Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Mythology’s Cyclops represents the one-eyed view of true-believing fanaticism, of fixation on one point of view while ignoring the larger reality. As the Yin-Yang symbol of Taoism portrays, every situation, experience, and person has a positive and a negative, a multiplicity of factors, influences, and qualities. Santayana’s definition of fanaticism as "redoubling your effort after you've forgotten your aim” led to the character Wile E. Coyote in the Road Runner cartoons. Perhaps the appeal of the Wile E. Coyote image rises from the similarity of his motivation and results to so much of what we see in our personal, political, religious, and economic environments.

Fanaticism, however, may also have an evolutionary imperative, a subtle but important value. Birds sing the same songs over and over, generation to generation. As a force of evolutionary conservatism most animals have a narrow range of sounds narrowly repeated again and again. Humans feel independent and unique yet like most animal species, think and repeat the same thoughts and beliefs as their parents, their ancestors, and name this their cultures. Evolutionary change makers however say something new and as a consequence must face antipathy and often persecution from the herd committed to the status quo, against change, and afraid of any new notes.

This inherited culture becomes both a building block enabling us to see farther, innovate beyond, and further evolve as well as a conceptual chain that prevents us from going beyond. Wanting approval and appreciation easily becomes a strong chain in the herd instinct dynamic, something noticeably diminished in the lives of history-changing innovators. Studying and learning from different cultures, from different historical biographies, and from different wisdom traditions help break these golden chains that ensnare us to the words over the sense, to delusion over reality, to an insipid life in the herd instead of the creative awakening of open mind.

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Quotes (47)

“As long as you remain in one extreme or another, you will never know Oneness.”

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

Themes: Fanaticism

“Seeing that the living are soft and the dead are hard, we can infer that those whose virtue is hard and those whose actions are forceful die before their time, while those who are soft and weak are able to preserver their lives.”

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

Themes: Fanaticism

76. The Soft and Flexible

“Atheism and fanaticism are two monsters which may tear society to pieces; but the atheist preserves his reason which checks his propensity to mischief while the fanatic is under the influence of a madness which is constantly urging him on”

Voltaire, François-Marie Arouet 1694 – 1778 CE

“Tell me if there have been peoples other than the Christians and the Jews in whom zeal and religion wretchedly transformed into fanaticism, have inspired so many horrible cruelties…. Yes, the Mohammedans… As for the other nations there has not been one right from the existence of the world which has ever made a purely religious war.”

Voltaire, François-Marie Arouet 1694 – 1778 CE
from Philosophical Dictionary

“Atheism and fanaticism are two monsters which may tear society to pieces; but the atheist preserves his reason which checks his propensity to mischief while the fanatic is under the influence of a madness which is constantly urging him on”

Voltaire, François-Marie Arouet 1694 – 1778 CE

“In the affairs of this world, men are saved not by Faith,but by the lack of it.”

Benjamin Franklin 1706 – 1790 CE
from Poor Richard's Almanack

“From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step.”

Diderot 1713 – 1784 CE
from Encyclopédie

“The more narrow-minded a system is the more it will please worldly-wise people.”

Novalis 1772 – 1831 CE

Themes: Fanaticism

41. Distilled Life

“Those who will not reason, are bigots, those who cannot, are fools, and those who dare not, are slaves.”

Lord Byron 1788 – 1824 CE
(George Gordon Byron)
The first rock-star style celebrity

Themes: Fanaticism

“Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough; there needs protection also against the tyranny of prevailing opinion; against the tendency of society to impose its own... rules of conduct on those who dissent from them”

John Stuart Mill 1806 – 1873 CE
from On Liberty (1859)​

“Credulity is always greatest in times of calamity. Prophecies of all sorts are rife on such occasions, and are readily believed.”

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

Themes: Fanaticism Belief

38. Fruit Over Flowers

“But when a man's religion becomes really fanatic; when it is a positive torment to him; and, in fine, makes this earth of our an uncomfortable inn to lodge in; then I think it high time to take that individual aside and argue the point with him.”

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

“Extremes are alone logical, but they are always absurd... Reason betrays men into the drawing of hard and fast lines... there is hardly an error into which men may not easily be led if they base their conduct upon reason only... reason uncorrected by instinct is as bad as instinct uncorrected by reason.”

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

Themes: Fanaticism Reason

“A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”

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

Themes: Fanaticism Reason

“Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies.”

Friedrich Nietzsche 1844 – 1900 CE
from The Portable Nietzsche, 1954

Themes: Fanaticism Belief

“An editor must have a purpose. ... What a legacy for one's conscience to know that one has been instrumental in mowing down the old prejudices that rattle in the wind like weeds.”

Joel Chandler Harris 1848 – 1908 CE

“It is not disbelief that is dangerous in our society: it is belief.”

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

Themes: Fanaticism Belief

“We must eliminate the fanatic devotion to exalted ideals of national egoism and pride”

Nikola Tesla Никола Тесла 1856 – 1943 CE

“He that is slow to believe anything and everything is of great understanding, for belief in one false principle, is the beginning of all unwisdom.”

Arthur Desmond 1859 – 1929 CE
from Might Is Right

Themes: Fanaticism Belief

2. The Wordless Teachings

“Religious fanaticism, unlimited competition, and war are the murderers of freedom. Though they win victories, we now know that they end in suicide.”

Dean Inge 1860 – 1954 CE
Christian mystic and philosopher
from The Modern Churchman

“Fanaticism consists in redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim.”

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

“Conscious faith is freedom. Emotional faith is slavery. Mechanical faith is foolishness.”

G. I. Gurdjieff 1866 – 1949 CE

38. Fruit Over Flowers

“When the mind withdraws into itself and dispenses with facts it makes only chaos.”

Edith Hamilton 1867 – 1963 CE

“The one thing more difficult that following a regimen is not imposing it on others.”

Marcel Proust 1871 – 1922 CE
Apostle of Ordinary Mind

Themes: Fanaticism

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.”

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

“A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject.”

Winston Churchill 1874 – 1965 CE

Themes: Fanaticism

18. The Sick Society

“Our true religion is a monotheism of consciousness, a possession by it, with a fanatical denial of the existence of autonomous partial-systems… This leads to collective delusions, instigations to war and revolution, in a word, to destructive mass psychoses… this narrowness of consciousness is always the shortest way to the insane asylum.”

Carl Jung 1875 – 1961 CE
Insightful shamanistic scientist

31. Victory Funeral

“opposites always balance on the scales – a sign of high culture. One-sidedness, though it lends momentum, is a mark of barbarism.”

Carl Jung 1875 – 1961 CE
Insightful shamanistic scientist
from Secret of the Golden Flower 太乙金華宗旨; Tàiyǐ Jīnhuá Zōngzhǐ

2. The Wordless Teachings

“The mission of Hafiz was to express to a fanatical religious world that the presence of God is not to be found only in heaven, but also here on earth.”

Inayat Khan 1882 – 1927 CE

Themes: Fanaticism

“This state of 'no-mind' exists on a knife-edge between the carelessness of the average sensual man and the strained over-eagerness of the zealot for salvation.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE
from Perennial Philosophy

Themes: Fanaticism

“The best of the most atrocious, zeal is always intoxicating. A world without zeal would be a world deprived of many simple but savage pleasures: but at least half its present excuses for interfering and bullying would have been taken away from it.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE
from Erewhon, Introduction

Themes: Fanaticism

“The reiteration of slogans, the distortion of the news, the great storm of propaganda that beats upon us 24 hours a day mean either that democracy must fall a prey to the loudest and most persistent propagandists or that the people must save themselves by strengthening their minds so that they can appraise the issues for themselves.”

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

Themes: Fanaticism Reason

“Orthodoxy means not thinking—not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.”

George Orwell 1903 – 1950 CE
English, poet, humanist, apostle of doubt, and powerful political influence
from Nineteen Eighty Four

Themes: Fanaticism Reason

“The cause of conflict is some fixed or one-sided idea… there is not particular way in true practice. You should find your own way”

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi 1904 – 1971 CE via Trudy Dixon
from Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

“Passion is by no means the fuller life which it seems to be in the dreams of adolescence, but is on the contrary a kind of naked and denuding intensity, verily, a bitter destitution, the impoverishment of a mind being emptied of all diversity, an obsession of the imagination by a single image.”

Denys de Rougemont 1906 – 1985 CE
Non-conformist leader, influential cultural theorist

Themes: Fanaticism

“Two ideas are psychologically deep-rooted in man: self-protection and self-preservation. For self-protection man has created God, on whom he depends for his own protection, safety and security, just as a child depends on its parent. For self-preservation man has conceived the idea of an immortal Soul or Atman, which will live eternally. In his ignorance, weakness, fear, and desire, man needs these two things to console himself. Hence he clings to them deeply and fanatically.”

Walpola Rahula Thero 1907 – 1997 CE
“Supreme Master of Buddhist Scriptures”

Themes: Fanaticism God

“Every time we are confronted with a new revolution we take to the opium pipes of our own propaganda (1963).”

I. F. Stone 1907 – 1989 CE
One of the greatest 20th century reporters
from I.F. Stone's Weekly

“Truth needs no label: it is neither Buddhist, Christian, Hindu nor Moslem. It is not the monopoly of anybody. Sectarian labels are a hindrance to the independent understanding of Truth, and they produce harmful prejudices in men's minds.”

Walpola Rahula Thero 1907 – 1997 CE
“Supreme Master of Buddhist Scriptures”

Themes: Fanaticism Truth

“There is no way of thought so experimental, and no philosopher so tentative that his suggestions cannot be frozen into a dogma by self-seeking disciples.”

Daniel J. Boorstin 1914 – 2004 CE
American intellectual Paul Revere
from The Creators: A History of Heroes of the Imagination, 1992

Themes: Fanaticism

“It is when we insist most firmly on everyone else being 'reasonable' that we become ourselves, unreasonable.”

Thomas Merton 1915 – 1968 CE
from The Way of Chuang Tzu

Themes: Fanaticism

“remember that not so many years ago men were burned at the stake just for saying the earth went round the sun!”

James Clavell 1921 – 1994 CE
Fictionalizing and fictional historian
from Tai-Pan, 1966

Themes: Fanaticism

“that cold but somehow enthusiastic look, as if he believed in nothing and yet somehow had absolute faith. They’re not idealists; they’re cynics with utter faith. It’s a sort of brain defect, like a lobotomy—that maiming those German psychiatrists do as a poor substitute for psychotherapy.”

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

“to continue to see a race of people, any race of people as one single personality is an ignorance of gothic proportions, an ignorance so vast, so public, and perception so blind and so blunted, imagination so bleak that no nuance, no subtlety, no difference among them can be ascertained.”

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

Themes: Fanaticism

“Look into every situation and examine it, so that you won’t be fooling yourself by relying on belief alone. Instead, you want to make a personal discovery of reality through your own intelligence and ability.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE
from Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior

Themes: Fanaticism Belief

71. Sick of Sickness

“if anyone, even the writer, tells you that something only means one thing, they are ALWAYS wrong. Because nothing only means one thing.”

Neil Gaiman 1960 CE –
Myth-transmitting creative maelstrom

Themes: Fanaticism

“everyone just wants to be happy. The truly sad thing is that most people seek happiness in ways that actually sabotage their attempts. If we could see the whole truth of any situation, our only response would be one of compassion.”

Mingyur Rinpoche 1975 CE –
Modern-day Mahasiddha

from Joy of Living, 2007

“The differences between heresy on the one hand and infidelity, schism, and apostasy on the other suggest that heresy as a Christian concept is necessarily intrasystemic in reference, distinctly doctrinal in orientation an must be an exclusively ecclesiastical determination which on the church has the authority to establish”

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)

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  1. Shan Dao
    Disappointment, poverty, suffering, and despair create a fertile planting mix for religious and political extremism. The more desperation people find themselves in, the more welcoming they become to promises of salvation. The more degraded the conditions we find ourselves here on earth, the more appeal we have for visions of heavenly perfection. Perhaps having the most vivid and pleasurable description of heavenly bliss described by a political or religious dogma; the more attractive to poverty-stricken, despairing populations. This could explain the rapid growth and power of the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages, of Islamic extremism in today’s world.