Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Contrary to common conception, ignorance doesn't have anything to do with intelligence. It means 'to ignore' and the most brilliant people are as capable of ignoring as the lowest IQs. As Forest Gump frequently quoted, "Stupid is as stupid does." In the Buddhist tradition, ignorance (avidyā) is described as a root cause of suffering, one of the three poisons, and one of the six root kleshas. Taoism, Confucianism, almost all the Eastern religions as well as our mystical heritage from Judaism, Christianity, and other western schools assert a basic human goodness instead of an original sin based view of a fundamental badness we’re all born with. Given this innate sacred and wholesome quality, ignorance is what covers and obscures our true selves, the enlightened experience discovered rather than attained.

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Quotes (83)

“Like rain breaking through an ill-thatched house; ignorance, passion, and aggression will break through an unreflecting mind.”

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

“Just as varieties of objects are seen and discriminated in dreams and in visions, so ideas and statements are discriminated erroneously and error goes on multiplying.”

Buddha गौतम बुद्ध 563 – 483 BCE via Jack Kerouac
(Siddhartha Shakyamuni Gautama)
Awakened Truth
from Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra

Themes: Ignorance

“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

“The only good is knowledge, and the only evil is ignorance.”

Herodotus Ἡρόδοτος c. 484 - 425 BCE
“The Father of History”
from Histories

Themes: Ignorance

“Oh vain is man who glories in his joy and has no fears, while to and fro the chances of the years dance like an idiot in the wind!”

Euripides 480 – 406 BCE
Ancient humanitarian influence continuing today
from Trojan Women

Themes: Ignorance

“The only good is knowledge, and the only evil is ignorance.”

Diogenes 412 – 323 BCE
(of Sinope)
from Lives of Philosophers

Themes: Ignorance

“Ignorance is a dreadful thing and has caused no end of damage to the human race.”

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

Themes: Ignorance

“It is ignorance that causes us to identify ourselves with the body, the ego, the sense”

Plotinus 204 – 249 CE via Aldous Huxley

“Ignorance and wisdom are identical, not different.”

Dazu Huike 487 – 593 CE
(Dz Huk)

2. The Wordless Teachings

“He who neglects to drink of the spring of experience is likely to die of thirst in the desert of ignorance.”

Li Bai 李白 701 – 762 CE
(Li Bo)

Themes: Ignorance

45. Complete Perfection

“From time without beginning, the tree of unknowing has been watered by the monsoon of mental habit.”

Cauraṅgipa ཙཽ་རངྒི་པ། 10th century CE via Keith Dowman
("The Dismembered Stepson")
Mahasiddha #10
from Masters of Enchantment

49. No Set Mind

“If you do not know the measure of your own sleep,
The slumber of your ignorance will be inexhaustible.”

Gesar of Ling གེ་སར་རྒྱལ་པོ། 11th century CE via Robin Kornman
from Gesar of Ling Epic

Themes: Ignorance

“Ignorance leads to fear, fear leads to hatred, and hatred leads to violence. This is the equation.”

Averroes, Ibn Rushd ابن رشد‎‎ 1126 – 1198 CE

“Renounce spiritual ignorance; return to The One – that is the religion called Islam.”

Ming Taizu 明太祖 1328 – 1398 CE
(The Hongwu Emperor, Zhu Yuanzhan)
One of the most influential emperors in all of Chinese history

“Almost all Christians being wretchedly enslaved to blindness and ignorance, which the priests are so far from preventing or removing, blacken the darkness and promote the delusion.”

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

“If there was no faith, there would be no ignorance.”

Giordano Bruno 1548 – 1600 CE

Themes: Belief Ignorance

“The greatest wisdom often consists in the pretense of ignorance.”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE via Joseph Jacobs, Shan Dao, chapter #133
from Art of Worldly Wisdom

Themes: Ignorance

“He must be very ignorant for he answers every question he is asked.”

Voltaire, François-Marie Arouet 1694 – 1778 CE

15. Inscrutability

“Though near to reality by nature, people become estranged from it by habit—descending lower and lower by daily repetition, they fall into a state of ignorant obstinacy and do not know how to stop.”

Liu Yiming 刘一明 1734 – 1821 CE via Thomas Cleary
(Liu I-ming)
from Taoist I Ching, , Zhouyi chanzhen 周易闡真

“Reason and Ignorance, the opposites of each other, influence the great bulk of mankind. If either of these can be rendered sufficiently extensive in a country, the machinery of Government goes easily on. Reason obeys itself; and Ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it.”

Thomas Paine 1737 – 1809 CE

Themes: Reason Ignorance

“Delusion and enlightenment produce one another… You get rid of this, then grab hold of that. Don’t you see how stupid it is!”

Ryokan 良寛大愚 1758 – 1758 CE
(Ryōkan Taigu,“The Great Fool”)

19. All Methods Become Obstacles

“Religions are the children of ignorance and do not long survive their mother... Mankind is growing out of religion as out of its childhood clothes.”

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

“Nature makes only dumb animals. We owe the fools to society.”

Balzac 1799 – 1850 CE
(Honoré de Balzac)

Themes: Ignorance

“Envy is ignorance, imitation is Suicide.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803 – 1882 CE
Champion of individualism

25. The Mother of All Things

“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”

Charles Darwin 1809 – 1882 CE

“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”

Frederick Douglass 1818 – 1895 CE
International symbol of social justice

53. Shameless Thieves

“Ignorance is the parent of fear and being so nonplussed and confounded about the stranger, I confess I was as much afraid of him as if it was the devil himself”

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

Themes: Fear Ignorance

“Education: the path from cocky ignorance to miserable uncertainty.”

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

67. Three Treasures

“It's better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than open it and remove all doubt.”

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

“We see but a part and ascribe much both of man's character and actions to chance, or luck, or fortune; but these are only words whereby we escape the admission of our own ignorance”

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

Themes: Ignorance

“Wisdom leads to unity, but ignorance to separation.”

Ramakrishna 1836 – 1886 CE

“They've promised that dreams can come true - but forgot to mention that nightmares are dreams, too.”

Oscar Wilde 1854 – 1900 CE

Themes: Dream Ignorance

“The only religion that ought to be taught is the religion of fearlessness. It is fear that brings misery, fear that brings death, fear that breeds evil. And what causes fear? Ignorance of our own nature.”

Swami Vivekananda ʃami bibekanɔnd̪o 1863 – 1902 CE
"The maker of modern India"

Themes: Fear Ignorance

“There is no sin so great as ignorance. Remember this.”

Rudyard Kipling 1865 – 1936 CE
Greatest—in-English—short-story writer

from Kim

Themes: Ignorance

“There is a war going on at the present moment. What does it signify? It signifies that several millions of sleeping people are trying to destroy several millions of other sleeping people. They would not do this, of course, if they were to wake up. Everything that takes place is owing to this sleep.”

G. I. Gurdjieff 1866 – 1949 CE

Themes: War Ignorance

31. Victory Funeral

“Either America will destroy ignorance or ignorance will destroy the United States.”

W. E. B. Du Bois 1868 – 1963 CE

Themes: Ignorance

“What philosophy should dissipate is certainty, whether of knowledge or ignorance.”

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

14. Finding and Following the Formless Form

“Most people come to know only one corner of their room, one spot near the window, one narrow strip on which they keep walking back and forth.”

Rainer Maria Rilke 1875 – 1926 CE
Profound singer of universal music

Themes: Ignorance

“When one realizes one is asleep, at that moment one is already half-awake.”

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

“The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits.”

Albert Einstein 1879 – 1955 CE

Themes: Ignorance

71. Sick of Sickness

“And all the greedy gushes out through their small souls. And all the lazy leaks down over their brash bodies. How small it's all!”

James Joyce 1882 – 1941 CE
from Finnegan's Wake

“Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.”

Will (and Ariel) Durant 1885 – 1981 CE

38. Fruit Over Flowers

“All faiths alike are cloaks to cover our shivering ignorance.”

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

“I believe I need to pay attention when, in fact, I need to see and know my inattention.”

Jeanne de Salzmann 1889 – 1990 CE
(Madame de Salzmann)
Follower, preserver, and promoter of Gurdjieff's teachings

Themes: Ignorance

“Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE
from Brave New World

“Man is so intelligent that he feels impelled to invent theories to account for what happens in the world. Unfortunately, he is not quite intelligent enough, in most cases, to find correct explanations. So that when he acts on his theories, he behaves very often like a lunatic.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE

Themes: Ignorance

48. Unlearning

“Unfortunately, familiarity with traditionally hallowed writings tends to breed... a kind of reverential insensibility, a stupor of the spirit, an inward dearness to the meaning of the sacred words.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE
from Perennial Philosophy

Themes: Ignorance

“Racism is the product of tribalism and ignorance and both are falling victim to communications and world-around literacy.”

Buckminster Fuller 1895 – 1983 CE

“Ignorance is the cause of inevitability. You look around without understanding and take appearances for reality... There is no way you can help the world more than putting an end to ignorance.”

Nisargadatta Maharaj 1897 – 1981 CE via Maurice Frydman, Shan Dao
Householder guru of non-duality
from I Am That

Themes: Ignorance

“I write for one and only one purpose, to overcome the invincible ignorance of the traduced heart. […] I wish to speak to and for those who have had enough of the Social Lie, the Economics of Mass Murder, the Sexual Hoax, and the Domestication of Conspicuous Consumption.”

Kenneth Rexroth 1905 – 1982 CE
"Father of the Beats”

“An age is called Dark not because the light fails to shine, but because people refuse to see it.”

James Michener 1907 – 1997 CE
Historical and Generational Saga Master

from Space (1982)

Themes: Ignorance

“any man-made environment is a conditioner that creates non-perceptive somnambulists.”

Marshall McLuhan 1911 – 1980 CE
from War and Peace in the Global Village

“Ignorance, hatred and greed are killing nature.”

Masanobu Fukuoka 福岡 正信 1913 – 2008 CE via Larry Korn
from One Straw Revolution

68. Joining Heaven & Earth

“The evil that is in the world almost always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.”

Albert Camus 1913 – 1960 CE

“Because they drive us to swim against the current, ignorance and self-love are the cause of most of our troubles.”

John Blofeld 1913 – 1987 CE
from Talk (1978)

Plato described ordinary life as unthinking, lived in a dim cave of shadowy reflections, but said that it is possible to leave the cave and see things in sunlit clarity as they actually are.”

Huston Smith 1919 – 2016 CE
from World's Religions

“The world is full of blind children... People in the world are completely stupid, like poor animals and dogs.”

Jack Kerouac 1922 – 1969 CE
from Some of the Dharma

Themes: Ignorance

“It is harder to conceal ignorance than to acquire knowledge”

Warren Bennis 1925 – 2014 CE
Authentic Leadership pioneering thought leader

Themes: Ignorance

“Education is a system of imposed ignorance.”

Noam Chomsky 1928 CE –
from Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media

67. Three Treasures

“How it is we have so much information, but know so little?”

Noam Chomsky 1928 CE –

Themes: Ignorance

“We collude with them and they with us in maintaining the great foundation of ignorance and lies on which our civilization rests.”

Ursula Le Guin 1929 – 2018 CE
from Matter of Seggri

“No one can blame the conqueror for writing history the way he sees it, and certainly not for digesting human events and discovering their patterns according to his own point of view. But it must be admitted … that conventional history supports and complements a very grave and almost pristine ignorance.”

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

“The message of television as metaphor is not only that all the world is a stage but that the stage is located in Las Vegas… the nature of the medium is that it must suppress the content of ideas in order to accommodate the requirements of visual interest, the values of show business.”

Neil Postman 1931 – 2003 CE
from Amusing Ourselves to Death

“Every kind of ignorance in the world all results from not realizing that our perceptions are gambles. We believe what we see and then we believe our interpretation of it, we don't even know we are making an interpretation most of the time. We think this is reality.”

Robert Anton Wilson 1932 – 2007 CE
from Real Reality

49. No Set Mind

“To be old and wise, you must first be young and stupid.”

Dalai Lama XIV Tenzin Gyatso 1935 CE –

Themes: Ignorance
“When the focus of your practice becomes like the light of the sun penetrating a magnifying glass so sharply that it makes a fire, it dissolves greed, anger, and ignorance, the three great obstacles to our original heart/mind.”

Jakusho Kwong 1935 CE –
from No Beginning, No End: The Intimate Heart of Zen

68. Joining Heaven & Earth

“most people are drowning in their delusional ignorance without knowing that their suffering was created by themselves.”

Jakusho Kwong 1935 CE –
from No Beginning, No End: The Intimate Heart of Zen

“vajra ignorance... sweeps away all thoughts of possessiveness and self like a pile of dust.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE via Nalanda Translation Committee
from Sadhana of Mahamudra

“We let ourselves be blinded by promises, reduce ourselves to a state of deaf and dumb, and accept without question the battlefield situation of fighting against something else.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE via Sherab Chodzin, Shan Dao
from Orderly Chaos — The Mandala Principle

Themes: War Ignorance

“Living is easy with eyes closed misunderstanding all you see.”

John Lennon 1940 – 1980 CE
from Magical Mystery Tour

“You're telling all those lies about the good things that we can have if we close our eyes”

John Lennon 1940 – 1980 CE
from Rubber Soul

Themes: Lies Ignorance

“Politics and church are the same. They keep the people in ignorance.”

Bob Marley 1945 – 1981 CE

“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 –

“Most people in the world don't really use their brains to think. And people who don't think are the ones who don't listen to others.”

Haruki Murakami 1949 CE – via Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel
from 1Q84

“we are more pained by ignorance than delighted by instruction”

Robert Wright 1957 CE –
from Why Buddhism is True

Themes: Ignorance

“It is precisely the American economy that has dumbed so many down.”

Nina Lvovna Khrushcheva Нина Львовна Хрущёва 1964 CE –

“Those who choose not to empathize enable real monsters. For without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it, through our own apathy.”

J.K. Rowling 1965 CE –
from Harvard Commencement address, 2008

“Normal is whatever you have come to take for granted.”

David Mitchell 1969 CE –

Themes: Ignorance

38. Fruit Over Flowers

“Indifference is worse than hate.”

N. K. Jemisin 1972 CE –
from Broken Earth

Themes: Ignorance Hate

“Ignorance is a fundamental inability to recognize the infinite potential, clarity, and power of our own minds… ignorance distorts the basically open experience of awareness into dualistic distinctions between inherently existing categories of ‘self’ and ‘other.’”

Mingyur Rinpoche 1975 CE –
Modern-day Mahasiddha

from Joy of Living

Themes: Ignorance

“The greatest scientific discovery was the discovery of ignorance. Once humans realized how little they knew about the world, they suddenly had a very good reason to seek new knowledge, which opened up the scientific road to progress.”

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

from Homo Deus: A History of Tomorrow

Themes: Ignorance

“Human stupidity is one of the most important forces in history, yet we often tend to discount it... The problem is that the world is far more complicated than a chessboard, and human rationality is not up to the task of really understanding it... Even if war is catastrophic for everyone, no god and no law of nature protect us from human stupidity.”

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

from 21 Lessons for the 21st Century

Themes: Ignorance War

“Every leader has the power to do harm, but it's only when citizens know nothing of history that leaders find it possible to do evil on behalf of their people.”

Deepak Malhotra 1978
"Professor of the Year"

from Peacemaker's Code

Themes: Evil Ignorance

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