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.”

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Quotes (56)

“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 c. 2852–2737 BCE via Richard Wilhelm, Hexagram 29
Emperor/shaman progenitor of civilization symbol
from I Ching

Themes: Water Education

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)

Themes: Water Longevity

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

Lao Tzu 老子 604 BCE - 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

“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: Water Wisdom

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: Water Humility

8. Like Water

“Earth’s sweat, the sea.”

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

Themes: Water

“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: Music Water

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

“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: Competition Water

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: Water Non-Thought

“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། 9th Century CE
(“The Courtesan's Brahmin Slave”)
Mahasiddha #31

1. The Unnamed

“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: Water Wu Wei

“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

“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

“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)
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: Water Openness

“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

“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: Water One Taste

“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

“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: Water Humility

36. The Small, Dark Light

“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: Water Letting Go

“Expect poison from the standing water.”

William Blake 1757 – 1827 CE

Themes: Water Evil

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

“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: Hinduism Water

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

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

Themes: Water Meditation

“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

“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

“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

“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: God Water

“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

“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

“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: Water Victory

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

“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

“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

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