Wang Yang Ming, Will Durant
(Zhū Xī)

“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)

“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)

“If you become a man who realizes that the Buddha and his follower Bodhidharma are your own servants, you may leave off studying and work for humanity... If you are dependent on any of its methods, you are an ignorant insect.”

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

“Without army, no king; without revenues, no army; without taxes, no revenue; without agriculture, no taxes; without just government, no agriculture”

Ibn Khaldun أبو زيد عبد الرحمن بن محمد بن خلدون الحضرمي 1332 – 1406 CE

53. Shameless Thieves

“Above all things, good policy is to prevent treasuries and monies in a state from being gathered into a few hands.”

Machiavelli 1469 – 1527 CE
(Niccolò Machiavelli)
from The Prince

“By art is created that great Leviathan, called a Commonwealth or State—which is but an artificial man.”

Thomas Hobbes 1588 – 1679 CE
from Leviathan

“The way of the Creative works through change and transformation, so that each thing receives its true nature and destiny and comes into permanent accord with the Great Harmony: this is what furthers and what perseveres.”

Alexander Pope 1688 – 1744 CE
Second most quoted English writer

“As force is always on the side of the governed, the governors have nothing to support them but opinion. It is therefore, on opinion only that government is founded, and this maxim extends to the most despotic and most military governments, as well as to the most free and most popular.”

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

“Since no man has a natural authority over his fellow, and force creates no right, we must conclude that conventions form the basis of all legitimate authority among men.”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1712 – 1778 CE
from Confessions

“Whenever the legislature attempts to regulate the differences between masters and their workmen, its counsellors are always the masters. When the regulation, therefore, is in favor of the workmen, it is always just and equitable; but it is sometimes otherwise when in favor of the masters.”

Adam Smith 1723 – 1790 CE
''The Father of Economic Capitalism"
from Wealth of Nations

“All theory is gray, my friend. But forever green is the tree of life.”

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 1749 – 1832 CE
from Faust, part I

12. This Over That

“Whenever government assumes to deliver us from the trouble of thinking for ourselves, the only consequences it produces are those of torpor... Government by its very nature counteracts the improvement of original mind,”

William Godwin 1756 – 1836 CE
Provocative and influential social, political, and literary critic
from Enquiry Concerning Political Justice

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

William Blake 1757 – 1827 CE

“Every true thinker for himself is so far like a monarch… He takes as little notice of authority as a monarch does of a command; nothing is valid unless he has himself authorized it.”

Arthur Schopenhauer 1788 – 1860 CE

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“by nature and from the first, it is not justice that rules on earth but force... Justice is in itself powerless. To draw this over to the side of justice, so that by means of force justice rules—that is the problem of statecraft.”

Arthur Schopenhauer 1788 – 1860 CE
from Essays and Aphorisms

“That man is in the right who is most closely in league with the future.”

Henrik Ibsen 1828 – 1906 CE
"The world's 2nd most-performed playwright"

“The danger is not that a particular class is unfit to govern. Every class is unfit to govern.”

Lord Acton 1834 – 1902 CE
(John Dalberg-Acton)
Prolific historian and politician
from The History of Freedom in Antiquity, 1877

“The most striking result of our present system of farming out the national Land and capital to private individuals has been the division of society into hostile classes, with large appetites and no dinners at one extreme, and large dinners and no appetites at the other.”

George Bernard Shaw 1856 – 1950 CE
UK playwright second only to Shakespeare
from A Manifesto

“Civilization is a matter of imponderables, of delight in the things of the mind, of love of beauty, of honor, grace, courtesy, delicate feeling. Where imponderables are the things of first importance, there is the height of civilization”

Edith Hamilton 1867 – 1963 CE
from The Greek Way, 1930

“The aristocrats always failed every time they had their chance... From the first moment that we catch sight of it in history, it is a failure. Class privilege became class prejudice; inherited power creates a thirst for acquiring more power; nobility of birth has no connection with spiritual nobility.”

Edith Hamilton 1867 – 1963 CE
from The Greek Way

“I always knew that I was two people—One was the son of my parents who went to school and was less intelligent attentive hard-working, decent, and clean than many other boys The other was grown up—old in fact—skeptical, misrustful, remote from the world of men, men but close to nature, the earth, the sun, the moon, the weather, all living creatures, and above all close to the night, to dreams, and whatever 'God' worked directly in him.”

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

“That man is not yet a finished creation but rather a challenge of the spirit; a distant possibility dreaded as much as desired... He is an experiment and a transition. He is nothing else than the narrow and perilous bridge between nature and spirit.”

Hermann Hesse 1877 – 1962 CE
from Steppenwolf

“Confidence... thrives on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection and on unselfish performance. Without them it cannot live.”

Franklin Roosevelt 1882 – 1945 CE
Champion and creator of a more just and equitable society

“He must have pitied [men] in order to have created woman and favored her with such grace that she leads us to paradise along the surest and shortest of roads. Woman is more powerful than prayer, fasting, and—forgive me, Lord—even than virtue.”

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

“All men are created unequal... Politics is the art of compromise between the classes”

Will (and Ariel) Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
from Heroes of History

17. True Leaders

“Civilization begins with order, grows with liberty, and dies with chaos.”

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

“Either the world will be governed according to the ideas of modern democracy and the weight of any decision will result in favor of the numerically stronger races, or the world will be dominated in accordance with the laws of the natural order of force, and then it is the peoples of brutal will who will conquer.”

Adolf Hitler 1
the most immoral and cruel conqueror in human history
from Mein Kampf (1935)

“When small men begin to cast big shadows, it means that the sun is about to set.”

Lín Yǔtáng 林語堂 1895 – 1976 CE

“Traditional human power structures and their reign of darkness are about to be rendered obsolete.”

Buckminster Fuller 1895 – 1983 CE

17. True Leaders

“My generation of radicals and breakers-down never found anything to take the place of the old virtues of work and courage and the old graces of courtesy and politeness.”

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

“Women administer the home. They set the rules, enforce them, mete out justice for violations. Thus, like Congress, they legislate; like the Executive, they administer; like the courts, they interpret the rules. It is an ideal experience for politics.”

Margaret Chase Smith 1897 – 1995 CE

“It is high time that we stop thinking politically as Republicans and Democrats about elections and started thinking patriotically as Americans about national security based on individual freedom.”

Margaret Chase Smith 1897 – 1995 CE

“We who say that we believe in democracy… committed to the proposition that all men shall be free cannot admit that ordinary people cannot have a good education… The aim of education is wisdom and each must have the chance to become as wise as he can.”

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

“There have been countless political revolutions and other upheavals in the course of history but their final outcome has always been to recreate communities of a few hundred to a few thousand people in which everyone knew his or her place in the social order of things and accepted, willingly or under duress, the local rules of the game.”

René Dubos 1901 – 1982 CE via The Global Village
Influential scientific environmentalist

from Celebrations of life (1981)

“Animals do feel like us, also joy, love, fear and pain but they cannot grasp the spoken word. It is our obligation to take their part and continue to resist the people who profit by them, who slaughter them and who torture them.”

Denys de Rougemont 1906 – 1985 CE
Non-conformist leader, influential cultural theorist
from Love in the Western World

“the destruction of traditional hierarchies and orders of social life... deprived great numbers of men of social and emotional security, produced the notorious phenomena of alienation, spiritual homelessness, and growing anomie”

Isaiah Berlin 1909 – 1997 CE
"the world's greatest talker"
from The Proper Study of Mankind

“spontaneous knowledge that existed before scientific knowledge and serves only as a crude imitation or explanation of what nature does naturally. One does not need to learn knowledge from science; it is enough to learn (that is imitate) nature.”

Masanobu Fukuoka 福岡 正信 1913 – 2008 CE via Metreaud
from Road Back to Nature

“In nature, the emphasis is in what is rather than what ought to be.”

Huston Smith 1919 – 2016 CE

“From the divine right of kings through the deadly teachings of Hitler and Mao to the mumbojumbo of economists, government by theory has done endless ill.”

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

“Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.”

Martin Luther King Jr. 1929 – 1968 CE
Leading world influence for equality, peace, non-violence, and poverty alleviation

“You have to make order, you have to make distinctions, but you also have to know when to stop before you’ve lost the whole in the multiplicity of parts.”

Ursula Le Guin 1929 – 2018 CE

32. Uncontrived Awareness

“If we only use our strength to help ourselves, we will automatically make hierarchies to prevent others in a subtle way from being equal. As a result of this style in which those on top try to keep others down, everyone's mind becomes heavy.”

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

“Although almost all our attention goes toward the surface, the form of government; the deep importance and influence has much less to do with the description, the name - much more to with integrity of the people involved.”

Shan Dao 山道 1933 CE –
from Tao Te Ching — The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words

58. Goals Without Means

“It is certain, I think, that the best government is the one that governs the least. But there is a much-neglected corollary: the best citizen is the one who least needs governing.”

Wendell Berry 1934 CE –

75. Greed

“With realization of one’s own potential and self-confidence in one’s ability, one can build a better world.”

Dalai Lama XIV Tenzin Gyatso 1935 CE –

“Suits obviously had helped to promote bad government… Of late he had become frightened of the government for the first time in his life, the way the structure of democracy had begun debasing people rather than enlivening them in their mutual concern. The structure was no longer concerned with the purpose for which it was designed, and a small part of the cause was probably that all politicians and bureaucrats wore suits.”

Jim Harrison 1937 – 2016 CE
"untrammeled renegade genius”
from Legends of the Fall​

“In America, anyone can become president. That’s the problem.”

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

“The Buddhist idea of a politician is not so much one of a con man or of a businessman who wins favor with everybody, but someone who simply does what is necessary… having a sense of responsibility to society.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE
from A Buddhist Approach to Politics

78. Water

“Democracy is built on the attitude that I speak out for myself, the invincible me… but that approach doesn’t work.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE via Judith Lief, editor
from The Collected Works of Chogyam Trungpa

“We are hierarchical animals. Sweep one hierarchy away, and another will take its place, perhaps less palatable than the first.”

Camille Paglia 1947 CE –
Fearless and insightful status quo critic
from Sexual Personae (1990)

“every single civilization including this western world, was brought into being from a sacred place to serve a sacred purpose. And when that purpose is forgotten… the fundamental balance and harmony of its existence become disrupted”

Peter Kingsley 1953 CE –
from A Story Waiting to Pierce You

“Social hierarchy can assume many forms, and in every human society it seems to find one… the deeply human hunger for status and the seemingly universal presence of hierarchy… it becomes doubtful that any truly egalitarian human society has ever existed… Is inequality indeed, as Darwin suggested, a prerequisite for economic or political advancement?”

Robert Wright 1957 CE –

“our need for hierarchies is linked to food and protection… the ones who were lucky enough to be built like linebackers would get to eat first… So to solve the problem, we evolved into hierarchical animals.”

Simon Sinek 1973 CE –
from Leaders Eat Last

“Hierarchies serve an important function. They enable complete strangers to know how to treat one another without wasting the time and energy needed to become personally acquainted.”

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

from Sapiens

Comments (1)

  1. Shan Dao
    Shan Dao 6 years ago
    The neo-Confucian political approach confuses the common tendency of power corrupting and creating economic and political divisions by applying the principles of leadership and power to everyone. The lowest level person in an organization has their own high place within their family. The lowest level person in a family or living alone in a society has the same leadership issues when dealing with themselves.