Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Livelihood

In spite of common opinion, happiness seems to come much more from discovering our skills and using them for a greater good rather than pursuing a mythical pleasure from leisure. The idea of "retirement" is a scam deluding people into sacrificing the meaningfulness of their careers for this illusion. Our infatuation with vacations, weekends, and retirement is 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 this most basic source of our true happiness. This kind of personal fulfillment from work however, can't be based on a desire for external respect, approval, or fame; for riches, pleasure, or power which are only popular ways of selling souls to a Faustian devil. It only arises when our work expresses our authentic selves, our innermost passions, and benefits the world beyond personal gain.

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Quotes (103)

“Set thy heart upon thy work, but never on its reward.”

Vyasa व्यास c. 3000 BCE
Hindu immortals, Vishnu avatar, 5th incarnation of Brahma
from Mahābhārata महाभारतम्

Themes: Livelihood

58. Goals Without Means

“Each man delights in the work that suits him best.”

Odysseus Ὀδυσσεύς c. 1100 BCE via Homer, The Odyssey
(Ulysses)
Trickster lineage hero and symbol

Themes: Livelihood

“It is best to work, at whatever you have a talent for doing, without turning your greedy thought toward what some other man possesses, but take care of your own livelihood… it is from work that men are rich, a working man is much dearer to the immortals.”

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

Themes: Livelihood

“fear a constricted life, fear wasting your time with a meaningless career”

Lao Tzu 老子 604 BCE - via Shan Dao, chapter #72
(Lǎozǐ)
from Tao Te Ching 道德经 Dàodéjīng

Themes: Livelihood

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

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

Themes: Livelihood

“My purpose in life? The investigation of sun, moon, and heaven.”

Anaxagoras Ἀναξαγόρας 510 – 428 BCE via Pliny, Shan Dao
“The Copernicus and Darwin of his age”

Themes: Livelihood

“All paid jobs absorb and degrade the mind.”

Aristotle Ἀριστοτέλης 382 – 322 BCE

Themes: Livelihood

72. Helpful Fear

“To keep a constant mind-and-heart of goodness without a constant, meaningful livelihood is only possible for a very few. If people lack a good livelihood, it follows that they will lack a good mind and heart; will become reckless, depraved, and stop at nothing. Only hypocritical, greedy, and criminal leaders create the causes of crime and then punish the people for it.”

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

Themes: Livelihood Crime

75. Greed

“Once you start working on something don’t be afraid of failure and don’t abandon it. People who work sincerely are the happiest.”

Chandragupta Maurya 340 – 297 BCE
Ashoka’s grandfather, founder of the Maurya Empire

Themes: Livelihood

“Before enlightenment, chopping wood and carrying water. After enlightenment, chopping wood and carrying water.”

Jianzhi Sengcan 鑑智僧璨 529 – 606 CE
(Jiànzhì Sēngcàn)

80. A Golden Age

“To do a certain kind of thing, you have to be a certain kind of person.”

Jianzhi Sengcan 鑑智僧璨 529 – 606 CE
(Jiànzhì Sēngcàn)

Themes: Livelihood

51. Mysterious Goodness

“day in working for food and clothes
year out worrying about rent and taxes
thousands fight for a coin
the crowd yells ‘run for your life’”

Han Shan c. 730-850 CE
(Cold Mountain)

Themes: Livelihood

72. Helpful Fear

“Work is for the purification of the mind, not for the perception of Reality. The realization of Truth is brought about by discrimination, and not in the least by millions of acts.”

Adi Shankara 788 – 820 CE

Themes: Livelihood

“One day not work, one day not eat.”

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

Themes: Livelihood

“Everyday life is the way.”

Mumon Ekai 無門慧開 1183 – 1260 CE
(Wumen Huikai)
from The Gateless Gate, 無門関, 無門關

Themes: Livelihood

80. A Golden Age

“There can be no joy of life without joy of work.”

Thomas Aquinas 1225 – 1274 CE via E.F. Schumacher

“Painting and sculpture, labor and good faith have been my ruin and I continually go from bad to worse. Better would it have been for me if I had set myself to making matches in my youth. I should not be in such distress of mind.”

Michelangelo 1475 – 1564 CE
from Letter to friends, 1542

“People only know the work of working. They don’t know that the work of not working is the greatest work of all… If they knew that something came from nothing, they would no longer enslave themselves to things.”

Deqing 1546 – 1623 CE
(Te-Ch’ing)

40. Returning

“All that glisters is not gold;
Often have you heard that told:
Many a man his life hath sold
But my outside to behold:
Gilded tombs do worms enfold.”

William Shakespeare 1564 – 1616 CE
from Merchant of Venice

Themes: Wealth Livelihood

75. Greed

“To business that we love, we rise betimes, and go to it with delight.”

William Shakespeare 1564 – 1616 CE
from Anthony and Cleopatra

“It is intolerable when an office engrosses someone with fixed hours and a settle routine... better to leave people free to follow their devices combining variety with importance.”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE via Joseph Jacobs, chapter #104
from Art of Worldly Wisdom

Themes: Livelihood

“become necessary to your office instead of letting your office remain necessary to you”

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

Themes: Livelihood

“the greatest evil in heaven and on earth: they pass through the world without doing any useful work and are thus great thieves”

Bunan 至道無難 1603 – 1676 CE
(Shido Bunan Zenji Munan)

“Trade in general being nothing else but the exchange of labor for labor, the value of all things is most justly measured by labor.”

Benjamin Franklin 1706 – 1790 CE

“It is too difficult to think nobly when one thinks only of earning a living.”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1712 – 1778 CE

Themes: Livelihood

44. Fame and Fortune

“You can make a good living from sooth-saying but not from truth-saying”

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg 1742 – 1799 CE
One of history’s best aphorists

Themes: Livelihood Truth

“Most people spend the greatest part of their time working in order to live, and what little freedom remains so fills them with fear that they seek out any and every means to be rid of it.”

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 1749 – 1832 CE

Themes: Livelihood

75. Greed

“No blessing is equal to the blessings of work. To know and practice a craft lends greater culture than half-knowledge, a hundred times over.”

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 1749 – 1832 CE via Ungar

“People who know how to employ themselves, always find leisure moments, while those who do nothing are forever in a hurry.”

Madame Roland 1754 – 1793 CE via Mémoires de Madame Roland (1795)
(Marie-Jeanne Phlippon)
Revolutionary heroine

“I worked for a menial hire, only to learn dismayed, that any wage I had asked of life, life would have willingly paid.”

Robert Burns 1759 – 1796 CE

Themes: Livelihood

“Search for the truth is the noblest occupation of man; its publication is a duty.”

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

“If the people can attain a fair compensation for their labor, they will have good homes, good clothing, and good food. the great interest of this country is labor.”

Daniel Webster 1782 – 1852 CE via CIO News
America's greatest orator

Themes: Livelihood

“'Tis to work and have such pay
As just keeps life from day to day
In your limbs, as in a cell
For the tyrants' use to dwell”

Percy Bysshe Shelley 1792 – 1822 CE
from Masque of Anarchy, 1819

Themes: Livelihood

“Work is the grand cure of all the maladies and miseries that ever beset mankind.”

Thomas Carlyle 1795 – 1881 CE
"Great Man” theory of history creator

Themes: Livelihood

“An unfulfilled vocation drains the color from a man's entire existence.”

Balzac 1799 – 1850 CE
(Honoré de Balzac)

Themes: Livelihood

“All happiness depends on courage and work.”

Balzac 1799 – 1850 CE
(Honoré de Balzac)

“The high prize of life, the crowning fortune of a man, is to be born with a bias to some pursuit, which finds him in employment and happiness.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803 – 1882 CE
Champion of individualism
from Conduct of Life

Themes: Livelihood

“Under wage labor, the art advances, the artisan declines.”

Alexis de Tocqueville 1805 – 1859 CE
Pioneering researcher into the conflicts between freedom and equality

Themes: Livelihood

“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

“A love of nature keeps no factories busy.”

Henry David Thoreau 1817 – 1862 CE
Father of environmentalism and America's first yogi
from Walden or Life in the Woods

Themes: Livelihood

72. Helpful Fear

“The writer must earn money in order to be able to live and to write, but he must by no means live and write for the purpose of making money.”

Karl Marx 1818 – 1883 CE
from Herr Vogt, 1860

Themes: Livelihood

“All of us are slaves… landsmen pent up in lath and plaster—tied to counters, nailed to benches, clinched to desks”

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

“Labor without joy is base. Labor without sorrow is base. Joy without labor is base.”

John Ruskin 1819 – 1900 CE
from Time and Tide, letter 5

Themes: Livelihood

“He that will not live by toil
Has no right on English soil”

Charles Kingsley 1819 – 1875 CE
Founder of Christian Socialism in England
from Alton Locke (1848)

Themes: Livelihood

“How happy is the little stone
That rambles in the road alone,
And doesn't care about careers,
And exigencies never fears.”

Emily Dickinson 1830 – 1886 CE

72. Helpful Fear

“'Water Lilies' is an extension of my life. Without the water, the lilies cannot live, as I am without art.”

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

Themes: Livelihood

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work… Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

Thomas Edison 1847 – 1931 CE
America's greatest inventor

Themes: Livelihood

“One machine can do the work of fifty ordinary men. No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man.”

Elbert Hubbard 1856 – 1915 CE

80. A Golden Age

“Love and work... work and love, that's all there is.”

Sigmund Freud 1856 – 1939 CE

Themes: Livelihood Love

“Folks who never do any more than they get paid for, never get paid for any more than they do.”

Elbert Hubbard 1856 – 1915 CE

Themes: Livelihood

79. No Demands

“To find out what one is fitted to do, and to secure an opportunity to do it, is the key to happiness.”

John Dewey 1859 – 1952 CE
The "Second Confucius"

“God Respects Me When I Work, He Loves Me When I Sing”

Rabindranath Tagore 1861 – 1941 CE

Themes: Music Livelihood

“with work which you despise, which bores you, and which the world does not need — this life is hell.”

W. E. B. Du Bois 1868 – 1963 CE

“The world wept and still is weeping and blind with tears and blood. For there began to rise in America in 1876 a new capitalism and a new enslavement of labor.”

W. E. B. Du Bois 1868 – 1963 CE
from Black Reconstruction

“Let us have production by the masses rather than mass production.”

Mahatma Gandhi 1869 – 1948 CE

Themes: Livelihood

“One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.”

Bertrand Russell 1872 – 1970 CE
“20th century Voltaire”

Themes: Livelihood

“At that point in life where your talent meets the needs of the world, that is where God wants you to be.”

Albert Schweitzer 1875 – 1965 CE

Themes: Livelihood

“Only a life lived for others is a life worth while.”

Albert Einstein 1879 – 1955 CE
from Youth, 1932

“When you work you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turns to music... Work is love made visible.”

Kahlil Gibran 1883 – 1931 CE
from The Prophet

Themes: Livelihood

“And if you can't work with love, but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of the people who work with joy.”

Kahlil Gibran 1883 – 1931 CE

Themes: Livelihood

72. Helpful Fear

“Too proud indeed am I to receive wages, but not gifts.”

Kahlil Gibran 1883 – 1931 CE
from The Prophet

Themes: Livelihood

“They deem me mad because I will not sell my days for gold; and I deem them mad because they think my days have a price.”

Kahlil Gibran 1883 – 1931 CE

Themes: Livelihood

44. Fame and Fortune

“We have reached a point today where labor-saving devices are good only when they do not throw the worker out of his job.”

Eleanor Roosevelt 1884 – 1962 CE

Themes: Livelihood

78. Water

“Never mistake knowledge for wisdom. One helps you make a living; the other helps you make a life.”

Eleanor Roosevelt 1884 – 1962 CE

Themes: Wisdom Livelihood

81. Journey Without Goal

“Let us ask the Gods not for possessions, but for things to do; happiness is in making things rather than consuming them.”

Will Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
Philosophy apostle and popularizer of history's lessons
from Fallen Leaves (2014)

“Our civilization being what it is, you've got to spend eight hours out of every twenty-four as a mixture between an imbecile and a sewing machine… It's humiliating and disgusting. But there you are. You've got to do it… Do the job then, idiotically and mechanically; and spend your leisure hours in being a real complete man or woman.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE

Themes: Livelihood

72. Helpful Fear

“We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian Darwinian theory he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors.”

Buckminster Fuller 1895 – 1983 CE

Themes: Livelihood

72. Helpful Fear

“We should do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest.”

Buckminster Fuller 1895 – 1983 CE

Themes: Livelihood

72. Helpful Fear

“An educational system that aims at vocational training or social adjustment, or technological advance is not likely to lead to the kind of maturity that the present crisis demands… a country that is powerful, inexperienced, and uneducated can be a great danger to world peace.”

Robert Hutchins 1899 – 1977 CE
(Robert Maynard Hutchins)
from The Great Conversation

“Life's more important than a living. So many people who make a living are making death, not life. Don't ever join them. They're the gravediggers of our civilization - The safe men. The compromisers. The moneymakers.”

James Hilton 1900 – 1954 CE
from Lost Horizon

72. Helpful Fear

“I didn’t want a steady job in an office or factory. I thought myself too good for that not because I was stuck up but simply because any human being is too good for that kind of no-life, even white people.”

John Fire Lame Deer 1903 – 1976 CE via Matthieu Ricard
from Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions

Themes: Livelihood

72. Helpful Fear

“One can clearly see here that Buddhism is strongly opposed to any kind of war, when it lays down that trade in arms and lethal weapons is an evil and unjust means of livelihood.”

Walpola Rahula Thero 1907 – 1997 CE
“Supreme Master of Buddhist Scriptures”

“That soul-destroying, meaningless, mechanical, monotonous, moronic work is an insult to human nature which must necessarily and inevitably produce either escapism or aggression, and that no amount of ‘bread and circuses’ can compensate for the damage done – these are facts which are neither denied nor acknowledged but are met with an unbreakable conspiracy of silence – because to deny them would be too obviously absurd and to acknowledge them would condemn the central preoccupation of modern society as a crime against humanity.”

E. F. Schumacher 1911 – 1977 CE
The “People's Economist”

72. Helpful Fear

“Come into my parlor said the spider to the specialist.”

Marshall McLuhan 1911 – 1980 CE

Themes: Livelihood

57. Wu Wei

“The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor.”

Albert Camus 1913 – 1960 CE

“Without work, all life goes rotten but when work is soulless, life stifles and dies.”

Albert Camus 1913 – 1960 CE via E.F. Schumacher

“We are so obsessed with doing that we have no time and no imagination left for being. As a result, men are valued not for what they are but for what they do or what they have - for their usefulness.”

Thomas Merton 1915 – 1968 CE

7. Lose Yourself, Gain Your Soul

“When technology is used to increase employment rather than get rid of it, work becomes an artificial creation of ever more meaningless routines”

Alan Watts 1915 – 1973 CE
from Psychotherapy East and West

“Scratch an incompetent schoolteacher—or, for that matter, college professor—and half the time you find a displaced first-class automobile mechanic or a goddam stonemason.”

J. D. Salinger 1919 – 2010 CE via Zooey
from Franny and Zooey

“The quality of a society and of its culture will depend on the status of its unemployed.”

Ivan Illich 1926 – 2002 CE
"an archaeologist of ideas"
from The Right to Useful Unemployment and Its Professional Enemies

“Everyday mind is the path.”

Seungsahn 숭산행원대선사 1927 – 2004 CE
(Soen Sa Nim)

“Peace of mind produces right values, right values produce right thoughts. Right thoughts produce right actions and right actions produce [meaningful] work”

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

Themes: Peace Livelihood

“People arrive at a factory and perform a totally meaningless task from eight to five without question because the structure demands… the system demands it and no one is willing to take on the formidable task of changing the structure just because it is meaningless.”

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

“All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”

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

Themes: Livelihood

“The future of business? – A faster and faster transition from the mechanical, rote, and unskilled to the innovative, educated and personal as technology, computers, and robots assume bigger and bigger roles.”

Shan Dao 山道 1933 CE –

“'Selling our souls to the devil' is just a dramatic way of saying 'trading our time for money.'”

Shan Dao 山道 1933 CE –

“Henry Ford modeled his assembly line car production after visiting a Chicago slaughterhouse… and immediately saw that it was a perfect model for the automobile industry… Later, the Nazis used the same slaughterhouse model for their mass murders in the concentration camps… Ford openly admired the Nazis' efficiency. Hitler returned the admiration… and kept a life-sized portrait of the automobile mogul in his office.”

Jane Goodall 1934 CE –

Themes: Livelihood Evil

“a lot of farmers have gone to a lot of trouble merely to be self-employed to live at least a part of their lives without a boss.”

Wendell Berry 1934 CE –

59. The Gardening of Spirit

“We can say without exaggeration that the present national ambition of the United States is unemployment. People live for quitting time, for weekends, for vacations, and for retirement; moreover, this ambition seems to be classless, as true in the executive suites as on the assembly lines. One works not because the work is necessary, valuable, useful to a desirable end, or because one loves to do it, but only to be able to quit - a condition that a saner time would regard as infernal, a condemnation.”

Wendell Berry 1934 CE –

72. Helpful Fear

“80 percent of success is showing up — my biggest life lesson that has worked. All others have failed me.”

Woody Allen 1935 CE –

“Most people work just hard enough not to get fired and get paid just enough money not to quit.”

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

72. Helpful Fear

“Work is one of the most important sources of happiness — not at all a curse as the Bible teaches.”

Mary Catherine Bateson 1939 CE –

Themes: Livelihood

“He hands you a nickel, he hands you a dime, he asks you with a grin if you're havin' a good time... I ain't gonna work for Maggie's brother no more”

Bob Dylan 1941 CE – via Maggie's Farm
from Bringing it all Back Home

Themes: Livelihood

“For them that must obey authority
That they do not respect in any degree
Who despise their jobs, their destinies
Speak jealously of them that are free
Do what they do just to be
Nothing more than something
They invest in.”

Bob Dylan 1941 CE –

72. Helpful Fear

“Love the life you live. Live the life you love.”

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”

“How the hell can a person go to work in the morning, come home in the evening and have nothing to say?”

John Prine 1946 CE –

“Humans were still not only the cheapest robots around but also… self-reproducing… They showed up and worked, generation after generation; give them 3000 calories a day and a few amenities, a little time off, a strong jolt of fear, and you could work them at almost anything.”

Kim Stanley Robinson 1952 CE –
from 2312

80. A Golden Age

“A people inspired by democracy, human rights and economic opportunity will turn their back decisively against extremism.”

Benazir Bhutto بينظير ڀُٽو‎; 1953 – 2007 CE

“In a culture obsessed with hard work and career success, it can be difficult to wean ourselves off the work ethic. And we may not want to if we are engrossed in a career that is making us feel fully alive. But if we do seek the space to nurture other parts of who we are, then we might be wise to put our hopes in the virtues of simple living”

Roman Krznaric c. 1964
Practical, popular, modern philosopher

“I think where people tend to end up results from a combination of encouragement, accident, and lucky break… So it's all about trying to find the best fit between your talents and what the world can offer at that point in time.”

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

“‘proper work’ usually involves performing a task you hate on behalf of people you'd gleefully club to death with a bull's knee if only it were legal to do so.”

Charlie Brooker 1971 CE –
from Black Mirror

Themes: Livelihood Hate

“The loss of many traditional jobs in everything from art to healthcare will partly be offset by the creation of new human jobs. GPs who focus on diagnosing known diseases and administering familiar treatments will probably be replaced by AI doctors. But precisely because of that, there will be much more money to pay human doctors and lab assistants to do groundbreaking research and develop new medicines or surgical procedures.”

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

from 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (2018)

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