Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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As is said, “history is written by the victors” and “the past is fiction;” but also, “If we don’t learn from history we’re bound to repeat it.” How much of what we know of as “history” is really “true?” When stories passed between friends get so quickly distorted, how can we take as “true” stories passed down to us from hundreds and thousands of years ago? What is myth and legend, what accurate reporting? Why do some stories and events become immortalized and others completely lost in obscurity? And most importantly, does it really matter? If the stories, events, and people of history are - like all words - mainly “fingers pointing at the moon,” symbols and lessons for us; what difference does the detailed accuracy make? And yet, as travelers on the path of our life experience; the wisdom, books, teachings, and quotations from the past become our shoes, bicycles, cars, trains, and planes taking us toward our true selves, awakened awareness, enlightenment.

Because of the many heroic, creative, and artistically, strategically, and wisdom-gifted historical figures; it’s tempting to nostalgically idealize the past and think in terms of bygone golden ages. We forget how far every historical sage, there were tens of thousands of sleep-walking, superstitious, materialistically-controlled contemporaries. This ratio may become the most useful gauge of progress and the evolution of consciousness. And by most statistical measurements, this ratio has continuously increased through the ages.

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Quotes (104)

“Prosperity never stays long in the same place: cities once great are now small and ones great now were small.”

Herodotus Ἡρόδοτος 1 via Aubrey de Selincourt, Shan Dao
“The Father of History”
from Histories

Themes: History Change

“History is philosophy teaching by example.”

Thucydides Θουκυδίδης 460 – 400 BCE
"Father of realpolitik"

Themes: History

“The artistic representation of history is a more scientific and serious pursuit than the exact writing of history. For the art of letters goes to the heart of things, whereas the factual report merely collocates details.”

Aristotle Ἀριστοτέλης 382 – 322 BCE

“It is the function of the historian to prolong the memory of goodness by preserving its record for all ages to see.”

Sima Qian 司馬遷 145 – 86 BCE via Burton Watson
(Ssu-ma Ch'ien)
Father of Chinese historians
from Shiji, Records of the Grand Historian, 太史公書

“To be ignorant of the past is to remain a child.”

Cicero 106 – 43 BCE

Themes: History

“A people without history is like wind on the buffalo grass.”

Anonymous 1
Freedom from the narrow boxes defined by personal history
from Sioux proverb

Themes: History

“Some nations increase, others diminish, and in a short space the generations of living creatures change and like runners pass on the torch of life.”

Lucretius 99 – 55 BCE
(Titus Carus)
from De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things)

Themes: Evolution History

“History has this and this only for its own: if a man will start upon it, he must sacrifice to no God but Truth; he must neglect all else; his sole rule and unerring guide is this – to think not of those who are listening to him now, but of the yet unborn who shall seek his converse.”

Lucian of Samosata 125 – 180 CE via Fowler
Monumental influence on western literature.

Themes: History

“You can use a brass mirror to adjust your hat; you can use history as a way to foresee the rise and fall of empires.”

Taizong of Tang 唐太宗 唐太宗 598 – 649 CE via Will Durant, Shan Dao
(Li Shimin)

Themes: History

“Don't only study the words and deeds of past sages but examine deeply the records of the rise and fall of dynasties, order and disorder, right and wrong, gain and loss.”

Lù Jiǔyuān 陸九淵 1139 – 1192 CE
(Lu Xiangshan)

Themes: History

“Everything that occurs in the world, in every epoch, has something that corresponds to it in ancient times.”

Machiavelli 1469 – 1527 CE
(Niccolò Machiavelli)
from Discourses on Livy

Themes: History

40. Returning

“Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past. Human events always resemble those of earlier times because human nature doesn't change, people are always animated by the same passions and so produce the same results.”

Machiavelli 1469 – 1527 CE via Will Durant, Shan Dao
(Niccolò Machiavelli)
from The Prince

“History is in a manner a sacred thing... the rival of time, the depository of great actions, the witness of the past, example of the present, and monitor of the future.”

Miguel de Cervantes 1547 – 1616 CE
One of the world's best novelists
from Don Quixote (1605-1615)

Themes: History

“History is a sacred kind of writing, because truth is essential to it, and where truth is, there God himself is, so far as truth is concerned.”

Miguel de Cervantes 1547 – 1616 CE
One of the world's best novelists
from Don Quixote (1605-1615)

Themes: Truth History

“Only the present has a right to exist because the past is only a memory and the future has no existence.

Thomas Hobbes 1588 – 1679 CE

40. Returning

“What is history? The lie that everyone agrees on…”

Voltaire, François-Marie Arouet 1694 – 1778 CE

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“History in general is a collection of crimes, follies, and misfortunes among which we have now and then met with a few virtues, and some happy times... The history of the great events of this world are scarcely more than the history of crimes.”

Voltaire, François-Marie Arouet 1694 – 1778 CE
from Essay on the Morals and the Spirit of Nations

Themes: Crime History

“It is belied by all history and experience that the people are the origins of all just power.”

David Hume 1711 – 1776 CE
"One of the most important philosophers"

Themes: History Power

“Man has much more to fear from the passions of his fellow creatures than from the convulsions of the elements. [History is] indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind.”

Edward Gibbon 1737 – 1794 CE
from Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire

Themes: Crime History

“What will happen after 100 generations in the future can be inferred from the gain and loss of the Three Dynasties.”

​Zhang Xuecheng 章学诚 章学诚 1738 – 1801 CE via Nivison, Shan Dao
(Chang Hsüeh-ch'eng)

Themes: History

“History is a set of lies agreed upon.”

Napoleon Bonaparte 1769 – 1821 CE

Themes: History

“May my son study history for it is the only true philosophy and the only true psychology.”

Napoleon Bonaparte 1769 – 1821 CE

“History is the only true philosophy and the only true psychology.”

Napoleon Bonaparte 1769 – 1821 CE via Will Durant

Themes: History

“the light which experience gives us is a lantern on the stern, which shines only on the waves behind us.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge 1772 – 1834 CE

Themes: History

“History is the national conscience of the human race... only by virtue of it does the human race come to be whole, come to be a humanity This is the true value of history.”

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

Themes: History

“The best prophet of the future is the past.”

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

Themes: History

“History is a cyclic poem written by time upon the memories of man.”

Percy Bysshe Shelley 1792 – 1822 CE

Themes: Memory History

“Nothing in the world exists as a single block. Everything is a mosaic. The history of the past may be told in chronological sequence, but you cannot apply the same method to the moving present.”

Balzac 1799 – 1850 CE
(Honoré de Balzac)

“History is the biography of a few stout and earnest persons.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803 – 1882 CE
Champion of individualism

Themes: History

“The more extensive a man's knowledge of what has been done, the greater will be his power of knowing what to do.”

Disraeli, Benjamin 1804 – 1881 CE
(Earl of Beaconsfield )
Political balance between mob rule and tyranny

Themes: History

“Attack and defense, want and war, victory and defeat, lordship and thraldom, all sealed with the seal of blood: this from henceforth is the History of Man.”

Wilhelm Richard Wagner 1813 – 1883 CE
from Religion and Art (1880)

Themes: Mistakes History

“The history of the race is but that of the individual "writ large."”

George Henry Lewes 1817 – 1878 CE
English philosopher and soul mate to George Eliot
from The Foundations of a Creed (1874)

Themes: History

“The history of all previously existing societies is the history of class struggles.”

Karl Marx 1818 – 1883 CE
from Communist Manifesto

Themes: Conflict History

“The happiest women—like the happiest nations—have no history.”

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

from The Mill on the Floss (1860)​

Themes: Forget History

“All history has been a history of class struggles between dominated classes at various stages of social development.”

Friedrich Engels 1820 – 1895 CE
Businessman-philosopher, political theorist

Themes: History

“A Historian has to fight against temptations special to his mode of life, temptations from Country, Class, Church, College, Party, Authority of talents, solicitation of friends.”

Lord Acton 1834 – 1902 CE
(John Dalberg-Acton)
Prolific historian and politician
from Historical Essays and Studies (1907)

Themes: History

“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

“It takes a great deal of history to produce a little literature.”

Henry James 1843 – 1916 CE

Themes: History

“Legend remains victorious in spite of history.”

Sarah Bernhardt 1844 – 1923 CE
“One of the finest actors of all time”

Themes: Progress History

“By searching out origins, one becomes a crab. The historian looks backward; eventually he also believes backward”

Friedrich Nietzsche 1844 – 1900 CE

Themes: History

“All that was great in the past was ridiculed, condemned, combated, suppressed — only to emerge all the more powerfully, all the more triumphantly from the struggle.”

Nikola Tesla Никола Тесла 1856 – 1943 CE

“God reveals himself in history; history is the judgment of the world”

Dean Inge 1860 – 1954 CE via Things That Remain
Christian mystic and philosopher

Themes: History God

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”

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

Themes: History

“No one work can be detached from a life and studied separately. They are all fragments of one monument. The mistake that most historians make is to mutilate this genius by dividing it into different pieces.”

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

Themes: History

“'History repeats itself' and this saying has become a truism. Nevertheless, the study of the past is relegated to the scholar and the school boy—a testimony to human stupidity. We are like youth that can never learn from age. [History] is a really a chart for our guidance... where we now are going astray and losing ourselves, other men once did the same, and they left a record of the blind alleys they went down.”

Edith Hamilton 1867 – 1963 CE via Shan Dao
from Roman Way

Themes: History

“It is not the joy of the present moment but the wise reflections of the past that help us to preserve the future.”

Marcel Proust 1871 – 1922 CE via Justin O'Brien
Apostle of Ordinary Mind
from The Maxims of Marcel Proust

“The past is terribly real and present, and it catches everyone who cannot save his skin with a satisfactory answer... It exerts a mighty suction which greedily draws everything living into itself; we can only escape from it—for awhile—by pressing forward.”

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

Themes: History

“The prophet is appointed to oppose the king, and even more: history.”

Martin Buber מרטין בובר‎‎ 1878 – 1965 CE
from On Judaism, 1967

Themes: Judaism History

“History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.”

James Joyce 1882 – 1941 CE
from Ulysses

Themes: History

“History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.”

James Joyce 1882 – 1941 CE

Themes: History

“Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assault of thoughts on the unthinking…. Ideas shape the course of history.”

John Maynard Keynes 1883 – 1946 CE
Revolutionary economist credited with saving capitalism

“History would be worthless to us if it did not teach us to keep on our guard against the natural intolerance of an orthodoxy wielding power.”

Will (and Ariel) Durant 1885 – 1981 CE

Themes: History

18. The Sick Society

“I see men standing on the edge of knowledge, and holding the light a little farther ahead... history not as a dreary scene of politics and carnage, but as the struggle of man to understand, control, and remake himself and the world.”

Will Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
Philosophy apostle and popularizer of history's lessons
from Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Time, 1968

Themes: History Progress

“History is an excellent teacher with few pupils.”

Will (and Ariel) Durant 1885 – 1981 CE

“history as man's rise from savagery to civilization—history as the record of the lasting contributions made to man's knowledge, wisdom, arts, morals, manners, skills—history as a laboratory rich in a hundred thousand experiments—history as our roots and our illumination, as the road by which we came and the only light that can clarify the present and guide us into the future... your face is your autobiography; you are what you are because of what you have been”

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

“Next to travel, the best education is history, which is travel extended into the past.”

Will (and Ariel) Durant 1885 – 1981 CE

“Civilization is polygenetic – as generations are moments in a family line, civilizations are units in a larger whole whose name is history.”

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

“The historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence.”

T. S. Eliot 1888 – 1965 CE
from Four Quartets

Themes: History

“No single man makes history. History cannot be seen, just as one cannot see grass growing... It is the centuries of systematic explorations of the riddle of death, with a view of overcoming it.”

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

Themes: History

“If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.”

Pearl Buck 1892 – 1973 CE

Themes: History

“That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE
from Collected Essays (1959)

Themes: History

“History is the record of what human beings have been impelled to do by their ignorance and the enormous bumptiousness that makes them canonize their ignorance as a political or religious dogma”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE
from Island

Themes: History

“The present is the past rolled up for action, and the past is the present unrolled for understanding.”

Ariel Durant 1898 – 1981 CE
(Chaya Kaufman)

Themes: Time History

“Human history began with an act of disobedience, and it is not unlikely that it will be terminated by an act of obedience.”

Eric Fromm 1900 – 1980 CE

“the most deplorable fact that Aristotle, by using this complicated and somewhat pretentious jargon, fascinated only too many philosophers... Aristotle, who was a historian of the more encyclopedic type, made no direct contribution to historicism”

Karl Popper 1902 – 1994 CE
Major Philosopher of Science
from The Open Society and its Enemies

Themes: History

“there can be no history of 'the past as it actually did happen;' there can only be historical interpretations and none of them final; every generation has a right to frame its own... Historicism is out to find The Path on which mankind is destined to walk; it is out to discover The Clue To History, or the Meaning of History.”

Karl Popper 1902 – 1994 CE
Major Philosopher of Science

Themes: History

“historicism is a social and political and moral (or, shall I say, immoral) philosophy, and it has been as such most influential since the beginning of our civilization.”

Karl Popper 1902 – 1994 CE
Major Philosopher of Science
from The Open Society and its Enemies

Themes: History

“Christianity strives to save history… In Christianity, the Sacred enters a human being to save humans, but it also enters history to ‘save’ history and turn otherwise ordinary, historical events into something capable of transmitting a trans-historical message.”

Mircea Eliade 1907 – 1986 CE

“Who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins - or which is which?”

Saul Alinsky 1909 – 1972 CE
from Rules for Radicals

Themes: History

“Without culture, and the relative freedom it implies, society, even when perfect, is but a jungle. This is why any authentic creation is a gift to the future.”

Albert Camus 1913 – 1960 CE

Themes: History Culture

“If there is anything to learn from history, it is that scoldings, warnings, and preachings are a complete ethical failure [and] only confirm and ingrain the attitudes which keep us at war.”

Alan Watts 1915 – 1973 CE
from Psychotherapy East and West

Themes: War History

“If there is anything to be learned from history, it is that scoldings, warnings, and preachings are a complete ethical failure... they only confirm and ingrain the attitudes which keep us at war.”

Alan Watts 1915 – 1973 CE
from Psychotherapy East and West

Themes: War History

“The idea that there is a universe that existed five minutes ago or that will exist in five minutes is just that: an idea in your head.”

Charlotte Joko Beck 1917 – 2011 CE
Authentic, pioneering Western Zen master

from Ordinary Wonder

Themes: History

“Remember forever that the pen’s a long arm from the grave.”

James Clavell 1921 – 1994 CE
Fictionalizing and fictional historian
from Shōgun, 1975

Themes: History

“Much of what we call History is the success stories of madmen.”

John Holt 1923 – 1985 CE
from How Children Fail

41. Distilled Life

“It is best to erase all personal history… How can I know who I am, when I am all this?”

Carlos Castaneda 1925 – 1998 CE
from Journey to Ixtlan

Themes: History

15. Inscrutability

“‘common sense’ is nothing more than the voices of thousands and thousands of ghosts from the past.”

Robert M. Pirsig 1928 – 2017 CE
from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

“This is almost the most dangerous period in human history.”

Noam Chomsky 1928 CE –
from Interview: The State of American Politics, 2023

Themes: History

“The more you know of your history, the more liberated you are.”

Maya Angelou 1928 – 2014 CE

Themes: History

“We are not makers of history. We are made by history.”

Martin Luther King Jr. 1929 – 1968 CE
Leading world influence for equality, peace, non-violence, and poverty alleviation

Themes: History

“The untold story mothers the lie… the story has no beginning and no story has an end… the story is never true but the lie is indeed the child of silence.”

Ursula Le Guin 1929 – 2018 CE
from Matter of Seggri

Themes: Lies History

“That's the history of the world. His story is told, hers isn't.”

Dolores Huerta 1930 CE –

Themes: History

“We believe nothing if not that history is moving us toward some preordained paradise and that technology is the force behind that movement.”

Neil Postman 1931 – 2003 CE
from Amusing Ourselves to Death

Themes: Belief History

“Because the very nature of history is to make large distinctions, it encourages the intellect, therefore, to forgo finer ones... If such history continues to be the major informer of our sensibilities, we will remain functionally unintelligent.”

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

Themes: History

“If reason ruled the world would history even exist?”

Ryszard Kapuściński 1932 – 2007 CE
“One of the most credible journalists the world has ever seen"

Themes: History

“the past is most definitely past, and therefore not forever sealed but forever open to creative reinterpretation.”

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

Themes: History

“If nature is the realm of the unspeakable, history is the realm of the speakable... Since history is the drama of genius, its relentless surprise tempts us into designing boundaries for it... narrative invites us to rethink what we thought we knew.”

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

Themes: History

“If you ever start feeling nostalgic about ancient times, take your glasses off and imagine what it would be like without teeth.”

Shan Dao 山道 1933 CE –

Themes: History

“Studying history is going on a journey and traveling into the past.”

Shan Dao 山道 1933 CE –
from Tao Te Ching — The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words

Themes: History Travel

47. Effortless Success

“The further back in time, the more narrow and limited our perceptions of the world. It slowly expanded from family to clan to village to city to country. With the revolution of information technology, it now includes all the world and all the people in it. Unfortunately our conceptions of equality and justice haven’t expanded as quickly as this awareness. People becoming true citizens of the world is evolution’s main challenge for us today.”

Shan Dao 山道 1933 CE –

“All through history there's been these kind of divine losers that just take a deep breath and go ahead—knowing that society's not going to understand it—and not even caring, because they're having a good time.”

Ken Kesey 1935 – 2001 CE

“More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”

Woody Allen 1935 CE –

Themes: History

“The past is fiction, the future a dream. We are living on the edge of a razor.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE

40. Returning

“I fear that we live in an ahistorical age in which we believe that we are so wise that we no longer need the lessons of the past, perhaps most disturbingly of all that technology has put us beyond the lessons of the past.”

J. Rufus Fears 1945 – 2012 CE

“In 20 years Genghis Khan conquered and ruled the largest empire in history [ ... ] far more people and territory then the Romans, Persians, Greeks, or Chinese had been able to do in centuries of sustained effort.”

Jack Weatherford 1945 CE –
from Secret History of the Mongol Queens

“There are plenty of things in history that are best left in the shadows. Accurate knowledge does not improve people’s lives… The objective does not necessarily surpass the subjective, you know. Reality does not necessarily extinguish fantasy…”

Haruki Murakami 1949 CE –
from Killing Commendatore

“History is not so much a matter of what is remembered or repeated as of the things we prefer to leave unsaid.”

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

Themes: History

“Stories are an essential part of who we are. They can tell us more about ourselves and our world that anything else can.”

Neil Gaiman 1960 CE –
Myth-transmitting creative maelstrom

“There are still many causes worth sacrificing for, so much history yet to be made.”

Michelle Obama 1964 CE –

Themes: Progress History

“History is not, after all, what really happened (no one can know; it’s gone), but only what we believe happened.”

David Mitchell 1969 CE –
from Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

Themes: History

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“He who pays the historian calls the tune.”

David Mitchell 1969 CE –
from Bone Clocks

Themes: History

“History was made by very few people while everyone else plowed fields and carried water buckets.”

Yuval Harari יובל נח הררי‎ 1976 CE –
Israeli historian, professor, and philosopher

from Sapiens, A Graphic History Vol. 2

Themes: History

“This is the best reason to learn history: not in order to predict the future, but to free yourself of the past and imagine alternative destinies. Of course this is not total freedom – we cannot avoid being shaped by the past. But some freedom is better than none.”

Yuval Harari יובל נח הררי‎ 1976 CE –
Israeli historian, professor, and philosopher

from Sapiens

Themes: History

“History, it turns out, is not written by the victims, it is written by the storytellers... Even the defeated get to tell their story—and in it, they are the heroes.”

Deepak Malhotra 1
"Professor of the Year"

from Peacemaker's Code

Themes: History


Book of History

by Sima Guang

"Greatest of all Chinese historians”

Outline of History

by H. G. Wells

A father of science fiction and One World Government apostle

History of Western Philosophy

by Bertrand Russell

“20th century Voltaire”

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