Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Old Age

The west tends to idealize and worship youth while eastern traditions seem to have more appreciation for old age. If lucky enough to get there, we'll have more old age than we had youth so might as well look more to the east than the west on this one. We could learn an important lesson from Kangxi (1654-1722), the longest-ruling Chinese emperor: “I have enjoyed the veneration of my country and the riches of the world; there is no object I do not have, nothing I have not experienced. But now that I have reached old age, I cannot rest easy for a moment. Therefore, I regard the whole country as a worn-out sandal, and all riches as mud and sand.” from Emperor of China by Jonathan Spence

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Quotes (85)

“I grow old learning something new every day. Seek to learn constantly while you live; do not wait in the faith that old age by itself will bring wisdom.”

Solon 638 – 558 BCE
Founder of Athenian democracy

Themes: Old Age

“We are all born to lose life, and what is worse, girls, to lose youth. Can you believe my white hair was once black? Complaining knee-joints creak at every move. To think I danced as delicate as a deer!”

Sappho 612 – 570 BCE
“The Poetess” and most famous Greek woman

Themes: Old Age

“Birth is painful, old age is painful, sickness is painful, death is painful, sorry, lamentation, dejection, and despair are painful. Contact with unpleasant things, not getting what one wishes is painful. In short, the five groups of grasping are painful.”

Buddha गौतम बुद्ध 563 – 483 BCE
(Siddhartha Shakyamuni Gautama)
Awakened Truth
from The Surmon at Benares

Themes: Old Age Suffering

“At 15, I set my mind and heart on learning. At 30, I stood on my own. At 40 I had no doubts. At 50 I knew heaven’s decree. At 60 my ears were in accord. At 70 I followed the desires of my mind -and-heart.”

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

2. The Wordless Teachings

“The great mountain must crumble,
The strong beam must break,
And the wise man wither away like a plant.”

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

Themes: Old Age

“To learn is to be young, however old.”

Aeschylus Αἰσχύλος 525 – 455 BCE
The Father of Tragedy

Themes: Old Age Longevity

“Better to die, and sleep the never-waking sleep, than linger on and dare to live when the soul’s life is gone.”

Sophocles Σοφοκλῆς 497 – 405 BCE
“The Wise and Honored One”
from Ajax, 409 BCE​

Themes: Old Age

“They will say I have no sense of what befits my age but they will be wrong. It's a happy thing to forget one's age. The gods have drawn no distinction between young and old, which should dance and which should not.”

Euripides 480 – 406 BCE via Philip Gabriel, Shan Dao
Ancient humanitarian influence continuing today
from Bacchae Βάκχαι

Themes: Forget Old Age

“Learning is an ornament in prosperity, a refuge in adversity, and a provision in old age.”

Aristotle Ἀριστοτέλης 382 – 322 BCE

Themes: Old Age

“If filial piety and fraternal respect are made important principles of instruction in village schools, graying haired elders will no longer be on the reads carrying heavy loads on their backs and heads.”

Mencius 孟子 372 – 289 BCE via Daniel K. Gardner, Shan Dao
(Mengzi)
from Book of Mencius 孟子

Themes: Education Old Age

“Age creeps on apace, all will soon be over;
If only it could be forever as this time it was!
But man's fate is fixed;
From meetings and partings none can ever escape.”

​ Qu Yuan 屈原 340 – 278 BCE via The Great Controller of Destinies (tr: Arthur Waley)
(Qū Yuán)
"King of the Water Immortals"
from Nine songs: a study of shamanism in ancient China (1955)

“Once plants reach their height of development, they wither. Once people reach their peak, they grow old. Force does not prevail for long. It isn’t the Tao. What is withered and old cannot follow the Tao. And what cannot follow the Tao soon dies.”

Heshang Gong 河上公 202 – 157 BCE via Edward Erkes
(Ho-shang Kung or "Riverside Sage”)
from Lao-tzu-chu

55. Forever Young

“For already the grey locks hurry on to replace the black, and tell me I have reached the age of discretion. While it was playtime I played ; now it is over I will turn to more worthy thoughts.”

Philodemus Φιλόδημος 110 – 35 BCE
(of Gadara)

Themes: Old Age

“The whole life of the philosopher is a preparation for death... I quit life as if it were an inn, not a home.”

Cicero 106 – 43 BCE
from Tuscalanes Disputationes, 47-44 BCE

“Avarice of the old... how absurd to increase one's baggage as one nears their journey's end.”

Cicero 106 – 43 BCE
from De Re Publica, 54-51 BCE

Themes: Old Age Greed

“Away with your tears, old reprobate! Have done with your grumbling! You are withering now after tasting all the joys of life. But, because you are always pining for what is not and unappreciative of the things at hand, your life has slipped away unfulfilled and unprized... To none is life given in freehold; to all only on lease.”

Lucretius 99 – 55 BCE via R.E. Latham
(Titus Carus)
from De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things)

“In youth alone, unhappy mortals live;
But, ah! the mighty bliss is fugitive:
Discolored sickness, anxious labor, come,
And age, and death's inexorable doom.”

Virgil 70 – 19 BCE via John Dryden
(Publius Vergilius Maro)
from Georgics (29 BC)

“I grabbed a pile of dust, and holding it up, foolishly asked for as many birthdays as the grains of dust, I forgot to ask that they be years of youth.”

Ovid oʊvɪd 43 BCE – 18 CE
(Publius Ovidius Naso)
Great poet and major influence on the Renaissance, Humanism, and world literature

from Metamorphoses, 8 CE

Themes: Old Age

“When young I left home and when old I returned. The children see me and ask with smiles where I came from.”

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

Themes: Old Age

“Our lives pass from us like the wind, and why
Should wise men grieve to know that they must die?
The Judas blossom fades, the lovely face
Of light is dimmed, and darkness takes its place.”

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

“In the deep night, with the wind still, the sea calm;
I'll find a boat and drift away,
to spend my final years afloat,
trusting to the river and the sea.”

Su Shi 苏轼 1037 – 1101 CE
(Dongpo, Su Tungpo)
"pre-eminent personality of 11th century China"

Themes: Wu Wei Old Age

“Alas, that Spring should vanish with the Rose!
That Youth's sweet-scented Manuscript should close!”

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

from Rubaiyat

Themes: Old Age

“Don't complain that you're trapped, that your cup of life is full to the brim. Find new life even in old age.”

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

Themes: Old Age

“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

Themes: Old Age Longevity

55. Forever Young

“It is only after the silk wrapper has frayed at top and bottom, and the mother-of-pearl has fallen from the roller, that a scroll looks beautiful.”

Yoshida Kenkō 兼好 1284 – 1350 CE
Inspiration of self-reinvention
from Harvest of Leisure

Themes: Old Age

“Folly is the only thing that keeps youth at a stay and old age afar off.”

Erasmus 1466 – 1536 CE
(Desiderius Roterodamus)
"Greatest scholar of the northern Renaissance"
from Praise of Folly

“The more sand that escapes from our life’s hourglass, the more clearly we can see through it”

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

Themes: Old Age

76. The Soft and Flexible

“The old tend to object too much, consider too long, adventure too little, repent too soon, and content themselves with only a modicum of success.”

Francis Bacon 1561 – 1626 CE via "Of Youth and Age" (tr: Shan Dao)
from Of Goodness and the Goodness of Nature

Themes: Old Age

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

Francis Bacon 1561 – 1626 CE

Themes: Longevity Old Age

76. The Soft and Flexible

“Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.”

William Shakespeare 1564 – 1616 CE
from Cymbeline

Themes: Old Age

“To me, fair friend, you never can be old,
For as you were when first your eye I eyed,
Such seems your beauty still.

William Shakespeare 1564 – 1616 CE
from Sonnet 104

Themes: Old Age

“Though the years may creep ahead, mind itself can never age. This mind that's always just the same—Wonderful! Marvelous! When you've searched and found at last the one who never will grow old”

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

Themes: Old Age Longevity

“I have enjoyed the veneration of my country and the riches of the world; there is no object I do not have, nothing I have not experienced. But now that I have reached old age, I cannot rest easy for a moment. Therefore, I regard the whole country as a worn-out sandal, and all riches as mud and sand.”

Kāngxī 康熙帝 1654 – 1722 CE via Jonathan D. Spence
from Emperor of China, Self-Portrait of K'ang-hsi

“The latter part of a wise man's life is taken up in curing the follies, prejudices, and false opinions he had contracted in the former.”

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

from Thoughts on Various Subjects (1703)

Themes: Old Age

“Years following years steal something every day;
At last they steal us from ourselves away.”

Alexander Pope 1688 – 1744 CE
Second most quoted English writer
from Imitations of Horace, 1733

Themes: Old Age Time

“An old young man will be a young old man.”

Benjamin Franklin 1706 – 1790 CE
from Poor Richard's Almanack

Themes: Old Age

47. Effortless Success

“So, lively brisk old fellow, don't let age get you down. White haris or not, you can still be a lover.”

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 1749 – 1832 CE

Themes: Sex Old Age

“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"

Themes: Old Age

“We do not die wholly at our deaths: we have moldered away gradually long before. Faculty after faculty, interest after interest, attachment after attachment disappear: we are torn from ourselves while living.”

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

Themes: Old Age

“Nevertheless, everyone desires to achieve old age, that is to say a condition in which one can say, 'Today it is bad, and day by day it will get worse—until at last the worst arrives.'”

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

Themes: Old Age

“When age chills the blood, when our pleasures are past—
For years fleet away with the wings of the dove—
The dearest remembrance will still be the last,
Our sweetest memorial the first kiss of love.”

Lord Byron 1788 – 1824 CE via The First Kiss of Love (1806).
(George Gordon Byron)
The first rock-star style celebrity

Themes: Old Age

“Respect is paid to age because old people have necessarily shown in the course of their lives whether or not they have been able to maintain their integrity. Young people have not yet been tested.”

Arthur Schopenhauer 1788 – 1860 CE via T. Bailey Saunders, Shan Dao
from Wisdom of Life

Themes: Old Age

“Old men and women foully disarrayed
Shake their gray hair in the insulting wind.
Their work and to the dust whence they arose
And frost in these performs what fire in those.”

Percy Bysshe Shelley 1792 – 1822 CE
from Triumph of Life

Themes: Old Age

“Forty is the old age of youth; fifty is the youth of old age.”

Victor Hugo 1802 – 1885 CE
Literary pioneer, poet, and social justice provocateur

Themes: Old Age

“As to that leisure evening of life, I must say that I do not want it. I can conceive of no contentment of which toil is not to be the immediate parent.”

Anthony Trollope 1815 – 1882 CE
Novelist as teacher

Old age is always wakeful; as if, the longer linked with life, the less man has to do with aught that looks like death.”

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

Themes: Old Age

“It's the great mystery of human life that old grief passes gradually into quiet, tender joy. The mild serenity of age takes the place of the riotous blood of youth.”

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

Themes: Old Age

“The biggest surprise in life is old age”

Leo Tolstoy 1828 – 1910 CE

Themes: Old Age

“We turn not older with years but newer every day.”

Emily Dickinson 1830 – 1886 CE

Themes: Old Age

76. The Soft and Flexible

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

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

Themes: Old Age

80. A Golden Age

“When you get to my age, there is nothing more to look forward to. Each day brings its tribulations and each day difficulties arise.. .So I'm giving up the struggle once and for all, abandoning all hope of success.”

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

Themes: Success Old Age

“Men who are threatened usually die of old age.”

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

Themes: Old Age

“We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

George Bernard Shaw 1856 – 1950 CE
UK playwright second only to Shakespeare

Themes: Old Age

“Youth is wasted on the young.”

George Bernard Shaw 1856 – 1950 CE
UK playwright second only to Shakespeare

Themes: Old Age

“When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race.”

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

Themes: Old Age

“The old man smiled. 'I shall not die of a cold, my son. I shall die of having lived.”

Willa Cather 1873 – 1948 CE
Modern day Lao Tzu

Themes: Old Age

24. Unnecessary Baggage

“At 20 everyone has the face that God gave them, at 40 the face that life gave them, and at 60 the face they earned.”

Albert Schweitzer 1875 – 1965 CE

Themes: Old Age

“This is old age, and a limitation. Yet there is so much that fills me: plants, animals, clouds, day and night, and the eternal in man.”

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

Themes: Old Age

“while in the life of the human race the mythical is an early and primitive stage, in the life of the individual it is a late and mature one.”

Thomas Mann 1875 – 1955 CE
Deep, psychologically insightful author
from Freud and the Future (1937)​

Themes: Evolution Old Age

“But only a brief moment - one breath or two - is granted to the brave , whose wage is the long nights of the grave.”

Muhammad Iqbal محمد اقبال 1877 – 1938 CE

“Whether drifting through life on a boat or climbing toward old age leading a horse, each day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.— Matuso Basho (1644-1694)

Inayat Khan 1882 – 1927 CE

47. Effortless Success

“An old grandfather of ninety was busy planting an almond tree. ‘What, grandfather!’ I exclaimed. ‘Planting an almond tree?’ And he, bent as he was, turned around and said: ‘My son, I carry on as if I should never die.’ I replied: ‘And I carry on as if I was going to die any minute.’ Which of us was right, boss?”

Nikos Kazantzakis 1883 – 1957 CE
from Zorba the Greek

22. Heaven's Door

“When you cease to make a contribution, you begin to die.”

Eleanor Roosevelt 1884 – 1962 CE

24. Unnecessary Baggage

“Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art.”

Eleanor Roosevelt 1884 – 1962 CE

Themes: Beauty Old Age

12. This Over That

“a man is as old as his arteries and as young as his ideas.”

Will Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
Philosophy apostle and popularizer of history's lessons
from Mansions of Philosophy (1929)

Themes: Old Age

“It is the obligation of the old to serve as a brake upon the energy of the young”

Will (and Ariel) Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
from Rousseau and Revolution

Themes: Old Age

“Our philosophy is a function of our age of life. We pass through utopias and idealism to knowledge and limitation”

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

Themes: Old Age

“I used to think getting old was about vanity—but actually, it’s about losing people you love. Getting wrinkles is trivial.”

Eugene O'Neill 1888 – 1953 CE

Themes: Old Age

“In the last few years, everything I'd done up to sixty or so has seemed very childish.”

T. S. Eliot 1888 – 1965 CE

Themes: Old Age

“To live life to the end is not a childish task.”

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

Themes: Old Age

“The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age, which means never losing your enthusiasm.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE

Themes: Longevity Old Age

76. The Soft and Flexible

“The years between thirty-five and sixty-five revolve before the passive mind as one unexplained, confusing merry-go-round... For most men and women these thirty years are taken up with a gradual withdrawal from life, a retreat first from a front with many shelters, those myriad amusements and curiosities of youth, to a line with less... as, by turns frightened and tired, we sit waiting for death.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald 1896 – 1940 CE
Prototype of "Jazz Age" exuberance
from The Jazz Age

Themes: Longevity Old Age

“Most people die before they are fully born. Creativeness means to be born before one dies.”

Eric Fromm 1900 – 1980 CE

24. Unnecessary Baggage

“I was wise enough to never grow up while fooling most people into believing I had.”

Margaret Mead 1901 – 1978 CE

Themes: Old Age

“When the body has reached its climax of power and begins to decline, it’s like an old car—there goes the fender, there goes the tire, one thing after another and gradually the whole things drops off, and consciousness rejoins consciousness.”

Joseph Campbell 1904 – 1987 CE via Shan Dao
Great translator of ancient myth into modern symbols
from Power of Myth

Themes: Old Age

“What will it matter if he notices that he is growing old? Has he any reason to envy the young people whom he sees, or wax nostalgic over his own lost youth? What reasons has he to envy a young person?”

Victor Frankl 1905 – 1997 CE
Brave and insightful concentration camp survivor

Themes: Old Age

“Youth passes – so does spring. Old age comes – so do winter’s lovely snowscapes… I’m bursting with energy, so I’ll jog or climb Mount Hua. I’m too ill to move, so I’ll enjoy my warm bed and meditate”

John Blofeld 1913 – 1987 CE

55. Forever Young

“You're as young as the last time you changed your mind.”

Timothy Leary 1920 – 1996 CE
Pioneering psychonaut, performing philosopher, and counter-cultural hero

Themes: Change Old Age

“The secret of a good old age is simply an honorable pact with solitude.”

Gabriel García Márquez 1927 – 2014 CE
(Gabo, Gabito)
The greatest Colombian
from One Hundred Years of Solitude

“It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.”

Gabriel García Márquez 1927 – 2014 CE
(Gabo, Gabito)
The greatest Colombian

Themes: Old Age Dream

“The idea of ‘retirement’ is a scam deluding people into sacrificing the meaningfulness of their careers for the illusion of pleasure, of unconstrained leisure. The result of a propaganda campaign during the age of industrialization and rapid population growth to deal with unemployment, governments wanted to minimize the discontent of jobless youth by tricking older people into obscurity, pointless dependence, and abandoning one of our most basic sources of happiness—meaningful and productive work.”

Shan Dao 山道 1933 CE –

“Some people are old at 18 and some are young at 90. Time is a concept that humans created.”

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

Themes: Old Age Time

47. Effortless Success

“she didn't try to hide her age but let it naturally rise to the surface, accepted it for what it was, and made peace with it.”

Haruki Murakami 1949 CE – via Philip Gabriel
from Sputnik Sweetheart

Themes: Old Age

“I think that I was quite a grown-up child, and I have been a pretty childish adult.”

Arundhati Roy 1961 CE –

Themes: Old Age

47. Effortless Success

“Old age did not put an end to Goethe’s career as a lover: in 1821, when he was seventy-two, the widowed Goethe fell in love with a seventeen-year-old girl he met at a spa resort, and even proposed marriage. (She sensibly declined.)... At the age of eighty-two, dying of a painful heart condition, Goethe’s last words were 'More light!'... it is Goethe’s last perfect metaphor: one final plea for illumination, from a writer who had spent all his life seeking it.”

Adam Kirsch 1976 CE –
from The New Yorker

Themes: Old Age

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