Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Mike Harrison


What makes us wake up in the morning? What makes us travel, study, love, work, meditate, create, sing, dance, help, teach...
Without some kind of inspiration, not much happens. Our inspiration, the heart of our motivation may—more than anything else—determine our path in life, the levels of our success and failure, our happiness, fulfillment, and peace of mind. As Victor Frankyl discovered, “We can always find a how if we have a strong enough why.” But if we don’t connect deeply with a meaningful reason, even the most simple of tasks often prove beyond reach. Woody Allen said that the only words of wisdom that never failed him were “80 percent of success is showing up.” Without inspiration, we can’t really show up—not with undistracted energy and motivation. True inspiration arises from an authentic place in our hearts; pseudo-inspiration from accepted, external values imposed by religion, culture, and the various norms of civilization. True inspiration transforms our lives into works of art; pseudo-inspiration turns us into wage slaves with souls sold to the devils of materialism.

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Quotes (93)

“There is no place for grief in a house which serves the Muse.”

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

“Take everything that happens as it comes, as something to animate, not to appropriate”

Lao Tzu 老子 604 BCE - via Witter Bynner
from Way of Life According to Lao Tzu

2. The Wordless Teachings

“One moment can change a day, one day can change a life and one life can change the world.”

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

29. Not Doing

“Happiness does not come from fame, riches, or virtue. It only arises when posterity—reflecting on our life—believes it to be a life they would wish to live.”

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

“On, on! Run, dance, delirious, possessed! You, the beauty and grace of golden Tmolus... sing for joy. Like a foal with its mother at pasture, runs and leaps for joy every daughter of Bacchus.”

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

“Very small is the difference between people and animals. The common person ignores that difference but the wise cultivate it.”

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

Themes: Inspiration

“A person who is shallow aspires to depth; one who is ugly aspires to beauty; one who is narrow aspires to breadth; one who is poor aspires to wealth; one who is humble aspires to esteem. Whatever one lacks in oneself he must seek outside.”

Xun Kuang 荀況 310 – 235 BCE
(Xún Kuàng, Xúnzǐ)
Early Confucian philosopher of "basic badness"

Themes: Inspiration

“Rise above yourself and grasp the world.”

Archimedes 287 – 212 BCE
(of Syracuse)

55. Forever Young

“Sages do good as if they fear there is not enough of it and prepare against calamity as if they fear they cannot avoid it.”

Liú Ān 劉安 c. 179–122 BCE via Thomas Cleary
from Huainanzi

Themes: Inspiration

49. No Set Mind

“If my work may be handed down to men who will appreciate it, then though I should suffer a thousand mutilations, what regret should I have?”

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

Themes: Inspiration

“Do every act of your life as though it were the very last act of your life.”

Marcus Aurelius 121 – 219 CE

Themes: Inspiration

59. The Gardening of Spirit

“I swore—but was I sober when I swore?
And then and then came Spring, and Rose-in-hand
My thread-bare Penitence a-pieces tore.”

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

from Rubaiyat

Themes: Inspiration

“Like billowing clouds, like the incessant gurgle of the brook, the longing of the spirit can never be stilled.”

Hildegard of Bingen 1098 – 1179 CE

Themes: Inspiration

67. Three Treasures

“All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.”

Francis of Assisi 1181 – 1226 CE

Themes: Inspiration

67. Three Treasures

“When you get to the top of the mountain, keep climbing.”

Mumon Ekai 無門慧開 1183 – 1260 CE
(Wumen Huikai)
Pioneering pathfinder to the Gateless Gate

from The Gateless Gate, 無門関, 無門關

Themes: Inspiration

39. Oneness

“You were born with wings, why prefer to crawl through life?”

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”

18. The Sick Society

“These are the soulless whose lives included neither blame nor praise.”

Dante 1265 – 1321 CE
(Durante degli Alighieri)
from Divine Comedy

“People of accomplishment rarely sit back and let things happen to them. They go out and happen to things.”

Leonardo da Vinci 1452 – 1519 CE

“It is better to act and repent than not to act and regret.”

Machiavelli 1469 – 1527 CE via W.K. Marriott
(Niccolò Machiavelli)
from The Prince

Themes: Inspiration

“With the active cooperation of enthusiasm and the intellect, inspiration creates marvelous conceptions and all that is excellent and divine come into being.”

Giorgio Vasari dʒordʒo vaˈzaːri 1511 – 1574 CE via Shan Dao

Themes: Inspiration

“He who knows himself knows how to strengthen his weakness.”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE via Joseph Jacobs, chapter #167
from Art of Worldly Wisdom

Themes: Inspiration

“No matter where your interest lies, you will not be able to accomplish anything unless you bring your deepest devotion to it.”

Matsuo Bashō 松尾 芭蕉 1644 – 1694 CE

27. No Trace

“Come out of your infancy, my friend; awake!”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1712 – 1778 CE

“Timeless wisdom draws us on”

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 1749 – 1832 CE
from Faust, part II

Themes: Inspiration

8. Like Water

“The highest goal that man can achieve is amazement.”

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 1749 – 1832 CE
from Theory of Colors

Themes: Inspiration

1. The Unnamed

“Ennui is the disease of hearts without feeling, and of minds without resources.”

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

Themes: Inspiration

“Nothing is as contagious as enthusiasm. It is the real allegory of the myth of Orpheus; it moves stones, and charms brutes. It is the genius of sincerity, and truth accomplishes no victories without it.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge 1772 – 1834 CE

Themes: Inspiration

“Without the music of some inspired Orpheus was no city ever built, no work that man glories in ever done.”

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

Themes: Inspiration Music

“In the twentieth century, war will be dead, the scaffold will be dead, animosity will be dead, royalty will be dead, and dogmas will be dead; but Man will live. For all there will be but one country—that country the whole earth; for all there will be but one hope—that hope the whole heaven.”

Victor Hugo 1802 – 1885 CE
Literary pioneer, poet, and social justice provocateur
from Workman's Congress, 1879

“People do not lack strength, they lack will… The ones who live are the ones who struggle; the ones whose soul and heart are filled with high purpose. Yes, these are the living ones.”

Victor Hugo 1802 – 1885 CE
Literary pioneer, poet, and social justice provocateur
from NY Post, 194​8

Themes: Inspiration

“Let others complain that the age is wicked; my complaint is that it is paltry; for it lacks passion. Men’s thoughts are thin and flimsy like lace, they are themselves pitiable like the lace-makers. The thoughts of their hearts are too paltry to be sinful... Their lusts are dull and sluggish, their passions sleepy.”

Søren Kierkegaard 1813 – 1855 CE via Swenson
"The first existentialist philosopher"
from Either/Or (1843)

“Everything great glitters, glitter begets ambition, and ambition can easily have caused the inspiration or what we thought to be inspiration.”

Karl Marx 1818 – 1883 CE

12. This Over That

“The presence of a noble nature, generous in its wishes, ardent in its charity, changes the lights for us: we begin to see thing again in their larger, quiter masses and to believe that we too an be seen and judged in te wholeness of our character.”

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

from Middlemarch

Themes: Inspiration

“As soon as any art is pursued with a view of money, then farewell—in 99% of cases—to all hope of genuine good work”

Samuel Butler 1835 – 1902 CE
Iconoclastic philosopher, artist, composer, author, and evolutionary theorist
from Note-Books (1912)

“Do not seek illumination unless you seek it as a man whose hair is on fire seeks a pond.”

Ramakrishna 1836 – 1886 CE

“These then are my last words to you: Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact.”

William James 1842 – 1910 CE
"Father of American psychology”
from The Will to Believe

“It's time to start living the life you've imagined.”

Henry James 1843 – 1916 CE

Themes: Inspiration

“If we possess a why of life we can put up with almost any how.”

Friedrich Nietzsche 1844 – 1900 CE
from Twilight of the Idols

Themes: Inspiration

“Lazy fokes's stummucks don't git tired.”

Joel Chandler Harris 1848 – 1908 CE
from Legends of the old Plantation

Themes: Inspiration

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”

Oscar Wilde 1854 – 1900 CE

“Men do not lack strength; they lack the will to concentrate and act... Success is voltage under control”

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

Themes: Inspiration

“My brain is only a receiver, in the Universe there is a core from which we obtain knowledge, strength and inspiration.”

Nikola Tesla Никола Тесла 1856 – 1943 CE

Themes: Inspiration

“Nobody is bored when he is trying to make something that is beautiful, or to discover something that is true.”

Dean Inge 1860 – 1954 CE
Christian mystic and philosopher

“The time at our disposal each day is elastic; the passions we feel dilate it, those that inspire us shrink it, and habit fills it.”

Marcel Proust 1871 – 1922 CE
Apostle of Ordinary Mind
from In Search of Lost Time

Themes: Time Inspiration

“When heat, moisture, and fertile soil come together, you do whatever you can to sow grain. When the crops are ready in autumn, you do whatever you can to harvest them... Now that you have a precious human life free of all impediments and endowed with all favorable conditions, apply yourself unrelentingly to spiritual practice!”

Shechen Gyaltsap 1871 – 1926 CE via Matthieu Ricard
Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche's main teacher
from Chariot of Complete Liberation

“William James used to preach the ‘will to believe.’ For my part, I should wish to preach the ‘will-to-doubt.’ None of our beliefs are quite true; all at least have a penumbra of vagueness and error. What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the will to find out, which is the exact opposite.”

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

Themes: Inspiration

“I have lived in the pursuit of a vision, both personal and social. Personal: to care for what is noble, for what is beautiful, for what is gentle; to allow moments of insight to give wisdom at more mundane times. Social: to see in imagination the society that is to be created, where individuals grow freely, and where hate and greed and envy die because there is nothing to nourish them. These things I believe, and the world, for all its horrors, has left me unshaken”

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

“I know so many women who have kept all the things that she had lost, but whose inner glow has faded. Whatever else was gone, Antonia had not lost the fire of life.”

Willa Cather 1873 – 1948 CE
Modern day Lao Tzu

47. Effortless Success

“You've only got one life, one youth, and you can let it slip through your fingers if you want to; nothing easier. Most people do that.”

Willa Cather 1873 – 1948 CE via "The Bohemian Girl"
Modern day Lao Tzu

Themes: Inspiration

“When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.”

Charles Beard 1874 – 1948 CE
Pioneering progressive historian

“Create an ocean from a dewdrop. Do not beg for light from the moon, obtain it from the spark within you.”

Muhammad Iqbal محمد اقبال 1877 – 1938 CE

“Pleasure is a freedom song but it is not freedom”

Kahlil Gibran 1883 – 1931 CE
from The Prophet

“Beauty is not a need but an ecstasy... a heart enflamed and a soul enchanted.”

Kahlil Gibran 1883 – 1931 CE
from The Prophet

“God makes us grubs, and we, by our own efforts, must become butterflies... He sent us the silkworm to point out our way... the grub's yearning to become butterfly always stood a its—and man's—most imperative and at the same time most legitimate duty.”

Nikos Kazantzakis 1883 – 1957 CE via P. A. Bien
from Report to Greco

Themes: Inspiration

“When I encounter a sunrise, a painting, a woman, or an idea that makes my heart bound like a young calf, then I know I am standing in front of happiness.”

Nikos Kazantzakis 1883 – 1957 CE
from Report to Greco

Themes: Inspiration

32. Uncontrived Awareness

“It is no discredit to our species that in all ages its curiosity has outrun its wisdom, and its ideals have set an impossible pace for its behavior.”

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

“What thou lovest well remains, the rest is dross.”

Ezra Pound 1885 – 1972 CE

Themes: Inspiration

“If men cease to believe that they will one day become gods then they will surely become worms.”

Henry Miller 1891 – 1980 CE
from Colossus of Maroussi (1941)

“The creative instinct is, in its final analysis and in its simplest terms, an enormous extra vitality, a super-energy, born inexplicably in an individual, a vitality great beyond all the needs of his own living — an energy which no single life can consume.”

Pearl Buck 1892 – 1973 CE
from The Chinese Novel (1938)​

“The best of the most atrocious, zeal is always intoxicating. A world without zeal would be a world deprived of many simple but savage pleasures: but at least half its present excuses for interfering and bullying would have been taken away from it.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE
from Erewhon, Introduction

“It is always because of one person that all the changes that matter in the world come about. So be that one person.”

Buckminster Fuller 1895 – 1983 CE

“Just as lower organisms serve as building materials for higher ones, so also the stored-up experiences of the subconscious serve the higher purposes of the mind... provided the aim, or the idea that inspired us, was wide enough to include a future beyond the span of one lifetime.”

Anagarika​ (Lama) Govinda 1898 – 1985 CE
(Ernst Hoffmann)
Pioneer of Tibetan Buddhism to the West

from Way of the White Clouds (1966)

“Let a man in a garret but burn with enough intensity and he will set fire to the whole world.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry 1900 – 1944 CE
from Wind, Sand, and Stars (1939)

“"And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was greater than the risk it took to blossom."”

Anais Nin 1903 – 1977 CE

36. The Small, Dark Light

“If what Proust says is true, that happiness is the absence of fever, then I will never know happiness. For I am possessed by a fever for knowledge, experience, and creation.”

Anais Nin 1903 – 1977 CE

“Those who have a 'why' to live, can bear with almost any 'how'.”

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

from Man's Search for Meaning

Themes: Inspiration

“The continual stream of new discovery and fresh revelation and inspiration which arises at every moment is the manifestation of the eternal youth of the living Dharma and its wonder, splendor and spontaneity.

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche དིལ་མགོ་མཁྱེན་བརྩེ། 1910 – 1991 CE
"Mind" incarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo

32. Uncontrived Awareness

“Perhaps we cannot raise the winds. But each of us can put up the sail, so that when the wind comes we can catch it.”

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

“Nature is an astounding reality. One must constantly keep in mind that coming into contact with true nature can be an overwhelming experience. This is, after all, a world of inspiration that can justly be called the 'Great Spirit.'”

Masanobu Fukuoka 福岡 正信 1913 – 2008 CE
from Road Back to Nature

“A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but ideas live on.”

John Kennedy 1917 – 1963 CE
Modern America's most popular president

from Public Papers

Themes: Inspiration

“The larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of wonder.”

Huston Smith 1919 – 2016 CE
from Beyond the Postmodern Mind

“Having been created in the image God, all human beings have a God-shaped vacuum built into their hearts. Since nature abhors a vacuum, people keep trying to fill the one inside them.”

Huston Smith 1919 – 2016 CE
from World's Religions

“We destroy the love of learning… by encouraging and compelling them to work for petty and contemptible rewards… A's on report cards, or honor rolls, or dean's lists, or Phi Beta Kappa keys, in short, for the ignoble satisfaction of feeling that they are better than someone else.”

John Holt 1923 – 1985 CE

66. Go Low

“As long as you are convinced you have never done anything, you can never do anything.”

Malcolm X الحاجّ مالك الشباز‎‎ 1925 – 1965 CE

Themes: Inspiration

“Nothing splendid was ever created in cold blood. Heat is required to forge anything. Every great accomplishment is the story of a flaming heart”

Warren Bennis 1925 – 2014 CE
Authentic Leadership pioneering thought leader

“Sí, se puede" (Spanish for "Yes, one can" or, roughly, "Yes, it can be done")”

César Chavez César Estrada Chávez 1927 – 1993 CE
(César Estrada Chávez)

“We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable but so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words.”

Ursula Le Guin 1929 – 2018 CE

“There are times when Lao Tzu sounds very like Henry David Thoreau, but Lao Tzu was kinder…Lao Tzu know that getting all entangled with the external keeps us from the eternal, but he also understands that sometimes people like to get dressed up.”

Ursula Le Guin 1929 – 2018 CE

Themes: Inspiration

18. The Sick Society

“Sí, se puede (Spanish for ‘Yes, it is possible’ or, roughly, ‘Yes, one can’)”

Dolores Huerta 1930 CE –

“You can imagine Herman Melville coming to his publisher with his new manuscript. They ask him what it's about, and he says, 'It's about a one-legged captain who's had his leg bitten off by a whale.' It wouldn't have sounded that promising. If a man cares intensely enough about tiddlywinks, his book about tiddlywinks will be a great novel.”

Matthew J. Bruccoli 1931 – 2008 CE

Themes: Inspiration

“Our salvation is in striving to achieve what we know we'll never achieve.”

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

“Great ideas, ideas that meaningfully reflect something of the world's ancient tradition of wisdom, have the power to bind people together and to bring unity under a goal and a vision that are stronger and deeper than all personal, short-term gain.”

​ Jacob Needleman 1934 CE –
American religious scholar, historian, philosopher, and author
from American Soul

Themes: Inspiration

“Rejoicing in ordinary things is not sentimental or trite. It actually takes guts. Each time we drop our complaints and allow everyday good fortune to inspire us, we enter the warrior's world.”

Pema Chödrön 1936 CE –
(Deirdre Blomfield-Brown)
First American Vajrayana nun

52. Cultivating the Changeless

“Because of the extraordinary vastness of perception, you have possibilities of communicating with the depth of the world—the world of sight, the world of sound—the greater world.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE
from Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior

Themes: Inspiration

“What if cultivating your own garden were the best way to help the world? What if your little backyard could, with the proper care, grow enough vegetable and fruits to feed a million people? What if your gardening inspired a thousand of your neighbors to do the same?”

Stephen Mitchell 1943 CE –
from Second Book of Tao

59. The Gardening of Spirit

“People can accomplish anything if they want it badly enough… reality can become unreal. Or unreality can enter the realm of the real. If we desire it that strongly. Deep in our heart. But that doesn’t mean that we are free. It might demonstrate quite the opposite.”

Haruki Murakami 1949 CE –
from Killing Commendatore

Themes: Inspiration

“Dreams are the kinds of things you can—when you need to—borrow and lend out.”

Haruki Murakami 1949 CE –
from Men Without Women (2017)

Themes: Inspiration

“You can imprison a person, but not an idea. You can exile a person, but not an idea. You can kill a person, but not an idea.”

Benazir Bhutto بينظير ڀُٽو‎; 1953 – 2007 CE
from Daughter of Destiny: An Autobiography

Themes: Power Inspiration

“We at Apple had forgotten who we were. One way to remember who you are is to remember who your heroes are.”

Steve Jobs 1955 – 2011 CE

Themes: Inspiration

“It seemed to me that the wisdom of the ancients could not have simply vanished. Nothing simply vanishes... this energy must be going somewhere. That was when I realized that there must be other places, other worlds. And so I set myself to find them.”

Susanna Clarke 1959 CE –
from Piranesi

“Life is not only full of individual moments of opportunity, but is itself a window of opportunity that flashes into existence just once and is there for the taking.”

Roman Krznaric c. 1964
Practical, popular, modern philosopher

from Carpe Diem Regained (2017)

Themes: Inspiration

“The true value of an organization is measured by the desire others have to contribute to that organization's ability to keep succeeding, not just during the time they are there, but well beyond their own tenure.”

Simon Sinek 1973 CE –
from Infinite Game

Themes: Inspiration

“In a sense, we’re homesick for our true nature.”

Mingyur Rinpoche 1975 CE –
Modern-day Mahasiddha

Themes: Inspiration

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