Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Immortality

On one hand, we fear death and hope for immortality. On the other, we have a sense that only other people will die; or, if we accept our own demise, it's usually too far off in the future to worry about. On the desire for immortality side, it seems always only based on a confused and distorted sense of self. In their search for this unexamined quality, powerful rulers build monuments, pyramids, libraries. Politicians, scientists, artists, business people look for immortality in legacies and fame. The wise throughout history have recognized the inherent immortality of our true selves, of our collective consciousness, of mind's authentic nature.

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Quotes (90)

“Of all the world’s wonders which is the most wonderful? That no man, though he sees others dying all around him, believe that he himself will die.”

Vyasa व्यास 1
Hindu immortals, Vishnu avatar, 5th incarnation of Brahma
from Mahābhārata महाभारतम्

24. Unnecessary Baggage

“Death is only the beginning...”

Imhotep 2650 – 2600 BCE
First Western architect, engineer and physician

24. Unnecessary Baggage

“When gods alike and mortals rose to birth,
A golden race th' immortals for'd on earth
Of many-languaged men: they lived of old
When Saturn reign'd in heaven, an age of gold.”

Hesiod 846 – 777 BCE
“History’s first economist”
from Works and Days

“Love is stronger than death.”

O​rpheus /ˈɔːrfiəs 1
"Greatest poet and musician of all time"

“The body comes to its ending but nothing dies.”

Lao Tzu 老子 1 via Shan Dao, chapter #16
(Lǎozǐ)
from Tao Te Ching 道德经 Dàodéjīng

“Our bodies disappear but the eternal present goes on and on.”

Lao Tzu 老子 1 via Shan Dao, chapter #33
(Lǎozǐ)
from Tao Te Ching 道德经 Dàodéjīng

“Genuineness is the path of immortality, thoughtlessness the path of death.”

Buddha गौतम बुद्ध 563 – 483 BCE via Shan Dao
(Siddhartha Shakyamuni Gautama)
Awakened Truth
from Dhammapada धम्मपद

“We refer to it as life and death, but there is no life or death.”

Buddha गौतम बुद्ध 563 – 483 BCE via Stephen H. Wolinsky
(Siddhartha Shakyamuni Gautama)
Awakened Truth
from Diamond Sutra

“How could what is real end? How could it have been created? For if it came into being, it would have had to come from nothing. But nothing is not. Therefore there is no birth or death.”

Parmenides 540 – 450 BCE via Shan Dao
Grandfather of Western philosophy
from On Nature

6. The Source

“Mortals are immortals, and immortals are mortals, the one living the other's death and dying the other's life.”

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

“Seek not, my soul, the life of the immortals; but enjoy to the full the resources that are within thy reach.”

Pindar Πίνδαρος 522 – 443 BCE
Archetype of poetry

“Who knoweth if to die be but to live, and that called life by mortals be but death?”

Euripides 480 – 406 BCE
Ancient humanitarian influence continuing today

24. Unnecessary Baggage

“Of all our possessions, wisdom alone is immortal.”

Isocrates Ἰσοκράτης 436 – 338 BCE
from Ad Demonicum

“Of all the things that wisdom provides for the happiness of the whole life, by far the most important is friendship... the chief concerns of the right-minded person are wisdom and friendship of which the former is a mortal benefit, the latter an immortal one.”

Epicurus ɛpɪˈkjɔːrəs 341 – 270 BCE via Diogenes Laërtius
Western Buddha
from Maxims

“Death does not concern us, because as long as we exist, death is not here. And when it does come, we no longer exist”

Epicurus ɛpɪˈkjɔːrəs 341 – 270 BCE
Western Buddha
from On Nature

Themes: Immortality

39. Oneness

“A good man never dies.”

Callimachus Καλλίμαχος 310 – 240 BCE

39. Oneness

“My poem is done, I laugh and my delight is vaster than the sea.
Oh deathless poetry! The songs of Chu-ping are ever glorious as the sun and moon.
While the palaces and towers of the Chu kings have vanished from the hills.”

Li Bai 李白 701 – 762 CE
(Li Bo)

“In comparison with Heaven and Earth, man is like a mayfly. But compared to the Great Meaning, Heaven and Earth, too, are like a bubble and a shadow. Only the primordial spirit and the true essence overcome time and space.”

Lü Dongbin 呂洞賓 1
(Lü Tung-Pin)

from Secret of the Golden Flower 太乙金華宗旨; Tàiyǐ Jīnhuá Zōngzhǐ

“I shall not die, these seeds I've sown will save
My name and reputation from the grave,
And men of sense and wisdom will proclaim,
When I have gone, my praises and my fame.”

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

“There is perfect harmony in realizing the nature of every experience but only with the vision of ultimate reality can you drink the elixir of immortality and be truly alive.”

Vyālipa བྱཱ་ལི་པ། 1 via Keith Dowman
("The Courtesan's Alchemist")
Mahasiddha #84

“Plan for this world as if you expect to live forever; but plan for the hereafter as if you expect to die tomorrow.”

Solomon ibn Gabirol שלמה בן יהודה אבן גבירול 1021 – 1070 CE via Ascher
(Avicebron)
from Choice of Pearls

“Those who possess the Way are like children. They come of age without growing old.”

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

55. Forever Young

“Though man is not an immortal animal, like the universe, he is nonetheless reasonable, and with his intelligence, his imagination and his soul, he can act upon and transform the whole world.”

Agrippa 1486 – 1535 CE via Kurt Seligmann
(Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim)
Historian of the occult and early, important influence on science
from Three Books of Occult Philosophy or Magic

“As long as art lives, never shall I accept that men are truly dead.”

Giorgio Vasari dʒordʒo vaˈzaːri 1511 – 1574 CE

“We trouble our life by thoughts about death, and our death by thoughts about life.”

Montaigne 1533 – 1592 CE
Grandfather of the Enlightenment

Themes: Immortality

15. Inscrutability

“I will never be an old man. To me old age is always 15 years older than I am.”

Francis Bacon 1561 – 1626 CE

76. The Soft and Flexible

“Death, be not proud, though some have called thee mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so… And Death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.”

John Donne 1572 – 1631 CE

Themes: Immortality

39. Oneness

“We never came into being and we never go out of being. All of these coming and goings are just pulses in the pattern.

Bankei 盤珪永琢 1622 – 1693 CE
(Bankei Yōtaku)

24. Unnecessary Baggage

“Whatever the poets pretend, it is plain they give immortality to none but themselves; it is Homer and Virgil we reverence and admire, not Achilles or Aeneas. With historians it is quite the contrary; our thoughts are taken up with the actions, persons, and events we read, and we little regard the authors.”

Jonathan Swift 1667 – 1745 CE
"Foremost prose satirist in the English language"

from Thoughts on Various Subjects (1703)

Themes: Immortality

“The divine Anaxagoras who had altars erected to him for teaching men that the sun was bigger than the Peloponnessus, that snow was black, that the sky was of stone, affirmed that the soul sas an aerial spirit, though immortal.”

Voltaire, François-Marie Arouet 1694 – 1778 CE via Naves
from Philosophical Letters (1730)

Themes: Immortality

“The divine Plato, master of the divine Aristotle, and the divine Socrates, master of the divine Plato, said that the soul was at the same time corporeal and eternal.”

Voltaire, François-Marie Arouet 1694 – 1778 CE via Naves
from Philosophical Letters (1730)

Themes: Immortality

“As for the exterior religion of buddhism, the principal point of its doctrine is that the souls of men and of animals are immortal; that they are originally of the same substanace, and they they differ only according to the different bodies they animate”

Diderot 1713 – 1784 CE
from Encyclopédie

“Rest not - life is sweeping by
Go and dare before you die.
Something mighty and sublime,
leave behind to conquer time.”

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 1749 – 1832 CE

70. Inscrutable

“It appears to me impossible that I should cease to exist, or that this active, restless spirit, equally alive to joy and sorrow, should only be organized dust—ready to fly abroad the moment the spring snaps, or the spark goes out, which kept it together. Surely something resides in this heart that is not perishable”

Mary Wollstonecraft 1759 – 1797 CE
Seminal feminist

“When a noble life welcomes old age, it is not the decline that it reveals, but the first days of immortality… imagination pictures beyond the horizon an asylum of hope—a native land of love; and nature seems silently to repeat that man is immortal.”

Madame de Staël 1766 – 1817 CE
(Anne Louise Germaine de Staël-Holstein)
"The greatest woman of her time"

“Dust as we are, the immortal spirit grows like harmony in music; there is a dark inscrutable workmanship that reconciles discordant elements, makes them cling together In one society.”

William Wordsworth 1770 – 1850 CE

“Poetry is the first and last of all knowledge - it is as immortal as the heart of man.”

William Wordsworth 1770 – 1850 CE

2. The Wordless Teachings

“Love turns, with a little indulgence, to indifference or disgust; hatred alone is immortal.”

William Hazlitt 1778 – 1830 CE
One of the English languages best art and literature critics of all time

from The Plain Speaker (1826)

Themes: Immortality Hate

“To desire immortality is to desire the perpetuation of a great mistake.”

Arthur Schopenhauer 1788 – 1860 CE
from The World as Will and Idea, 1819

“The more clearly you become conscious of the frailty, vanity, and dream-like quality of all things, the more clearly will you also become conscious of the eternity of your own inner being”

Arthur Schopenhauer 1788 – 1860 CE via R. J. Hollingdale
from Parerga and Paralipomena, "Appendices" and "Omissions"

Themes: Immortality Dream

“In its explanation of the origin of the world, Judaism is inferior to any other form of religious doctrine professed by a civilized nation, it is the only one which presents no trace whatever of any belief in the immortality of the soul.”

Arthur Schopenhauer 1788 – 1860 CE
from The World as Will and Idea (1819)

“Homer embodied the ideal perfection of his age in human character; nor can we doubt that those who read his verses were awakened to an ambition of becoming like to Achilles, Hector, and Ulysses: the truth and beauty of friendship, patriotism, and persevering devotion to an object, were unveiled to the depths in these immortal creations.”

Percy Bysshe Shelley 1792 – 1822 CE
from A Defence of Poetry (1821)​

Themes: Immortality

“I feared, loved, suffered did, and died…
If I have been extinguished, yet there arise
A thousand beacons from the spark I bore
The great, the unforgotten: they who wore
Signs of thought’s empire over thought; their lore”

Percy Bysshe Shelley 1792 – 1822 CE via Shan Dao, editor
from Triumph of Life

“He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness... A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803 – 1882 CE
Champion of individualism
from Self-Reliance

“The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins”

Edgar Allan Poe Edgar Allen Poe 1809 – 1849 CE

“I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.”

Walt Whitman 1819 – 1892 CE
Premier "poet of democracy" and model for Dracula
from Song of Myself, Part 52

“by combining science with religion, the existence of God and immortality of man's spirit may be demonstrated.”

Blavatsky, Helena Еле́на Петро́вна Блава́тская 1831 – 1891 CE
Co-founder of Theosophy
from Isis Unveiled

“The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed; and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other people have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?”

Mark Twain 1835 – 1910 CE
(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)
America’s most famous author
from Concerning The Jews (1899)

“The history of our race, and each individual’s experience, are sown thick with evidence that a truth is not hard to kill and that a lie told well is immortal.”

Mark Twain 1835 – 1910 CE
(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)
America’s most famous author

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“[belief in] the immortality of the soul... was immoral... it would distract men's minds from the perfecting of this world's economy, and was an impatient cutting of the Gordian knot of life's problems”

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

“The greatest use of life is to spend it on something that will outlast it.”

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

“We must die to one life before we can enter another.”

Anatole France 1844 – 1924 CE
(Jacques Anatole Thibault)

24. Unnecessary Baggage

“If you want to realize immortality you must realize the deathless nature of your mind.”

Jetsun Rinpoche, Shugsep ལོ་ཆེན་ཆོས་ཉིད་བཟང་མོ། 1852 – 1953 CE

“No one wins his greatest fame in that to which he has given most of his time; it's the side issue, the thing he does for recreation, his heart's play-spell that gives him immortality.”

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

Themes: Immortality Fame

“In endowing us with memory, nature has revealed to us a truth utterly unimaginable to the collective creation—the truth of immortality.”

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

“No matter what I did, I don't regret it... I did this, that, and the other thing in my life, yet I did very little, Men like me should live a thousand years. Good night!”

Georgios Zorbas Γεώργιoς Ζορμπάς 1865 – 1941 CE
(Alexis Zorba)
"Zorba the Greek"

from Letter on deathbed to Nikos Kazantzakis

“I always act as though I were immortal.”

Georgios Zorbas Γεώργιoς Ζορμπάς 1865 – 1941 CE via Nikos Kazantzakis
(Alexis Zorba)
"Zorba the Greek"

“Michelangelo discovered that the essence of his genius was drawn toward sculpture with an irresistible force… if painting has immortalized him, it is in spite of himself. He never wished to be considered as anything but a sculptor.”

Romain Rolland 1866 – 1944 CE
“The moral consciousness of Europe”
from Michelangelo, 1900

Themes: Immortality

“Buddha called men to self-forgetfulness five hundred years before Christ. In some ways he was near to us and our needs. Buddha was more lucid upon our individual importance in service than Christ, and less ambiguous upon the question of personal immortality... You see clearly a man, simple, devout, lonely, battling for light, a vivid human personality, not a myth.”

H. G. Wells 1866 – 1946 CE
A father of science fiction and One World Government apostle
from Outline of History

Themes: Immortality

“I came to the Greeks early and I found answers in them. Greece's great men let all their acts turn on the immortality of the soul. We don't really act as if we believed in the soul's immortality and that's why we are where we are today.”

Edith Hamilton 1867 – 1963 CE
from The Echo of Greece, 1957

Themes: Immortality

“[Wollstonecraft's] writing, arguments, and experiments in living are immortal: she is alive and active, she argues and experiments, we hear her voice and trace her influence even now among the living.”

Virginia Woolf 1882 – 1941 CE

Themes: Immortality

“Beauty is life when life unveils her holy face... eternity gazing at itself in a mirror... you are eternity and you are the mirror.”

Kahlil Gibran 1883 – 1931 CE
from The Prophet

“man's lofty toil transgresses the inhuman laws of eternity. Thus our life and our endeavors acquire a tragic, heroic intensity. We have but a single moment at our disposal. Let us transform that moment into eternity. No other form of immortality exists.”

Nikos Kazantzakis 1883 – 1957 CE
from Report to Greco

“Separately, we die one by one, but all together we are immortal.”

Nikos Kazantzakis 1883 – 1957 CE
from Report to Greco

“My soul suddenly longed to transcend its destiny, breathe free air, and become a bird—for a flash only, as long as it could endure. But that was enough; this flash was eternity. That is the meaning of eternity.”

Nikos Kazantzakis 1883 – 1957 CE
from Report to Greco

“For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun? And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.”

Kahlil Gibran 1883 – 1931 CE
from The Prophet

50. Claws and Swords

“I am quite content with mortality; I should be appalled at the thought of living forever, in whatever paradise... We must make room for our children.”

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

Themes: Immortality

“Life is that which can hold a purpose for three thousand years and never yield. The individual fails, but life succeeds. The individual is foolish, but life holds in its blood and seed the wisdom of generations. The individual dies, but life, tireless and undiscourageble, goes on, wondering, longing, planning, trying, mounting, longing.”

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

“Religions are born and may die, but superstition is immortal.”

Will (and Ariel) Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
from The Age of Reason Begins

Themes: Immortality

“To run true to type is the extinction of a man, his condemnation to death. If he cannot be assigned to a category... half of what is needed is there. He is free from himself, he has acquired an atom of immortality.”

Boris Pasternak Бори́с Леони́дович Пастерна́к 1890 – 1960 CE
Russia's greatest poet
from Doctor Zhivago (1957)

“not based on the overcoming of time, but on the identification with the creative power of every moment… through participation in consciousness, the individual may become an organic part of a greater whole, and thus achieve immortality within that whole”

Dane Rudhyar 1895 – 1985 CE
( Daniel Chennevière)
Agent of cultural evolution
from Astrology of Personality, 1936

“I believe in the immortality of works, of the influence of all we do and all we say... the immortality of the race... Franklin is immortal today in the lightening rod and the stove he produced, in the American postal service, the American Philosophical Society, even in the very Republic of the United States itself. Thomas Edison lives for me every time I turn on a switch or watch a movie... Luther Burbank every time I eat a Burbank pear. The Wright Brothers live every time an airplane flies. Is this not enough, O discontented Man?”

Lín Yǔtáng 林語堂 1895 – 1976 CE
from On the Wisdom of America, 1950

Themes: Immortality

“It is our higher aspirations that make us immortal—not the permanence of an immutable separate soul, whose very sameness would exclude us from life and growth and from the infinite adventure of the spirit and condemn us forever to the prison of our own limitations.”

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

“We are mortal as long as we fear death, but we become immortal as soon as we do not identify ourselves with the confines of our present personality and yield to the eternal rhythm of the universe in which we live.”

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

from Inner Structure of the I Ching

“No one is anyone, one single immortal man is all men.”

Jorge Luis Borges 1899 – 1986 CE
Literary Explorer of Labyrinthian Dreams, Mirrors, and Mythologies

“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”

“You don't get old from age, you get old from inactivity, from not believing in something.”

Jack LaLanne 1914 – 2011 CE

Themes: Immortality

“You don't try. That's very important: not to try, either for Cadillacs, creation or immortality. You wait, and if nothing happens, you wait some more.”

Charles Bukowski 1920 – 1994 CE
"Laureate of American lowlife”

57. Wu Wei

“The universe will never be extinguished because just when the darkness seems to have smothered all, the new seeds of light are reborn in the very depths. That is the Way. When the seed falls, it falls into the earth, into the soil. And beneath, out of sight, it comes to life.”

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

“Life is short. Art, or something not life, is long, stretching out endless, like a concrete worm. Flat, white, unsmoothed by any passage over or across it.”

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

Themes: Immortality Art

“What is eternal is forever young, never grows old…The Way never fails. We are waves. It is the sea.”

Ursula Le Guin 1929 – 2018 CE

55. Forever Young

“Lao Tzu is not saying that immortality or even longevity is desirable. The religion called Taoism has spent much imagination on ways to prolong life interminably or gain immortality… but the Lao Tzu who wrote this had no truck with such notions.”

Ursula Le Guin 1929 – 2018 CE

33. Know Yourself

“It was not merely the souls of the Egyptian pharaohs that passed on into the afterlife but their complete offices and roles, along with all the tangible reminders of their earthly triumphs--including servants put to death.”

James P. Carse 1932 – 2020 CE
Thought-proving, influential, deep thinker
from Finite and Infinite Games

Themes: Immortality

“Immortality is the state of forgetting that we have forgotten... serious and in no way playful... a state of unrelieved theatricality... the supreme example of the contradictoriness of finite play. It is a life one cannot live.”

James P. Carse 1932 – 2020 CE
Thought-proving, influential, deep thinker
from Finite and Infinite Games

“I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it by not dying.”

Woody Allen 1935 CE –

Themes: Immortality

“Grandson of the first Han emperor, [Huainanzi] was a devoted Daoist. Although his search for the elixir of immortality was prematurely interrupted when he was accused of plotting to seize the throne and was forced to commit suicide.”

Red Pine 1943 CE –
( Bill Porter)
Exceptional translator, cultural diplomat
from Lao-Tzu's Taoteching

Themes: Immortality

“The Iliad of Homer... one of the most deeply religious books ever composed... is an enduring statement of the living tradition of polytheism. Immortal and powerful, the gods of Homer are nonetheless strikingly human in their greed, arrogance, jealously, and promiscuity. However, far from being simplistic or childish, the gods of Homer are testimony to a profound effort to understand the meaning of life.”

J. Rufus Fears 1945 – 2012 CE
from Books That Made History

“Our unexamined sense of immortality teams up with the 8 mundane concerns to shape a working hypothesis that death is so far in the future that it is functionally irrelevant.”

B. Alan Wallace 1950 CE –
(Bruce Alan Wallace)
from Buddhism with an Attitude

“The only potentially immortal organic entity is a gene — or, strictly speaking, the pattern of information encoded in the gene, since the physical gene itself will pass away after conveying the pattern through replication”

Robert Wright 1957 CE –
from Moral Animal — Why we are the Way we Are

Themes: Immortality

“In spite of your fears, no matter what happens to your physical body, your true nature is essentially indestructible.”

Mingyur Rinpoche 1975 CE –
Modern-day Mahasiddha

from Joy of Living, 2007

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