Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Soul-Selling, Corruption

Goethe’s novel, Faust focused the ancient discussion about selling our souls for material gains into a modern and vivid context. At the heart of our fundamental paradox—the pitting our values and belief systems against our survival and success—everyone must struggle with this dilemma, acquiesce or ignore it. The multiple temptations of corruption brings obvious gains in each of our four most common human motivations—pleasure, power, fame, and fortune. These payments in slivers of our souls, however, become costly in terms of happiness, goodness, and integrity. The depth of our allegiance to these kinds of deception quickly rise to the surface of awareness when we try to do something anonymously, when we help someone who cannot give anything in return, when no one can see or know. Although probably the least common kind of human activity, it may epitomize the essence of integrity.

Most of us, most of the time stay busy trying to impress people looking for approval, praise and fame. This enslaves and sells our souls to the tyrants of public opinion, the status quo, and to external personal whim. As an antidote to this, the cloak of anonymity opens wide doors of personal expression, creativity, and innovation. In ancient times, perhaps less personal ego fostered this approach, perhaps names were just eroded away by time as is surely the case with many of the quotations that comes to us through the annals of history, perhaps people needed to avoid religious or political persecution. The venerable tradition of using pseudonyms exemplifies both the need and benefit of freeing ourselves from the narrow boxes defined by our personal histories.

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Quotes (59)

“When leaders are convinced by concepts, corruption, confusion, and conflict reign. When instead they remain unconvinced and open, blessings and goodness spread.”

Lao Tzu 老子 604 BCE - via Shan Dao, chapter #65
from Tao Te Ching 道德经 Dàodéjīng

“For money you would sell your soul… Of all the foul growths current in the world the worst is money. It sacks cities, perverts minds, routs out men from their homes leading the astray, sets them on every work of wickedness and crime.”

Sophocles Σοφοκλῆς 497 – 405 BCE via Shan Dao
“The Wise and Honored One”
from Ajax, 409 BCE​

“Do not let the artificial obliterate the natural; do not let will obliterate destiny; do not let virtue be sacrificed to fame”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 369 – 286 BCE via Jack Kerouac

“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

Jesus 3 BCE – 30 CE
from Mark 8:36

“And for the sake of an unworthy throne
You let the devil claim you for his own.”

Ferdowsi فردوسی 940 – 1020 CE
(Abul-Qâsem Ferdowsi Tusi)
"undisputed giant of Persian literature"
from Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings (977–1010 CE)

“Indeed, the Idols I have loved so long
Have done my Credit in Men's Eye much wrong;
Have drown'd my Honor in a shallow Cup,
And sold my Reputation for a Song.”

Omar Khayyám 1048 – 1131 CE via Edward Fitzgerald
Persian Astronomer-Poet, prophet of the here and now

from Rubaiyat

“Sedentary culture is the goal of civilization. It means the end of its lifespan and brings about its corruption.

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

24. Unnecessary Baggage

“The nearer people are to the Roman Church, the less religious they are... Possibly the Christian religion would have been entirely extinguished by its corruption had not St Francis restored it to its original principles”

Machiavelli 1469 – 1527 CE
(Niccolò Machiavelli)
from Discourses on Livy

“It profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world... but for Wales?”

Thomas More 1478 – 1535 CE via Robert Bolt​
from A Man For All Seasons

“Nothing appears more surprising to those who consider human affairs with a philosophical eye than the easiness with which the many are governed by the few, and the implicit submission with which men resign their own sentiments and passions to those of their rulers.”

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

“Man was a 'noble savage' when in the state of nature, before the creation of civilization. He has been corrupted by the social interdependence of society.”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1712 – 1778 CE

“Corruption: the most infallible symptom of constitutional liberty.”

Edward Gibbon 1737 – 1794 CE
from Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire

“Either force or corruption has been the principle of every modern government... This I hope will be the age of experiments in government, and that their basis will be founded on principles of honesty, not of mere force. We have seen no instance of this since the days of the Roman republic, not do we read of any before that.”

Thomas Jefferson 1743 – 1826 CE

“I am more and more convinced that man is a dangerous creature and that power, whether vested in many or a few, is ever grasping, and like the grave, cries, 'Give, give.'”

Abigail Adams 1744 – 1818 CE
One of the most exceptional women in American history

“. . . in no instance has a system in regard to religion been ever established, but for the purpose, as well as with the effect of its being made an instrument of intimidation, corruption, and delusion, for the support of depredation and oppression in the hands of governments.”

Jeremy Bentham 1748 – 1832 CE
from Constitutional Code; For the Use All Nations and All Governments Professing Liberal Opinions

“It is impossible to rise to freedom, from the midst of corruptions, without strong convulsions. They are the salutary crises of a serious disease.”

Madame Roland 1754 – 1793 CE via Mémoires de Madame Roland (1795)
(Marie-Jeanne Phlippon)
Revolutionary heroine

“Getting and spending, we lay wast our powers
Little we see in Nature that is ours
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!”

William Wordsworth 1770 – 1850 CE
from The World Is Much Too Much with Us

“Deeply rooted in human nature is the mistaken belief that the ultimate goal for all our effort is gaining greater respect from other people… set limits on this great weakness and susceptibility to public opinion.”

Arthur Schopenhauer 1788 – 1860 CE via John T. Davenport, Shan Dao
from Wisdom of Life

“In politics, there is no honor... The world is weary of statesmen whom democracy has degraded into politicians.”

Disraeli, Benjamin 1804 – 1881 CE
(Earl of Beaconsfield )
Political balance between mob rule and tyranny

from Practical Politics

“Nobody blamed the credulity and avarice of the people, – the degrading lust of gain, which had swallowed up every nobler quality in the national character… These things were never mentioned.”

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

18. The Sick Society

“Pride of place, and the power of living well in front of the world’s eye, are dear to us all; — are, doubtless, intended to be dear. Only in acknowledging so much, let us remember that there are prices at which these good things may be too costly.”

Anthony Trollope 1815 – 1882 CE
Novelist as teacher

“The rich man is always sold to the institution which makes him rich. Absolutely speaking, the more money, the less virtue”

Henry David Thoreau 1817 – 1862 CE
Father of environmentalism and America's first yogi
from On the Duty of Civil Disobedience

“sin that pays its way can travel freely, and without a passport; whereas Virtue, if a pauper, is stopped at all frontiers.”

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

“Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority; still more when they superadd the tendency of the certainty of corruption of authority.”

Lord Acton 1834 – 1902 CE
(John Dalberg-Acton)
Prolific historian and politician

“[We] must all work to keep our precious birthright of individualism and freedom from these institutions (church, army, aristocracy, royalty). Every great institution is perforce a means of corruption.”

William James 1842 – 1910 CE
"Father of American psychology”

“Religion, in short, is a monumental chapter in the history of human egotism.”

William James 1842 – 1910 CE
"Father of American psychology”
from The Will to Believe, 1897

“the worst part about making a soldier of a man is not that a soldier kills, but that the soldier loses his own soul.”

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

“Men measure by false standards: everyone seeks power, success, riches for himself and admires others who attain them, while under-valuing the truly precious things in life.”

Sigmund Freud 1856 – 1939 CE
from Civilization and its Discontents, 1930​

“A thousand reforms have left the world as corrupt as ever, for each successful reform has founded a new institution, and this institution has bred its new and congenial abuses.”

Santayana, George 1863 – 1952 CE
(Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás)
Powerfully influential, true-to-himself philosopher/poet

“It is in the darkness of their eyes that men get lost.”

Black Elk 1863 – 1950 CE
(Heȟáka Sápa)

35. The Power of Goodness

“Since barbarism has its pleasures, it naturally has its apologists.”

Santayana, George 1863 – 1952 CE
(Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás)
Powerfully influential, true-to-himself philosopher/poet

“Most men die at twenty or thirty; thereafter they are only reflections of themselves: for the rest of their lives they are aping themselves, repeating from day to day more and more mechanically and affectedly what they said and did and thought and loved when they were alive.”

Romain Rolland 1866 – 1944 CE
“The moral consciousness of Europe”

“There is no such thing as a beautiful prison.”

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

“Within the herd we are more friendly to each other than are many species of animals, but in our attitude toward those outside the herd, in spite of all that has been done by moralists and religious teachers, our emotions are as ferocious as those of any animal, and our intelligence enables us to give them a scope which is denied to even the most savage beast.”

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

“Nietzsche had been on my program for some time, but I hesitated to begin reading him because I felt insufficiently prepared... I was held back by a secret fear that I might perhaps be like him... In spite of these trepidations, I finally resolved to read him and I was carried away by enthusiasm... He was moved by the childish hope of finding people who would be able to share his ecstasies... But he found only educated Philistines. That was the reason for the bombastic language—all a vain attempt to catch the ear of a world which had sold its soul for a mass of disconnected facts.”

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

“For what I always hated and detested and cursed above all things was this contentment, this healthiness and comfort, this carefully preserved optimism of the middle classes, this fat and prosperous brood of mediocrity.”

Hermann Hesse 1877 – 1962 CE

24. Unnecessary Baggage

“Jesus said that it is easier for a camel to go through the needle's eye than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God, and had to go through Gethsemane. Now the rich men of the West are worshiping Jesus, and it is the poor who are going through Gethsemane.”

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

from Epigrams of Lusin

“By the time a great man becomes fossilized and is worshiped as great, he is already a puppet.”

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

from Epigrams of Lusin

“The eyes of others our prisons; their thoughts our cages.”

Virginia Woolf 1882 – 1941 CE

“Caught in the interval between one moral code and the next, an unmoored generation surrenders itself to luxury, corruption, and a restless disorder of family and morals."”

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

“They don’t ask much of you. They only want you to hate the things you love and to love the things you despise. (June 1960)”

Boris Pasternak Бори́с Леони́дович Пастерна́к 1890 – 1960 CE via On Soviet bureaucrats
Russia's greatest poet
from LIFE magazine

“[We are] victims of the same twentieth-century plague. Not the Black Death, this time; the Gray Life.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE
from Island

“Once one is caught up into the material world not one person in ten thousand finds the time to form literary taste, to examine the validity of philosophic concepts for himself, or to form what, for lack of a better phrase, I might call the wise and tragic sense of life.”

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

“A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.”

Ariel Durant 1898 – 1981 CE
(Chaya Kaufman)

31. Victory Funeral

“Magazine editors have 'policies' and 'interests.' So have I, and I have never considered dropping mine to take up those of somebody else.”

​Edward Wagenknecht 1900 – 2004 CE
Professor and literary critic

“Man does not only sell commodities, he sells himself and feels himself to be a commodity.”

Eric Fromm 1900 – 1980 CE

“Man will survive as a species for one reason: He can adapt to the destructive effects of our power-intoxicated technology and of our ungoverned population growth, to the dirt, pollution and noise of a New York or Tokyo. And that is the tragedy. It is not man the ecological crisis threatens to destroy but the quality of human life.”

René Dubos 1901 – 1982 CE
Influential scientific environmentalist

“Darth Vader has not developed his own humanity. He's a robot, a bureaucrat living not in terms of himself but in terms of an imposed system. This is the threat to our lives that we all face today... How do you relate to the system so that you are not compulsively serving it.”

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

“Nature as grasped by scientific knowledge is a nature which has been destroyed, it is a ghost possessing a skeleton, but no soul.”

Masanobu Fukuoka 福岡 正信 1913 – 2008 CE
from One Straw Revolution

“Only the strength and progress and peaceful change that come from independent judgment and individual ideas—and even from the unorthodox and the eccentric—can enable us to surpass that foreign ideology that fears free thought more than it fears hydrogen bombs… We can compromise our political positions, but not ourselves.”

John Kennedy 1917 – 1963 CE
Modern America's most popular president

from Profiles in Courage

“Religions appear to be schismatic technical harangues, corruptions of some original pure Vision”

Jack Kerouac 1922 – 1969 CE
from Some of the Dharma

“When a man finally realizes that he has taken a path without heart, that the path is ready to kill him; at that point, very few men can stop to deliberate, and leave that path.”

Carlos Castaneda 1925 – 1998 CE
from Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge

72. Helpful Fear

“The latent function of schooling, the hidden curriculum, forms individuals into needy people... Our society doesn't only produce artifact things, but artifact people...How did it come about that such a crazy process like schooling would become necessary?... The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring.”

Ivan Illich 1926 – 2002 CE
"an archaeologist of ideas"

“Appeals to the base lusts that hide in everyone no matter how respectable on the surface. Yes, the novelist knows humanity, how worthless they are , ruled by their testicles, swayed by cowardice, selling out every cause because of their greed”

Philip K. Dick 1928 – 1982 CE
Legendary consciousness provocateur
from Man in the High Castle,

“The great setting sun of the West has provided us with beautiful, comfortable conditions for living our life, like central heating, air-conditioning, taxicabs, and numerous other conveniences. But that setting-sun approach has provided us purely with a comfortable way to die.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE

35. The Power of Goodness

“Chinese leaders used 5 strategies to win over ‘barbarians’ into the ‘true civilization:’ luxurious clothes to corrupt their eyes, delicious food to corrupt their mouths, beautiful women and music to corrupt their ears; massive buildings, slaves, and granaries to corrupt their appetites; and finally, wine and feasts to corrupt the minds of their leaders.”

Jack Weatherford 1945 CE –
from Secret History of the Mongol Queens

“In the end, all gods fall victim to their thirst for worship.

Neil Gaiman 1960 CE –
Myth-transmitting creative maelstrom
from American Gods

“The most emotionally corrosive form of regret occurs when we fail to take action on something that matters deeply to us.”

Roman Krznaric c. 1964
Practical, popular, modern philosopher

“the finest thing about betrayal and jealousy—it's ability to generate the intellectual motivation necessary to investigate the hidden sides of others.”

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

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