Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Know Yourself

Most may believe Socrates’ suggestion that we learn to know ourselves is some kind of joke, “Of course, we know ourself!” Evolutionary biologists however, argue that the ability to delude ourselves increases our ability to delude others which makes us more successful in life. This success has produced more offspring which has increased and passed on this particular trait. The Buddhist/Taoist view, on the other hand, explains that there is no separate, independent “self,” that we’re just an aggregate of both harmonizing and conflicting influences. Knowing who and what we really are may be humanity’s least understood question.

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Quotes (101)

“Flattery's the food of fools and whoso likes such airy meat, will soon have nothing else to eat.”

Aesop 620 – 546 BCE via Oliver Goldsmith
Hero of the oppressed and downtrodden
from Aesop's Fables, the Aesopica

“Doubt everything. Find your own light.”

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

Themes: Know Yourself

17. True Leaders

“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance.”

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

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“Become what you are by learning who you are.”

Pindar Πίνδαρος 522 – 443 BCE
Archetype of poetry

Themes: Know Yourself

“You do not know what life you live, or what you do, or who you are.”

Euripides 480 – 406 BCE via Philip Vellacott
Ancient humanitarian influence continuing today
from Bacchae Βάκχαι

Themes: Know Yourself

“I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.”

Plato Πλάτων 428 – 348 BCE

Themes: Know Yourself

67. Three Treasures

“The more you know, the more you know you don't know.”

Aristotle Ἀριστοτέλης 382 – 322 BCE

Themes: Know Yourself

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“That whereby man differs from the lower animals is little. Most people throw it away.”

Mencius 孟子 372 – 289 BCE via Brian Brown
(Mengzi)

Themes: Know Yourself

“He who knows he is a fool is not the biggest fool; He who knows he is confused is not in the worst confusion.”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 369 – 286 BCE
(Zhuangzi)

“I have never wished to cater to the crowd; for what I know they do not approve, and what they approve I do not know.”

Epicurus ɛpɪˈkjɔːrəs 341 – 270 BCE
Western Buddha
from On Nature

41. Distilled Life

“Sages understand other individuals by understanding themselves. They understand other families by understanding their own family and therefor understand the whole world.”

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

Themes: Know Yourself

“The most difficult task in our lives is to know ourselves.”

Cicero 106 – 43 BCE

Themes: Know Yourself

“The person who knows not himself, is poor in Spirit, for he is his own poverty.”

Jesus 3 BCE – 30 CE
from Gospel According to Thomas

Themes: Know Yourself

33. Know Yourself

“the kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty.”

Jesus 3 BCE – 30 CE

33. Know Yourself

“Search the Light within your souls, for there will you find the reality of all things.”

Jesus 3 BCE – 30 CE
from Gospel According to Thomas

Themes: Know Yourself

33. Know Yourself

“The true birthplace is that wherein for the first time one looks intelligently upon oneself; my first homelands have been books, and to a lesser degree schools.”

Hadrian 76 – 180 CE

“I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinion of himself than on the opinion of others.”

Marcus Aurelius 121 – 219 CE

Themes: Know Yourself

17. True Leaders

“Withdraw into yourself and look. If you do not find yourself beautiful, act as does the creator of a statue who cuts away here, smooths there, makes this line lighter, the other purer until a lovely face has grown upon his work... never cease chiseling your statue until you see the perfect goodness established in the stainless shrine.”

Plotinus 204 – 249 CE via MacKenna, Shan Dao

“O fool, know yourself. It is not a matter of meditation, or concentration… the diversity of existence is but a form of thought.”

Saraha 8th century CE

33. Know Yourself

“One’s own true nature cannot be explained by another.”

Saraha 8th century CE

Themes: Know Yourself

13. Honor and Disgrace

“Good snow – flake by flake doesn't fall in any other place.”

Layman Pang 龐居士 740 – 808 CE

“Make no mistake: there is nothing on the outside and likewise, nothing on the inside that you can grasp.”

Rinzai Gigen 臨済義玄 ? - 866 CE
(Línjì Yìxuán)

Themes: Know Yourself

“Original nature is your eternal mind… impervious to gain and loss, calumny and eulogy, praise and blame, sorry and joy”

Hui Hai 大珠慧海 788 – 831 CE
from Essential Gate for Entry Into Sudden Enlightenment (Tun-wu ju dao yao-men)

“Attend to the nature of your mind.”

Catrapa ཙ་ཏྲ་པ། 750 – 850 CE via Keith Dowman
("The Lucky Beggar")
Mahasiddha #23
from Masters of Mahamudra

Themes: Know Yourself

33. Know Yourself

“You are not it, but in truth it is you.”

Dongshan Liangjie 洞山良价 807 – 869 CE
(Dòngshān Liángjiè; Tōzan Ryōkai)
from Song of the Precious Mirror Samadhi

Themes: Know Yourself

“Realizing that fully-convinced 'knowing' creates suffering and delusion begins the healing.”

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

71. Sick of Sickness

“The supreme vow of all the buddhas is nothng but self-realization.”

Carbaripa ཙ་རྦ་རི་པ། 9th Century CE via Keith Dowman
(Carpati, “The Petrifier”)
Mahasiddha #64
from Masters of Mahamudra

Themes: Know Yourself

“Man has three souls—an animal soul he shares with animals, a physical soul that links him to plants, and a human, rational soul that is a bond between him and angels.”

Avicenna أبو علي الحسين بن عبد الله بن الحسن بن علي بن سينا 980 – 1037 CE via Arberry
(Ibn-Sīnā)
from Avicenna on Theology

Themes: Know Yourself

“A ruler who is unwilling to hear of his faults can turn loyalty into flattery, while a ruler pleased by straight talk turns flattery into loyalty,”

Sima Guang 司马光 1019 – 1086 CE
"Greatest of all Chinese historians”
from Book of History

Themes: Know Yourself

“Perception means to distinguish. Wisdom means to remove obstructions. As long as our distinguishing mind is present, we can only know others, but not ourselves.”

Su Che 呂洞 1039 – 1112 CE via Red Pine
(Su Zhe)
Great writer of the Tang and Sung dynasties
from Tao-te-chen-ching-chu

Themes: Know Yourself

33. Know Yourself

“Thoroughly investigate your roots back to their ultimate source”

Hóngzhì Zhēngjué 宏智正覺 1091 – 1157 CE via Dan Leighton
(Shōgaku)
from Cultivating the Emplty Field

Themes: Know Yourself

“Just as many utensils are made from one metal so too are myriad entities made of the fabric of 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

“Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion.”

Rumi مولانا جلال‌الدین محمد بلخی 1207 – 1283 CE
(Rumi Mawlānā Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Balkhī)
from Masnavi مثنوي معنوي‎‎) "Rhyming Couplets of Profound Spiritual Meaning”

16. Returning to the Root, Meditation

“Many winds full of anger, lust and greed move rubbish around. The solid mountain of true nature however, stays where it's always been.”

Rumi مولانا جلال‌الدین محمد بلخی 1207 – 1283 CE via Shan Dao
(Rumi Mawlānā Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Balkhī)
from Masnavi مثنوي معنوي‎‎) "Rhyming Couplets of Profound Spiritual Meaning”

68. Joining Heaven & Earth

“The things that we love tell us what we are.”

Thomas Aquinas 1225 – 1274 CE

Themes: Know Yourself

“Yes, my voices were of God, my voices have not deceived me.”

Joan of Arc Jeanne d'Arc 1412 – 1431 CE via Rouen
Mystical, visionary warrior

Themes: Know Yourself

“Nothing is more fairly distributed than common sense: no one thinks he needs more of it than he already has.”

René Descartes 1596 – 1650 CE

Themes: Know Yourself

21. Following Empty Heart

“Know your strongest quality and cultivate it. Everyone would have excelled at something if they had known their strongest qualities but most do violence to themselves trying to be someone else.”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE via Shan Dao #34
from Art of Worldly Wisdom

33. Know Yourself

“One must know oneself. If this does not serve to discover truth, it at least serves as a rule of life, and there is nothing better.”

Blaise Pascal 1623 – 1662 CE
One of the greatest French writers of all time
from Pensées (1669)

Themes: Know Yourself

“All the excesses, all the violence, and all the vanity of great men, come from the fact that they know not what they are”

Blaise Pascal 1623 – 1662 CE
One of the greatest French writers of all time

“The more clearly you understand yourself and your emotions, the more you become a lover of what is.”

Baruch Spinoza 1632 – 1677 CE

33. Know Yourself

“Fear not what they can do to you; greater is he that is in you than he that is in the World”

Benjamin Lay 1682 – 1759 CE
from All Slave-Keepers That keep the Innocent in Bondage, Apostates

“Know then thyself, presume not God to scan;
The proper study of Mankind is Man.”

Alexander Pope 1688 – 1744 CE
Second most quoted English writer
from An Essay on Man, 1736

Themes: Know Yourself

“The more I read, the more I acquire, the more certain I am that I know nothing.”

Voltaire, François-Marie Arouet 1694 – 1778 CE

Themes: Know Yourself

67. Three Treasures

“Know thyself? If I knew myself, I'd run away.”

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 1749 – 1832 CE

Themes: Know Yourself

33. Know Yourself

“Oh would some Power the gift give us, to see ourselves as others see us. It would save us from many mistakes and foolish thoughts.”

Robert Burns 1759 – 1796 CE
from To a Louse

“Ah the power that gift would give us, to see ourselves as others see us.”

Robert Burns 1759 – 1796 CE

Themes: Know Yourself

“Unless you realize your own mind—no matter which spiritual practices you perform—you're like a beggar who dosn't know that a stone in his fireplace is made of gold and goes around begging”

Shabkar Tsokdruk Rangdrol ཞབས་དཀར་ཚོགས་དྲུག་རང་གྲོལ། 1781 – 1851 CE via Erik Pema Kunsang, Shan Dao
from Flight of the Garuda

Themes: Know Yourself

“Of people there was hurrying to and fro
Numerous as gnats upon the evening gleam,
All hastening onward, yet none seemed to know
Whither he went, or whence he came, or why”

Percy Bysshe Shelley 1792 – 1822 CE
from Triumph of Life

Themes: Know Yourself

“He who strives with the present strives with a single thing against which he can use his entire strength. He who fights with the future has more dangerous enemy. He can never remain ignorant about himself; he fights with himself.”

Søren Kierkegaard 1813 – 1855 CE
"The first existentialist philosopher"
from Edifying Discourses

“We have only one instrument wherewith to know ourselves and our relation to the universe—we have no other—and that instrument is reason.”

Leo Tolstoy 1828 – 1910 CE via Shan Dao

“Let us be grateful to the mirror for revealing to us our appearance only.”

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

Themes: Know Yourself

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to reform… Out of all the things I have lost, I miss my mind the most.”

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

41. Distilled Life

“Become who you are!”

Friedrich Nietzsche 1844 – 1900 CE
from Thus Spoke Zarathustra

“I can teach anybody how to get what they want out of life. The problem is that I can't find anybody who can tell me what they want.”

Robert Louis Stevenson 1850 – 1894 CE

33. Know Yourself

“The dream is an inexhaustible source of spiritual information about yourself.”

Sigmund Freud 1856 – 1939 CE via Joseph Campbell

“Most people are so absorbed in the contemplation of the outside world that they are wholly oblivious to what is passing on within themselves. The premature death of millions is primarily traceable to this cause.”

Nikola Tesla Никола Тесла 1856 – 1943 CE
from My Inventions

Themes: Know Yourself

“The self is not something ready-made, but something in continuous formation through choice of action.”

John Dewey 1859 – 1952 CE
The "Second Confucius"

“Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry.”

W.B. (William Butler) Yeats 1865 – 1939 CE

31. Victory Funeral

“Without self knowledge, without understanding the working and functions of his machine, man cannot be free, he cannot govern himself and he will always remain a slave.”

G. I. Gurdjieff 1866 – 1949 CE

33. Know Yourself

“No one ever reads a book. He reads himself through books, either to discover or to control himself.”

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

“The life of man is a dubious experiment... so fleeting, so insufficient, that it is literally a miracle that anything can exist and develop at all... We are a psychic process which we do not control, or only partly direct.”

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

“No one who learns to know himself remains just what he was before.”

Thomas Mann 1875 – 1955 CE
Deep, psychologically insightful author

Themes: Know Yourself

“Everyone's life is a journey to themselves. Though none have attained self-realization, all strive for it—some plodding, some with less effort, but all as best they can. Each of us caries the remains of our birth—slime and eggshells—with us to the end.”

Hermann Hesse 1877 – 1962 CE via Shan Dao
from Demian

Themes: Know Yourself

“If you become objective to yourself you can see other people objectively, but not before, because before that it will all be colored by your own views, attitudes, tastes, by what you like and what you dislike”

Ouspensky Пётр Демья́нович Успе́нский 1878 – 1947 CE
(Pyotr Demianovich Ouspenskii)

“We can be redeemed only to the extent to which we see ourselves.”

Martin Buber מרטין בובר‎‎ 1878 – 1965 CE
from Ich und Du, I and Thou

Themes: Know Yourself

33. Know Yourself

“Ask yourself the question 'Who am I?'… Solve that great problem and you will solve all other problems.

Ramana Maharshi 1879 – 1950 CE

“The things that make me different are the things that make me.”

A.A. Milne 1882 – 1956 CE
(Alan Alexander Milne)
from Waiting At The Window

33. Know Yourself

“self is a sea boundless and measureless”

Kahlil Gibran 1883 – 1931 CE
from The Prophet

Themes: Know Yourself

“Every man is a creature of the age in which he lives and few are able to raise themselves above the ideas of the time.”

Will (and Ariel) Durant 1885 – 1981 CE

Themes: Know Yourself

2. The Wordless Teachings

“Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”

T. S. Eliot 1888 – 1965 CE

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“Nothing is so difficult as not deceiving oneself.”

Ludwig Wittgenstein 1889 – 1951 CE
One of the world's most famous philosophers
from Culture and Value (1980)

Themes: Know Yourself

“... if I could step outside myself
and contemplate the person that I am,
I should know at last what envy is.”

Anna Akhmatova Анна Ахматова 1889 – 1966 CE via Stanley Kunitz
(Andreyevna Gorenko)
Russia's most loved female poet
from "This Cruel Age has deflected me" (1944)

Themes: Know Yourself

“That is what you are, that is what I am, that is what everything in the universe is – beginningless, endless life, infinite, boundless, eternal Life.”

Ruth Fuller Sasaki 1892 – 1967 CE

“Ultimately evil is done not so much by evil people, but by good people who do not know themselves and who do not probe deeply.”

Reinhold Niebuhr 1892 – 1971 CE

29. Not Doing

“If I only knew who in fact I am, I should cease to behave as what I think I am; and if I stopped behaving as what I think I am, I should know who I am.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE

“To see ourselves as others see us is a most salutary gift. Hardly less important is the capacity to see others as they see themselves.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE

Themes: Know Yourself

33. Know Yourself

“Start by being fully aware of what you think you are. It’ll help you to become aware of what you are in fact.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE
from Island

Themes: Know Yourself

“My consciousness is the world and the consciousness of the world is me.”

Krishnamurti 1895 – 1986 CE
(Jiddu Krishnamurti)
from Awakening of Intelligence

Themes: Know Yourself

14. Finding and Following the Formless Form

“Give up all questions except one: 'Who am I?'... Discover all that you are not... understand that on the level of mind, you can only be described in negative terms”

Nisargadatta Maharaj 1897 – 1981 CE
Householder guru of non-duality
from I Am That

Themes: Know Yourself

“Our conscious motivations, ideas, and beliefs are a blend of false information, biases, irrational passions, rationalizations, prejudices, in which morsels of truth swim around and give the reassurance albeit false, that the whole mixture is real and true.”

Eric Fromm 1900 – 1980 CE
from The Sane Society

Themes: Know Yourself

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“We must learn to be different…If Wakan Tanka likes the plants, the animals, even little mice and bugs to do this, how much more will he abhor people being alike, doing the same thing, getting up at the same time, putting on the same kind of store-bought clothes, working in the same office at the same job with their eyes on the same clock and, worst of all, thinking alike all the time.”

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

18. The Sick Society

“When you are fooled by something else,the damage will not be so big. But when you are fooled by yourself, it is fatal.”

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi 1904 – 1971 CE
from Crooked Cucumber: the Life and Zen Teaching of Shunryu Suzuki

Themes: Know Yourself

33. Know Yourself

“We are actually fourth dimensional beings in a third dimensional body inhabiting a second dimensional world!”

Neal Cassady 1926 – 1968 CE

“It's such a relief to realize that we don't have to be anything.”

Toni Packer 1927 – 2013 CE
A Zen teacher minus the 'Zen' and minus the 'teacher.’
from Light of Discovery

33. Know Yourself

“You change the world by being yourself.”

Yoko Ono 小野 洋子 1933 CE –
(“Ocean Child”)

Themes: Know Yourself

29. Not Doing

“Go out into the world; walk slow and silent, comprehending all, and by and by your soul, the Universe, will know Itself: the Eternal I.”

Jane Goodall 1934 CE –

“This very moment is the perfect teacher... feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear [are] like messengers that show us exactly where we're stuck.”

Pema Chödrön 1936 CE –
(Deirdre Blomfield-Brown)
First American Vajrayana nun
from When Things Fall Apart

“I think I am, therefore, I am. I think.”

George Carlin 1937 – 2008 CE
One of the most influential social commentators of his time

Themes: Know Yourself

12. This Over That

“Our vast collections of knowledge and experience are just part of ego’s display… we have simply created a shop, an antique shop.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE
from Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism

Themes: Know Yourself

71. Sick of Sickness

“We only develop by understanding ourselves.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE via Nalanda Translation Committee
from The Collected Works of Chogyam Trungpa

Themes: Know Yourself

“A tragedy is a comedy misunderstood. Once you realize what you are, there's nothing but gratitude and laughter.”

Stephen Mitchell 1943 CE –
from Second Book of Tao

5. Christmas Trees

“I didn’t change, I just found myself.”

Bob Marley 1945 – 1981 CE

“I didn’t change, I just found myself.”

Bob Marley 1945 – 1981 CE

“I think what everyone should be doing, before it's too late, is committing themselves to what they really want to do with their lives.”

Matthieu Ricard माथ्यु रिका 1946 CE –
"The happiest person in the world”

“If you want to know yourself better, you have to bring in something different from someplace else… that’s why we need pictures or literature, or music”

Haruki Murakami 1949 CE –
from Killing Commendatore

“Most people are so occupied by the external world that they don’t realize that there is a very rich world within themselves.”

Eva Wong (c. 1951- )
Champion of Qigong, Fengshui, and a Taoist approach to health and healing

Themes: Know Yourself

“In our unconsciousness we take credit where no credit is due, oblivious to the real source of everything we pretend is ours”

Peter Kingsley 1953 CE –
from A Story Waiting to Pierce You

“Like a child at the cinema, we get caught up in the illusion. From this comes all of our vanity, ambition, and insecurity. We fall in love with the illusions we have created and develop excessive pride in our appearance, our possessions, and our accomplishments. It’s like wearing a mask and proudly thinking that the mask is really you.”

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche རྫོང་གསར་ འཇམ་དབྱངས་ མཁྱེན་བརྩེ་ རིན་པོ་ཆེ། 1961 CE –
(Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche)
"Activity" incarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo
from What Makes You Not a Buddhist

39. Oneness

“The truth about who we really are, beyond all appearances, is knowledge worth seeking.”

Dzogchen Pönlop 1965 CE –

Themes: Know Yourself

“Everyone returns us to a different sense of ourselves, for we become a little of who they think we are.”

Alain de Botton 1969 CE –
Philosophic link between ancient wisdom and modern challenge
from On Love

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