Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Weak and humble, powerful and strong, water symbolizes the diversity of human expression, the power of softness and yielding, the impermanence of experience, and the strength of going low instead of striving, Always open and adapting to each new experience, it communicates the wonderful lessons we can learn from nature. As Heshang Gong wrote,“the best people are like water.” Slow Water

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Quotes (79)

“Water reaches its goal by flowing continuously. It fills up every depression before it flows on… So likewise in teaching others everything depends on consistency, for it is only through repetition that the pupil makes the material his own.”

Fu Xi 伏羲 1 via Richard Wilhelm, Hexagram 29
Emperor/shaman progenitor of civilization symbol
from I Ching

Themes: Education Water

78. Water

“Speaking waters touched me from your fountain, the source of life. I swallowed them and was drunk with the water that never dies.”

Solomon 990 – 931 BCE
Magician, exorcist, great prophet of Judaism and Islam
from Odes of Solomon (1st or 2nd century CE)

“The highest form of goodness is like water... In making a move, know how to choose he right moment.”

Lao Tzu 老子 1 via John Wu, chapter 8
from Tao The Ching

8. Like Water

“A sage’s movement is like that of water, his stillness like that of a mirror, his responses like those of an echo.”

Yin Xi 關尹子 536 – 596 BCE via Watson, 1968
Lao Tzu’s first disciple and Taoist patriarch

“The sea is the source of water and the source of wind; for neither would blasts of wind arise in the clouds and blow out from within them, except for the great sea, nor would the streams of rivers nor the rain-water in the sky exist but for the sea; but the great sea is the begetter of clouds and winds and rivers.”

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

Themes: Water

“We are all one, and this one suffers—we must deliver it. If but a single trembling drop of water suffers, I suffer.”

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

Themes: Water

“As the water shapes itself to the vessel that contains it, so a wise man adapts himself to circumstances.”

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

Themes: Wisdom Water

8. Like Water

“The military in its victory avoids the solid and strikes the empty. Thus water determines its movement in accordance with the earth.”

Sun Tzu 孙武 544 – 496 BCE
(Sun Zi)
HIstory's supreme strategist

Themes: Water

30. No War

“the form of the military is like water. Water in its movement avoids the high and hastens to the low. The military in its victory avoids the solid and strikes the empty. The water determines its movement in accordance with the earth. The military determines victory in accordance with the enemy.”

Sun Tzu 孙武 544 – 496 BCE
(Sun Zi)
HIstory's supreme strategist

Themes: Humility Water

8. Like Water

“Earth’s sweat, the sea.”

Empedocles 490 – 430 BCE
"The father of rhetoric"—Aristotle
from On Nature

Themes: Water

“If rulers really promoted them, people would turn to universal love and mutual benefit as naturally as fire tuns upward or water turns downward. Nothing in the world could stop them.”

Mozi 墨子 470 – 391 BCE via Burton Watson, Shan Dao
Chinese personification of Newton, da Vinci, and Jesus
from Universal Love

Themes: Water Love

“Water is for fish and air for men. Natures differ, and needs with them. Hence the wise men of old did not lay down one measure for all.”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 369 – 286 BCE

Themes: Water Belief

61. Lying Low

“The sound of water says what I think.”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 369 – 286 BCE

Themes: Water Music

8. Like Water

“Water – If a drowning man drinks it, he dies. If a thirsty man drinks it, he lives.”

Hán Fēi 韓非 280 – 233 BCE

Themes: Water

8. Like Water

“The best people are like water… empty, clear, and deep…Water can take any shape, and it is never out of touch”

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

Themes: Water

8. Like Water

“Water sleeps, but souls do not.”

Anonymous 1 via Nikos Kazantzakis
Freedom from the narrow boxes defined by personal history
from Rumelian proverb

Themes: Water

“Conflicting emotions, deeds and bodies, actors and results are as castles in the sky, a mirage, an optical illusion and the moon's reflection in water.”

Nagarjuna नागर्जुन 1 via Dudjom Rinpoche
from Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism

Themes: Illusion Water

“Though the bamboo forest is dense, water flows through it freely.”

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

Themes: Water

78. Water

“The nature of water is to stay low, to not struggle, and to take on the shape of its container. Thus nothing is weaker. Yet despite such weakness it can bore through rocks. Rocks, however, cannot wear down water.”

Xuanzong 武隆基 685 – 756 CE
(Hsuan-Tsung or Wu Longji)

Themes: Water Competition

78. Water

“I smile, and am silent, and even my soul remains quiet: it lives in the other world which no one owns.
The peach trees blossom, the water flows.

Li Bai 李白 701 – 762 CE
(Li Bo)

Themes: Non-Thought Water

“A mountain doesn’t have to be high if a saint lives there. Water doesn’t have to be deep if it shelters a dragon. My tiny, simple and shabby room becomes a palace when wisdom reveals itself.”

Liú Yǔxī 刘禹锡 772 – 842 CE via Shan Dao
"Mad old man poet," politician, and philosopher

Themes: Water Simplicity

“Since water can bore through rock and float metal, there is nothing it does not conquer.”

Wang Zhen 809 – 859 CE
from Daodejing Lunbing Yaoyishu, The Tao of War

Themes: Water

78. Water

“Realization is like writing in water.”

Ḍeṅgipa ཌེངྒི་པ། 1
(“The Courtesan's Brahmin Slave”)
Mahasiddha #31

1. The Unnamed

“If the rain has not moistened the crops, then what is the point of placing seeds there?”

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

Themes: Agriculture Water

“When flames consume the mountains and valleys it is too late. If the canals are not built when the water is low, when the floods breach the banks it is too late.”

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

Themes: Water

“It's easy to extinguish a fire when it's small,
You don't even need water.
It's easy to subjugate an enemy when he is small,
You don't even need weapons.”

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

“Into this Universe, and why not knowing,
Nor whence, like Water willy-nilly flowing”

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

from Rubaiyat

Themes: Wu Wei Water

“When the stains from old habits are exhausted the original light appears, blazing through your skull, not admitting any other matters. Vast and spacious, like sky and water merging during autumn, like snow and moon having the same color, this field is without boundary, beyond direction, magnificently one entity without edge or seam.”

Hóngzhì Zhēngjué 宏智正覺 1091 – 1157 CE

54. Planting Well

“The water is clear right down to the bottom, fish lazily swim on. The sky is vast without end, birds fly far into the distance.”

Hóngzhì Zhēngjué 宏智正覺 1091 – 1157 CE via The Acupuncture Needle of Zazen
from Cultivating the Emplty Field

Themes: Equanimity Water

“Rivers of living water are to be poured out over the whole world, to ensure that people, like fishes caught in a net, can be restored to wholeness.”

Hildegard of Bingen 1098 – 1179 CE

Themes: Water

39. Oneness

“As soon as the six senses merge, the gate is entered This unity is like salt in water, like color in dyestuff. The slightest thing is not apart from self.”

Kakuan Shien 廓庵師遠 1100 – 1200 CE
(Kuo-an Shih-yuan, Kuòān Shīyuǎn )
Most popular Ten Bulls artist/poet

from 10 Bulls

Themes: One Taste Water

52. Cultivating the Changeless

“If the believer understood the meaning of the saying 'the color of the water is the color of the receptacle', he would admit the validity of all beliefs and he would recognize God in every form and every object of faith.”

Ibn' Arabi Ibn 'Arabi 1165 – 1240 CE
“the foremost spiritual leader in Muslim history”

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“Be praised my Lord through Sister Water; she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.”

Francis of Assisi 1181 – 1226 CE via Stephen Mitchell
from Canticle of the Sun

Themes: Water

78. Water

“Chop wood, carry water.”

Mumon Ekai 無門慧開 1183 – 1260 CE
(Wumen Huikai)
Pioneering pathfinder to the Gateless Gate

from The Gateless Gate, 無門関, 無門關

34. An Unmoored Boat

“You are water, but in a whirlpool and engulfed; come down among us... we know nothing except singing these songs of unknowingness.”

Rumi مولانا جلال‌الدین محمد بلخی 1207 – 1283 CE via Helminski and Rezwani
(Rumi Mawlānā Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Balkhī)
from Love's Ripening

Themes: Openness Water

“at last the bottom fell out. No more water in the pail, no more moon in the water!”

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)

Themes: Water Moon

“If you pour water into a large vessel and then make a tiny hole in it, though it drips but a little, yet if it goes on steadily leaking, soon there is none left... Therefore the dealers in coffins can never make enough to keep a stock.”

Yoshida Kenkō 兼好 1284 – 1350 CE via Sir George Bailey Sansom
Inspiration of self-reinvention
from Essays in Idleness

“Like water in a mirage, a dream, an echo, a phantom emanation, a reflection, a castle in the air, or a hallucination; all things are clearly apparent yet to not truly exist”

Longchenpa ཀློང་ཆེན་རབ་འབྱམས་པ། 1308 – 1364 CE via Padma Translation Committee
(Longchen Rabjampa, Drimé Özer)
from The Basic Space of Phenomena

Themes: Reality Water

“Buddhas bear the same relation to sentient beings as water does to ice. Ice, like stone or brick, cannot flow. But when it melts it flows freely in conformity with its surroundings. So long as one remains in a state of delusion he is like ice. Upon realization he becomes as exquisitely free as water.”

Bassui Tokushō 抜隊 得勝 1327 – 1387 CE
Meditation master without distraction

“The past resembles the future more than one drop of water resembles another.”

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

Themes: Water

“I laugh when I hear that the fish in the water is thirsty… go where you will… if you do not find your soul, the world will be unreal… Go not elsewhere.”

Kabīr कबीर 1399 – 1448 CE

80. A Golden Age

“The river and its waves are one surf: where is the difference between the river and its waves? When the wave rises, it is the water; and when it falls, it is the same water again. Tell me, Sir, where is the distinction? Because it has been named as wave, shall it no longer be considered as water?”

Kabīr कबीर 1399 – 1448 CE

Themes: One Taste Water

“Iron rusts from disuse, stagnant water loses its purity, and in cold weather becomes frozen; even so does inaction sap the vigors of the mind”

Leonardo da Vinci 1452 – 1519 CE
from Notebooks, c. 1500

“Once things reach their limit, they go the other way… Thus to hide the light means the weak conquer the strong… Deep water is the best place for a fish. But once it is exposed to the air, a fish is completely helpless.”

Deqing 1546 – 1623 CE

Themes: Humility Water

36. The Small, Dark Light

“When the mind is not altered, it is clear. When water is not disturbed, it is transparent.”

Wangchuk Dorje 1556 – 1603 CE via Callahan​
(9th Gyalwa Karmapa)
from Mahamudra: The Ocean of Definitive Meaning

Themes: Wu Wei Water

“Muddy fountain water doesn't get clear from our meddling but from us leaving it alone and likewise, often the best remedy for a disturbance is to let it run its course.”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE via Joseph Jacobs, Shan Dao, chapter #138
from Art of Worldly Wisdom

Themes: Letting Go Water

“Expect poison from the standing water.”

William Blake 1757 – 1827 CE

Themes: Evil Water

24. Unnecessary Baggage

“Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge 1772 – 1834 CE
from Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Themes: Water

“a little water instantly relieves monotony... no matter what objects are near it;—a grey rock, a little grass, a crab-tree or alder bush, a stake,—they instantly become beautiful by being reflected”

Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803 – 1882 CE
Champion of individualism
from Journals and Letters

Themes: Water

“In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita, … in comparison with which our modern world and its literature seem puny and trivial… I lay down the book and go to my well for water, and lo! there I meet the servant of the Bramin, priest of Brahma and Vishnu and Indra… The pure Walden water is mingled with the sacred water of the Ganges.”

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

Themes: Water Hinduism

“Yes, as everyone knows, meditation and water are wedded for ever.”

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

Themes: Meditation Water

“brief phrases which seemed pregnant to him because he had many thoughts lying under them, like the abundant roots of a plant that just manages to peep above the water.”

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

from Middlemarch

Themes: Water Inscrutable

“For all is like an ocean, all flows and connects; touch it in one place and it echoes at the other end of the world.”

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky Фёдор Миха́йлович Достое́вский 1821 – 1881 CE
from Brothers Karamatzov

“The essence of this motif is the mirror of water, whose appearance alters at every moment.”

Claude Monet 1840 – 1926 CE
"the driving force behind Impressionism"

Themes: Water

“This expanse of water was an inconceivable pleasure to me, an incomparable splendor... without water, I thought, nobody could live at all.”

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

Themes: Water

“Man at his best, like water… loves living close to the earth, living clear down in his heart.”

Witter Bynner 1881 – 1968 CE
(Emanuel Morgan)

Themes: Water Virtue

8. Like Water

“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.”

A.A. Milne 1882 – 1956 CE
(Alan Alexander Milne)
from Winnie the Pooh

Themes: Water Patience

15. Inscrutability

“It is the empty pitcher that makes a noise when you knock upon it, but the pitcher which is full of water does not make any sound; it is silent, speechless.”

Inayat Khan 1882 – 1927 CE

Themes: Water

56. One with the Dust

“While theistic religions are based on authority and dogma, non-theistic religions like Taoism and Buddhism are based on self-responsibility and universality. The highest good is found n the lowest places; therefore it is compared to water.”

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

from Inner Structure of the I Ching

“I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins. My soul has grown deep like the rivers.”

Langston Hughes 1901 – 1967 CE
Pioneering elevator of Black culture

Themes: Water God

“land, water, air, the earth and what lies beneath its surface cannot be owned as someone’s private property. That belongs to everybody, and if man wants to survive, he had better come around to this Indian point of view, the sooner the better, because there isn’t much time left to think it over.”

John Fire Lame Deer 1903 – 1976 CE via Richard Erdoes
from Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions

Themes: Water

53. Shameless Thieves

“Whenever Dogen-zenji dipped water from the river, he used only half a dipperful, returning the rest to the river again… when we are one with the water, we intuitively do it in Dogen’s way.”

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

Themes: Water

56. One with the Dust

“Making love with you
Is like drinking sea water.
The more I drink
The thirstier I become,
Until nothing can slake my thirst
But to drink the entire sea.”

Kenneth Rexroth 1905 – 1982 CE
"Father of the Beats”

Themes: Water Sex

“Water symbolizes the whole of potentiality—the source of all possible existence.”

Mircea Eliade 1907 – 1986 CE

Themes: Water

“One thing about which fish know exactly nothing is water.”

Marshall McLuhan 1911 – 1980 CE via Jerome Agel
from War and Peace in the Global Village

Themes: Water

36. The Small, Dark Light

“water—often piped in from hundreds of miles away—is sprayed over the fields with sprinklers. When it evaporates, it draws salt up from within the soil and this continuous deposition of salt in the topsoil eventually turns the irrigated land into a salt field.”

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

Themes: Water

“If you are drilling for water, it's better to drill one 60-foot well than ten 6-foot wells.”

Huston Smith 1919 – 2016 CE

“Because you flow like water, you can neither win nor lose.”

Timothy Leary 1920 – 1996 CE
Pioneering psychonaut, performing philosopher, and counter-cultural hero
from Tao Te Ching – Psychedelic Prayers

Themes: Victory Water

8. Like Water

“Our mind is like a clear glass of water. If we put salt into water, it becomes salt water; sugar, it becomes sugar water, shit, it becomes shit water. But originally the water is clear.”

Seungsahn 숭산행원대선사 1927 – 2004 CE
(Soen Sa Nim)

78. Water

“Until you dig a hole, you plant a tree, you water it and make it survive, you haven’t done a thing. You are just talking.”

Maya Angelou 1928 – 2014 CE

“A woman in harmony with her spirit is like a river flowing. She goes where she will without pretense and arrives at her destination prepared to be herself and only herself.”

Maya Angelou 1928 – 2014 CE

“The simplicity or singleness of the Way is that of water which always rejoins itself.”

Ursula Le Guin 1929 – 2018 CE

Themes: Simplicity Water

8. Like Water

“I follow the sound of water... it all comes to me when I look at what is”

Gesshin Myoko Roshi 1931 – 1999 CE
Moon heart miraculous light
from A Sudden Flash of Lightening: Words Out of Silence

Themes: Water

“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

“It was like a water experience in the sense that when you go to meet someone, if you can still the water, the reflection appears.”

Jakusho Kwong 1935 CE –
from Mind Following Breath

Themes: Equanimity Water

“Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup,
They slither wildly as they slip away across the universe.”

John Lennon 1940 – 1980 CE

Themes: Water

56. One with the Dust

“Civilization has been a permanent dialogue between human beings and water.”

Paulo Lugari 1944 CE –

“In the abundance of water only the fool is thirsty.”

Bob Marley 1945 – 1981 CE

Themes: Water

9. Know When to Stop

“If we do not create a story around the wave [ emotions, desires, and aversions ], then we have empty water dissolving into empty ocean... Emotions themselves are not the problem. It's how we relate to them.”

Mingyur Rinpoche 1975 CE –
Modern-day Mahasiddha

from In Love With the World

Themes: Water

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