Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Perennial Philosophy

The view that no religion, philosophy, culture, or science has a monopoly on the truth, that all of these arise from a deeply rooted human realization, and that all of humanity shares a common, transcendent ground of sacredness; the Perennial Philosophy draws a kind of psychological roadmap to finding the meaningfulness of life, world peace, and personal happiness. In the West, this philosophy began during the Hellenistic period as a blending of neo-Platonism and Christianity. In the East, it weaves in and out of every Era. It permeated the Egyptian Cult of Isis, the Greek Dionysian and Eleusinian Mysteries, Roman Mithraism, and—founded in the mystical realization of Plotinus—became a bedrock of Neoplatonism that described all of reality as arising from a single principle, “The One”. It’s influence manifested in the Jewish teachings of Solomon ibn Gabirol and the Kabbalist tradition, in Christian Gnosticism, in Islamic Sufism, Hegel’s panentheism, Spinoza’s pantheism, Christian Unitarianism and Transcendentalism, and actively continues today notably described in Philip K. Dick’s Exegesis.

Aldous Huxley contrasts this view with that of modern society by describing their different priorities. All the historic Perennial Philosophy schools share a view that the meaningfulness and direction of human life is toward a greater awareness and experience of realized sacredness, that all appropriate action and skillful means support that priority. In contrast, our materialistic cultures put these priorities, these strategic cause and effects upside down: they use contemplation and reason as a method of achieving more successful action, progress.

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Quotes (82)

“Not least for those who are called foreigners, for they are not foreigners. For, while the various segments of the Earth give different people a different country, the whole compass of this world gives all people a single country, the entire Earth, and a single home, the world.”

Diogenes of Oenoanda Διογένης ὁ Οἰνοανδεύς 77 – 142 CE
Great Preserver of Epicureanism

“Truth is one but the sages speak of it by many names.”

Vyasa व्यास c. 3000 BCE
Hindu immortals, Vishnu avatar, 5th incarnation of Brahma
from Mahābhārata महाभारतम्

“No human being will ever know the Truth, for even if they happen to say it by chance, they would not even known they had done so.”

Xenophanes Ξενοφάνης ὁ Κολοφώνιος 570 – 475 BCE
(Xenophanes of Colophon)
from Fragments

“No matter how many ways you try, you cannot find a boundary to consciousness, so deep in every direction does it extend.”

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

“Philosophy is the science which considers truth.”

Aristotle Ἀριστοτέλης 382 – 322 BCE

“Complete people have no self, spiritual people have no merit, saintly people have no name.”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 369 – 286 BCE via Thomas Cleary

“May the partisans of all doctrines in all countries unite and live in a common fellowship. For all alike profess mastery to be attained over oneself and purity of the heart.”

Ashoka 304 – 232 BCE
One of the world's most enlightened leaders

“God does not have a name, He is too big to fit inside names. A name is a prison, God is free.”

Anonymous -800 to present
Freedom from the narrow boxes defined by personal history
from Sufi proverb

“There are people who owe more to bitter enemies than to apparently pleasant friends: the former often speak the truth, the latter never.”

Cato 95 – 46 BCE
(the Younger, Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis)

Happy the man, who, studying nature's laws,
Thro' known effects can trace the secret cause.

Virgil 70 – 19 BCE via John Dryden
(Publius Vergilius Maro)
from Georgics (29 BC)

“First learn, then form opinions.”

Rabbinic Sages 20 – 200 CE
from Talmud

“Philosophy calls us when we reach the end of our rope.It's purpose to free us from the hold of our griefs and fears, to illuminate the ways our soul has been infected by unsound beliefs, untrained tumultuous desires, and dubious life choices; we become philosophers to discover what is really true and what only the accidental result of flawed reasoning.”

Epictetus Ἐπίκτητος 55 – 135 CE via Sharon Labell, Shan Dao

“Each being contains in itself the whole intelligible world. Therefore All is everywhere. Each is there All, and All is each.”

Plotinus 204 – 249 CE

“The infinite universe stands always before your eyes.”

Jianzhi Sengcan 鑑智僧璨 529 – 606 CE
(Jiànzhì Sēngcàn)
from Hsin Hsin Ming

“There is really nothing to argue about in this teaching. Doctrines given up to controversy and argumentation lead of themselves to birth and death.”

Huineng 惠能 638 – 713 CE
(Huìnéng, Enō)
The Sutra of Hui Neng

“The one Moon reflects itself wherever there is a sheet of water,
And all the moons in the waters are embraced within the one Moon.”

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

“Liberation never comes—even at the end of a hundred aeons—without the realization of the Oneness of Self.”

Adi Shankara 788 – 820 CE

“We ought not to be embarrassed of appreciating the truth and of obtaining it wherever it comes from, even if it comes from races distant and nations different from us. Nothing should be dearer to the seeker of truth than the truth itself, and there is no deterioration of the truth, nor belittling either of one who speaks it or conveys it”

Al-Kindi 801 – 873 CE
(Abu Yūsuf Yaʻqūb ibn ʼIsḥāq aṣ-Ṣabbāḥ)

“When you are neither attached to, nor detached from your senses and thoughts, then you enjoy your perfect unobstructed freedom, then you have your seat of enlightenment.”

Huangbo Xiyun 黄檗希运 ? - 850 CE
(Huangbo Xiyun, Huángbò Xīyùn, Obaku)
from Zen Teachings of Huang Po on the Transmission of Mind, John Blofeld translation

“The jewel-casket of original mind—free from selfish passions—shines like the infinite sky.”

Tilopa 988 – 1069 CE via Guenther
from Acintaya-mahamudra

“Don't pound the black poison ax of selfishness on the solid gold boulder of our common welfare.”

Gesar of Ling གེ་སར་རྒྱལ་པོ། 11th century CE
from Gesar of Ling Epic

“The mind is morally self-sufficient, endowed with innate knowledge of the good, and an innate ability to do good. It is one and indissoluble. It fills the whole universe… The investigation of things means nothing more than to investigate this mind.”

Lù Jiǔyuān 陸九淵 1139 – 1192 CE
(Lu Xiangshan)

“Whether you like it or not, whether you know it or not, secretly Nature seeks and hunts and tries to ferret out the track in which God may be found.”

Meister Eckhart 1260 – 1328 CE
(Eckhart von Hochheim)

“The voice of the river that has emptied into the Ocean
Now laughs and sings just like God.”

Hafiz خواجه شمس‌‌الدین محمد حافظ شیرازی 1315 – 1394 CE
(Hafez, Shams-ud-Dīn Muḥammad)
Inspiring friend to the true and free human spirit

“Behold but One in all things; it is the second tha leads you astray.”

Kabīr कबीर 1399 – 1448 CE

“Benares is to the East, Meca to the West; but explore your own heart, for there are both Rama and Allah.”

Kabīr कबीर 1399 – 1448 CE

“Natural Magick is the chief power of all the natural Sciences; the top, perfection, and active part of Natural Philosophy; which by the assistance of natural forces and faculties, through their mutual & opportune application, performs those things that are above Human Reason.”

Agrippa 1486 – 1535 CE
(Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim)
Historian of the occult and early, important influence on science
from The Vanity of Arts and Sciences​

“[There is] one principle of all things, of which there has always been one and the same knowledge among all peoples.”

Agostino Steuco 1497 – 1548 CE
Author of the first book on the Perennial Philosophy

“There is a God-shaped vacuum in every heart.”

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

“Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; seek what they sought.”

Matsuo Bashō 松尾 芭蕉 1644 – 1694 CE

“I never doubted… that all crime will be punished, and virtue rewarded, either here or hereafter. These I esteem’d the essentials of every religion.”

Benjamin Franklin 1706 – 1790 CE
from Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

54. Planting Well

“It is the greatest good to the greatest number of people which is the measure of right and wrong.”

Jeremy Bentham 1748 – 1832 CE
from Constitutional Code

“In all ten directions of the universe, there is only one truth. When we see clearly, the great teachings are the same.”

Ryokan 良寛大愚 1758 – 1758 CE via Stephen Mitchell
(Ryōkan Taigu,“The Great Fool”)

“May my son study history for it is the only true philosophy and the only true psychology.”

Napoleon Bonaparte 1769 – 1821 CE

“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The soul that rises with us, our life's star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar.”

William Wordsworth 1770 – 1850 CE

“One great society alone on earth:
The noble living and the noble dead.”

William Wordsworth 1770 – 1850 CE
from The Prelude, 1805

“Truths for a new day:
1. The oneness of mankind
2. The foundation of all religion is one
3. Religion must be in accord with science and reason”

Bahá'u'lláh بهاء الله‎‎, 1817 – 1892 CE via Abdu’l-Bahá'
("Glory of God")

“To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but to love wisdom as to live, according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust.”

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

“the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

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

“What is man's first duty? To be himself.”

Henrik Ibsen 1828 – 1906 CE
"The world's 2nd most-performed playwright"
from Peer Gynt (1867)

“The origin of all religions—Judaeo-Christianity included—is to be found in a few primeval truths, not one of which can be explained apart from all the others, as each is a complement of the rest in some one detail. And they are all, more or less, broken rays of the same Sun of truth”

Blavatsky, Helena Еле́на Петро́вна Блава́тская 1831 – 1891 CE
Co-founder of Theosophy
from The Key to Theosophy (1889)

“['God' is] but the expression for man's highest conception of goodness, wisdom, and power; that in order to generate a more vivid conception of so great and glorious a thought, man has personified it and called it by a name... people should no more cease to love God on ceasing to believe in His objective personality than they cease to love justice on discovering that she was not really personal; they will never truly know Him until they see Him thus.”

Samuel Butler 1835 – 1902 CE
Iconoclastic philosopher, artist, composer, author, and evolutionary theorist
from Erewhon

“Wisdom leads to unity, but ignorance to separation.”

Ramakrishna 1836 – 1886 CE

“The whole function of philosophy ought to be to find out what definite difference it will make to you and me, at definite instances in our life, if this world-formula or that world-formula be the true one.”

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

“The Greek philosophers went through life feeling secretly that there were far more slaves than one might think—meaning that everybody who was not a philosopher was a slave. Their pride overflowed at the thought that even the most powerful men on earth belong among their slaves.”

Friedrich Nietzsche 1844 – 1900 CE

“the aggressor is overcome by the poison of his pride; victory is only another name for defeat; but the Spirit of Gentleness and Truth is eternal.”

Elbert Hubbard 1856 – 1915 CE
from A Thousand and One Epigrams

“The task of philosophy is to clarify our ideas about contemporary social and moral conflicts. It's purpose is to become—as far as humanly possible—an organ for dealing with these conflicts... Philosophy is a catholic and far-sighted theory about our adjustments to the conflicting factors of life.”

John Dewey 1859 – 1952 CE via Shan Dao
The "Second Confucius"
from Creative Intelligence, 1917

“I had a vision because I was seeing in the sacred way and I saw myself on the central mountain of the world, the central mountain that is everywhere.”

Black Elk 1863 – 1950 CE via Joseph Campbell and Shan Dao
(Heȟáka Sápa)

“The Buddhists or the Jains do not depend upon God; but the whole force of their religion is directed to the great central truth in every religion, to evolve a God out of man. They have not seen the Father, but they have seen the Son. And he that hath seen the Son hath seen the Father also.”

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

“Euripides was the arch-heretic, miserably disturbing, never willing to leave a man comfortably ensconced in his favorite convictions and prejudices... No poet's ear has ever been so sensitively attuned as his to the still, sad music of humanity.”

Edith Hamilton 1867 – 1963 CE
from The Greek Way

“We need an enlightened education to bring to emphasize ideas of cooperation and solidarity rather than values of competition and indifference. A vision of an interdependent and connected world can be at the heart of what we pass on to future generations. This way, we may understand how interdependency and cooperation can remedy contemporary ills”

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

“She lent herself to immemorial human attitudes which we recognize by instinct as universal and true... a look or gesture somehow revealed the meaning in common things.”

Willa Cather 1873 – 1948 CE
Modern day Lao Tzu

from My Ántonia

“This philosophy [Lü Dongbin's] is—to a certain extent—the common property of all Chinese trends of thought. It is built on the premise that cosmos and man in the last analysis obey common laws; that man is a cosmos in miniature and is not divided from the great cosmos by any fixed limits.”

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

“A billion stars go spinning through the night,
blazing high above your head.
But in you is the presence that
will be, when all the stars are dead.”

Rainer Maria Rilke 1875 – 1926 CE via Stephen Mitchell
Profound singer of universal music
from Buddha in Glory

“Rise above sectional interests and private ambitions... Pass from matter to spirit. Matter is diversity; spirit is light, life and unity.”

Muhammad Iqbal محمد اقبال 1877 – 1938 CE

“It is equally surprising that so many scholars, meeting with some universal doctrine in a given context, so often think of it as a local peculiarity.”

Ananda Coomaraswamy குமாரசுவாமி 1877 – 1947 CE
Perennial philosophy's Citizen of the World
from Guardians of the Sun-Door​

“The religious geniuses of all ages have been distinguished by this kind of cosmic religious feeling which knows no dogma and no God conceived in man's image”

Albert Einstein 1879 – 1955 CE
from The World as I See It, 1934

“The essence went by many names; it kept changing masks all the while we pursued it. Sometimes we called it supreme hope, sometimes supreme despair, sometimes summit of man's soul, sometimes desert mirage, and sometimes blue bird and freedom. And sometimes... 'God.'”

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

“When will philosophy learn to leave to religion these perplexing problems of another life and give itself with all its strength to the illumination of human purposes and the coordination and elevation of human life?... Philosophy, like everything else, must secularize itself; it must stay on the earth and earn its keep by illuminating life.”

Will Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
Philosophy apostle and popularizer of history's lessons
from The Story of Philosophy, 1926

“This god was identified by Xenophanes with the universe... all change in history, and all separateness in things, are superficial phenomena; beneath the flux and variety of forms is an unchanging unity, which is the innermost reality of God. From this starting point, Xenophanes's disciple, Parmenides, proceeded to that idealistic philosophy what was in turn to mold the thought of Plato and Platonists throughout antiquity, and of Europe even to our day.”

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

“the Perennial Philosophy may be found among the traditional lore of primitive peoples in every region of the world, and in its fully developed forms, has a place in every one of the higher religions... treated again and again, from the standpoint of every religious tradition and in all the principal languages”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE
from Perennial Philosophy

“Surely men as inspiritors, known and unknown, have shared a common uncommon discovery. The Tao of Lao Tzu, Nirvana of Buddha, Jehovah of Moses, the Father of Jesus, the Allah of Mohammed—all point to the experience. No-thing-ness, spirit—once touched, the whole of life clears.”

Paul Reps 1895 – 1990 CE
from Centering

“The world is like a sheet of paper on which something is typed. The reading and the meaning will vary with the reader but the paper is the common factor, always present, rarely perceived.”

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

“Every existence is my existence, every consciousness if my consciousness, every sorrow is my sorrow and every joy is my joy”

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

“These bits of information from ancient times which have to do with the themes that have supported human life, built civilizations, and informed religions over the millennia, have to do with deep inner problems, inner mysteries, inner thresholds of passage… information of a deep, rich, life-vivifying sort that you don’t want to give up.”

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

“The Buddha follows a path very much like that of Christ... even to the roles and characters of their immediate disciples. There is but one archetypal mythic hero whose life has been replicated in many lands by many, many people.”

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

“Yamantaka combines in himself the animal, the demon, and the god, the primordial powers of life in its aspects of creation and destruction and the faculty of knowledge which ripens into liberating wisdom.”

Li Gotami Govinda 1906 – 1988 CE
(Ratti Petit)
Pioneering, fearless, artistic woman of wisdom
from Tibet in Pictures

“The person who understands a symbol emerges from their personal experience and understands something universal.”

Mircea Eliade 1907 – 1986 CE via Shan Dao

“Machiavelli... undermined my earlier assumption, based on the philosophia perennis, that there could be no conflict between true ends, true answers to the central problems of life.”

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

“The key to changing everything lies in philosophy... If one thing changes, everything changes. Unless all things change, nothing changes... In order to change the farming practices of a single farmer, the entire social fabric must first change.”

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

“good and bad are words which have meaning only with reference to the individual, never to the whole. If we take the universe, the Tao, as a whole, we discover that there are no such qualities as 'good' and 'bad'... it may seem bad for me, but it will not be bad for the universe!”

John Blofeld 1913 – 1987 CE
from Talk (1978)

“There is an inner core common to all religions: the universal teachings of morality and charity, of a disciplined and pure mind full of love, compassion, goodwill and tolerance.”

Goenka ဂိုအင်ကာ 1924 – 2013 CE
(Satya Narayan)
"The Man who Taught the World to Meditate"

“Only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars.”

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

“We are the moral inhabitants of the globe. And to deny it is to lie in prison... And unless all races and all ages of man have been totally deluded, there seems to be such a thing as grace, such a thing as beauty, such a thing as harmony — all of which are wholly free, and available to us.”

Toni Morrison 1931 – 2019 CE
(Chloe Ardelia Wofford)
Story-telling voice of American wisdom
from A Humanist View (1975)​

“We're all water from different rivers,
That's why it's so easy to meet,
We're all water in this vast, vast ocean,
Someday we'll evaporate together.”

Yoko Ono 小野 洋子 1933 CE –
(“Ocean Child”)

52. Cultivating the Changeless

“All the philosophical theories that exist have been created by the mistaken dualistic minds of human beings. In the realm of philosophy, that which today is considered true, may tomorrow be proved to be false. No one can guarantee a philosophy's validity. Because of this, any intellectual way of seeing whatever is always partial and relative.”

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

“the Wen-tzu presents a distillation of the teachings of its great predecessors, especially the Tao Te Ching, Chuang-tzu, and the Huinan-tzu. It particularly follows the latter in its inclusion of selected material from Confucian, Legalist, and Naturalist schools of thought. In addition, the Wen-tzu also contains a tremendous amount of other proverbial and aphoristic lore that is not to be found in its predecessors.”

Thomas Cleary 1949 CE –

“In its pristine sense, the meaning of following the Tao, later called Taoism or wayfaring, included the whole spectrum of the search for knowledge... the schools of learning that retained the most comprehensive range of interest general came to be known as Taoist... [It] was used as a primary source for terms and concepts through which Buddhism could be explained to the Chinese.”

Thomas Cleary 1949 CE –
from Essential Tao

“In the West, Sufism is usually regarded as a form of Islamic mysticism. However, the Sufis themselves say their 'way' has always existed, under many names, in many lands, associated with the mystical dimension of every spiritual system.”

Henry S. Mindlin 1956
Poet, musician, spiritual seeker

“Everything you think, everything you say, and everything you do is reflected back to you as your own experience. If you cause someone pain, you experience pain ten times worse. If you promote others' happiness and well-being, you experience the same happiness ten times over. If your own mind is calm, then the people around you will experience a similar degree of calmness.”

Mingyur Rinpoche 1975 CE –
Modern-day Mahasiddha

from The Joy of Living (2007)

“From Emerson to Thoreau to Gandhi to MLK to Mandela. One idea in many forms, passed along from one giant to another. Perhaps the greatest relay race in the history of inspiration...It's the lineage of an idea that has evolved and been adapted for two centuries.”

Deepak Malhotra 1978
"Professor of the Year"

from Peacemaker's Code

“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