Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Pleasure

One of the 4 Worldly Dharmas—along with Fame, Fortune, and Power—Pleasure ranks up there as one of the most powerful influences over our lives and decisions. The less thoughtful make choices based on short-term over long-term results; the more strategic and aware make the more mid- and long-range choices; but still, the materialistic approach to pleasure prevails reeking havoc in its wake. How many leaders, countries, movements, civilizations, and everyday people have crashed into corruption, ignominy, and suffering by following the siren-calls of pleasure-seeking? On the other hand, how many lives have been ruined, burned at the stake, and sentenced to mental institutions because of religions, cultures, and politicians trying to control and curb this very natural inclination? Closely linked to the Desire defined by the Buddha as the cause of Suffering, our experience of and relationship to Pleasure is ignored only at our great peril.

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Quotes (84)

“Meanwhile let us two, here in the hut, over our food and wine, regale ourselves with the unhappy memories that each can recall. For a man who has been through bitter experiences and traveled far can enjoy even his sufferings after a time.”

Homer 1 via E. V. Rieu
Primogenitor of Western culture
from Odyssey, Ὀδύσσεια

Themes: Pleasure Memory

“Shun pleasure's tempting snare!”

Aesop 620 – 546 BCE via Oliver Goldsmith
Hero of the oppressed and downtrodden
from Aesop's Fables, the Aesopica

“Chasing fame, fortune, pleasure and power only drives us crazy.”

Lao Tzu 老子 1 via Shan Dao, chapter 12
(Lǎozǐ)
from Tao Te Ching 道德经 Dàodéjīng

“Those who live for pleasure alone will certainly fall like weak trees in a great wind.”

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

“Don’t chase after fame, fortune, pleasure and power; but instead, find true joy.”

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

Themes: Fame Pleasure Power

“The greatest pleasure of life is love.”

Euripides 480 – 406 BCE
Ancient humanitarian influence continuing today

Themes: Pleasure Love

“If you ask what it is that has caused the ruler to neglect the affairs of government and the humble man to neglect his tasks, the answer is music... if the rulers, ministers, and gentlemen of the world truly desire to promote what is beneficial to the world and eliminate what is harmful, they must prohibit and put a stop to this thing called music!”

Mozi 墨子 470 – 391 BCE via Burton Watson
(Mòzǐ)
Chinese personification of Newton, da Vinci, and Jesus
from Against Music

Themes: Music Pleasure

“Accept nothing pleasant unless it is beneficial.”

Democritus Dēmókritos 460 – 370 BCE
Father of modern science and greatest of ancient philosophers

“Whom, then, do I call educated?... those who hold their pleasures always under control and are not unduly overcome by their misfortunes”

Isocrates Ἰσοκράτης 436 – 338 BCE
from Panathenaicus

“Wise leaders never indulge in wild pleasures without restraint. Pursuing passions without limit is like delighting in wine without moderation and leads to similar results.”

Mencius 孟子 372 – 289 BCE via James Legge, Shan Dao
(Mengzi)
from Book of Mencius 孟子

“a sage doesn't allow like or dislikes to get in and do him harm - he just lets things be the way they are”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 369 – 286 BCE via Stephen Mitchell
(Zhuangzi)

Themes: Desire Pleasure

“We hold the greatest pleasure to be that which is perceived when all pain is removed... And when we no longer feel pain, we no longer need pleasure.”

Epicurus ɛpɪˈkjɔːrəs 341 – 270 BCE via Inwood and Gerson
Western Buddha
from On Goals

Themes: Pleasure

“Pleasure has no fellowship with virtue... of all the enemies that reason has, pleasure is the chief.”

Cicero 106 – 43 BCE
from De Senectute, 44 BCE

“no pleasure is comparable to standing upon the vantage ground of truth.”

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

Themes: Pleasure

“What madness has seized you?... Everyone is dragged on by their favorite pleasure.

Virgil 70 – 19 BCE
(Publius Vergilius Maro)
from ​Eclogues (37 BCE)

“There is no such thing as pure pleasure; some anxiety always goes with it.”

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

“Forbidden pleasures alone are loved immoderately; when lawful, they do not excite desire.”

Quintilian 35 – 100 CE
from Institutio Oratoria

“Do what is useful even if painful,
And what is both useful and pleasurable,
Not what gives pleasure but is of no use.”

Ashvaghosha སློབ་དཔོན་དཔའ་བོ། 80 – 150 CE
(Aśvaghoṣa)
"Bodhisattva with a Horse-Voice" (because even horses listened to his talks)
from Buddhacarita

“People scorn the poor who have no wealth. They also criticize the rich who have it. What pleasure can derive from keeping company with people such as these, so difficult to please?”

Shantideva ཞི་བ་ལྷ།།། 685 – 763 CE
(Bhusuku, Śāntideva)
from Bodhisattva Way of Life, Bodhicaryavatara

46. Enough

“The phenomenal appearance of empty space transcends pleasure into pure joy and happiness.”

Kaṅkāripa ཀངྐཱ་རི་པ། 1
(”The Lovelorn Widower”)
Mahasiddha #7

21. Following Empty Heart

“Choose the pure pleasure of liberation over the pleasure of the senses.”

Lakshmincara ལཀྵྨཱིངྐ་རཱ།། 1 via Keith Dowman
(“The Princess of Crazy wisdom”)

Themes: Pleasure

“Pure pleasure lies within each of us but delusion veils it.”

Dārikapa དཱ་རི་ཀ་པ། 1 via Keith Dowman
(“Slave-King of the Temple Whore”)
Mahasiddha #77
from Masters of Enchantment

Themes: Pleasure Delusion

“In ignorance, samsara and nirvana are separate; in realization, they are the union of pure pleasure.”

Sarvabhaksha སརྦ་བྷཀྵ། 1
( “The Glutton” )
Mahasiddha #75

“Know that emptiness is the most sublime pleasure.”

Jālandhara ཛཱ་ལནྡྷ་ར་པ། 888 CE – via Keith Dowman
("The Ḍākinī's Chosen One")
Mahasiddha #46

“I realized the value of all things - what joy to be free of pleasure and pain!”

Cauraṅgipa ཙཽ་རངྒི་པ། 1 via Keith Dowman
("The Dismembered Stepson")
Mahasiddha #10
from Masters of Mahamudra

Themes: Pleasure

56. One with the Dust

“All pleasure and pain arise in the mind so cultivate mind’s nature; awaken consciousness in the heart’s core.”

Shantipa ཤཱནྟི་པ། 1 via Keith Dowman, Shan Dao
("The Academic")
Mahasiddha #12

“Though I enjoy sense pleasures, I have these confidences that I am not fettered by them.”

Marpa Lotsawa 1012 – 1097 CE via Nalanda Translation Committee

Themes: Pleasure

“A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread – and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness –
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!”

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

from Rubaiyat

Themes: Books Pleasure

“Attachment to small pleasures prevents great happiness.”

Sakya Pandita ས་སྐྱ་པཎྜ་ཏ་ཀུན་དགའ་རྒྱལ་མཚན། 1182 – 1251 CE via John T. Davenport, Shan Dao #24
(Kunga Gyeltsen)
from Ordinary Wisdom, Sakya Legshe (Jewel Treasury of Good Advice)

“Pleasure is liking and loving. We never for a moment cease to seek it... That we are forever the servants of our likes and dislikes is entirely for the sake of pleasure and pain.”

Yoshida Kenkō 兼好 1284 – 1350 CE via Sir George Bailey Sansom
Inspiration of self-reinvention
from Essays in Idleness

“As there is none among earthly delights more noble than literature, so there is none more lasting, none gentler or more faithful; none that accompanies its possessor through the vicissitudes of life at so small a cost of effort or anxiety.”

Petrarch 1304 – 1374 CE via Robinson and Rolf

“Gold, houses, estates, garments, paintings... offer a mutable and superficial pleasure but books give delight to the very marrow of one's bones. They speak to us, consult with us, join with us in a living and intense intimacy.”

Petrarch 1304 – 1374 CE via Stephen Greenblatt

“Mind itself—that is, the nature of awakened mind—is pure like space, and so is without birth or death, pleasure or pain.”

Longchenpa ཀློང་ཆེན་རབ་འབྱམས་པ། 1308 – 1364 CE via Padma Translation Committee
(Longchen Rabjampa, Drimé Özer)
from The Basic Space of Phenomena

Themes: Pleasure

“Heaven would indeed be heaven if lovers were there permitted as much enjoyment as they had experienced on earth.”

Giovanni Boccaccio dʒoˈvanni bokˈkattʃo 1313 – 1375 CE

“Heaven would indeed be heaven if lovers were there permitted as much enjoyment as they had experienced on earth.”

Giovanni Boccaccio dʒoˈvanni bokˈkattʃo 1313 – 1375 CE

“Curiosity—the desire to know why and how—is a lust of the mind that exceeds the short vehemence of any carnal pleasure.”

Thomas Hobbes 1588 – 1679 CE via Shan Dao
from Leviathan

“Leave off hungry. One ought to remove even the bowl of nectar from the lips… Little and good is twice good… Too much pleasure is always dangerous.”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE

32. Uncontrived Awareness

“If you enter by the gate of pleasure, you leave by the door of sorrow.”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE via Joseph Jacobs, Shan Dao chapter #59
from Art of Worldly Wisdom

“Pride is pleasure arising from a man's thinking too highly of himself.”

Baruch Spinoza 1632 – 1677 CE

67. Three Treasures

“Illusion is the first of all pleasures.”

Voltaire, François-Marie Arouet 1694 – 1778 CE

Themes: Pleasure Illusion

“There are no real pleasures without real needs.”

Voltaire, François-Marie Arouet 1694 – 1778 CE

“Do not bite at the bait of pleasure, till you know there is a hook beneath it... Pleasure is always before us; but misfortune is at our side: while running after that, this arrests us.”

Thomas Jefferson 1743 – 1826 CE
from Dialog of the Head and the Heart (1786)

Themes: Pleasure

“Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure… They govern us in all we do, in all we say, in all we think.”

Jeremy Bentham 1748 – 1832 CE
from Principles of Morals and Legislation

Themes: Pleasure

“Excessive sorrow laughs. Excessive joy weeps.”

William Blake 1757 – 1827 CE

77. Stringing a Bow

“But pleasures are like poppies spread— You seize the flow’r, its bloom is shed; Or like the snow falls in the river— A moment white—then melts forever.”

Robert Burns 1759 – 1796 CE

“And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils.”

William Wordsworth 1770 – 1850 CE

13. Honor and Disgrace

“Sexual desire—especially when concentrated with fixated infatuation on a particular person—becomes the quintessence of this world's delusion because it promises so excessively much and delivers so miserably little.”

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

Themes: Sex Pleasure

“The more a man finds his sources of pleasure in himself, the happier he will be.”

Arthur Schopenhauer 1788 – 1860 CE
from Personality, or What a Man Is

Themes: Pleasure

“Tortured by the agonizing pleasure,
Convulsed and on the rapid whirlwinds spun
Of that fierce spirit, whose unholy leisure
Was soothed by mischief since the world begun”

Percy Bysshe Shelley 1792 – 1822 CE
from The Triumph of Life

Themes: Pleasure

“She dwells with Beauty—Beauty that must die;
Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
Ay, in the very temple of Delight
His soul shalt taste the sadness of her might”

John Keats 1795 – 1821 CE
Writer of "poems as immortal as English"
from Ode on Melancholy, 1819

“Woman is a delightful instrument of pleasure, but it is necessary to know its trembling strings, to study the position of them, the timid keyboard, the fingering so changeful and capricious which befits it.”

Balzac 1799 – 1850 CE
(Honoré de Balzac)

Themes: Pleasure Sex

“Most men pursue pleasure with such breathless haste that they hurry past it.”

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

Themes: Pleasure Patience

“In Science the paramount appeal is to the Intellect — its purpose being instruction; in Art, the paramount appeal is to the Emotions — its purpose being pleasure.”

George Henry Lewes 1817 – 1878 CE
English philosopher and soul mate to George Eliot
from The Principles of Success in Literature (1865)

Themes: Art Pleasure Science

“The best piety is to enjoy—when you can. You are doing the most then to save the earth's character as an agreeable planet. And enjoyment radiates.”

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

from Middlemarch

“All animals, except man, know that the principal business of life is to enjoy it.”

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

“I have never searched for happiness. Who wants happiness? I have searched for pleasure.”

Oscar Wilde 1854 – 1900 CE

Themes: Pleasure

“If pleasures are greatest in anticipation, just remember that this is also true of trouble.”

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

Themes: Pleasure

“Any man who is attached to things of this world is one who lives in ignorance and is being consumed by the snakes of his own passions.”

Black Elk 1863 – 1950 CE
(Heȟáka Sápa)

3. Weak Wishes, Strong Bones

“Since barbarism has its pleasures, it naturally has its apologists.”

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

“Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.”

W.B. (William Butler) Yeats 1865 – 1939 CE

39. Oneness

“Pleasures are like photographs. In their presence, we only see the negative which we develop later at home in our inner darkroom, whose door is always closed to us as long as we are around others.”

Marcel Proust 1871 – 1922 CE via Justin O'Brien, Shan Dao
Apostle of Ordinary Mind
from In Search of Lost Time

Themes: Pleasure

“as long as one is in any way held by the domination of cupiditas, the veil is not lifted, and the heights of consciousness, empty of content and free of illusion, are not reached, nor can any trick nor any deceit bring it about.”

Carl Jung 1875 – 1961 CE
Insightful shamanistic scientist

Themes: Desire Pleasure

50. Claws and Swords

“one cannot take pleasure without giving pleasure. Every gesture, every caress, every touch, every glance, every last bit of the body has its secret, which brings happiness to the person who knows how to wake it.”

Hermann Hesse 1877 – 1962 CE via Hilda Rosner
from Siddhartha

Themes: Pleasure

“one of man's most legitimate pleasures is to toil and see his toil bearing fruit”

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

Themes: Pleasure

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

Kahlil Gibran 1883 – 1931 CE
from The Prophet

“Civilization begins at the moment sport begins. As long as the struggles for preservation—to protect itself from its enemies, maintain itself upon the surface of the earth—civilization cannot be born. It is born the moment that life satisfies its primary needs and begins to enjoy a little leisure.”

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

“Health lies in action, and so it graces youth. To be busy is the secret of grace, and half the secret of content... Let us play is as good as Let us pray, and the results are more assured.”

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

Themes: Pleasure Medicine

“There is much pleasure in the simple work of the hands, and, as the old rabbis taught, even the scholar will find that the possession of a trade may save him from selling his conclusions for an income.”

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

“Vulgar hedonists took in vain, and brought into disrepute, the name of Epicurus, and for this offence were chided by the austere Epicurean poet, Lucretius.”

Arnold Toynbee 1889 – 1975 CE
from A Study of History

Themes: Pleasure

“There are no roots of heaven in pleasure, there are only roots of indifference and pain.”

Krishnamurti 1895 – 1986 CE
(Jiddu Krishnamurti)
from Awakening of Intelligence

Themes: Pleasure

46. Enough

“What matters most are the simple pleasures so abundant that we can all enjoy them...Happiness doesn't lie in the objects we gather around us. To find it, all we need to do is open our eyes.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry 1900 – 1944 CE

81. Journey Without Goal

“Desire killed that man, as desire has killed many before and after him If this earth should ever be destroyed, it will be by desire, by the lust of pleasure and self-gratification, by greed.”

John Fire Lame Deer 1903 – 1976 CE via Richard Erdoes

31. Victory Funeral

“the falsity of the hedonistic attitude to life... human beings don't only want comfort, safety, short working hours, hygiene, birth-control and, in general, common sense; they also at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice”

George Orwell 1903 – 1950 CE
English, poet, humanist, apostle of doubt, and powerful political influence
from Review of Mein Kampf (1940)

Themes: Problems Pleasure

“Films, football, beer, and above all, gambling filled up the horizon of their minds. To keep them in control was not difficult…. All that was required of them was a primitive patriotism which could be appealed to whenever it was necessary”

George Orwell 1903 – 1950 CE
English, poet, humanist, apostle of doubt, and powerful political influence
from 1984

“Marriage is not a love affair. Marriage is a comitment to that which you are, that person is literally your other half. A love affair is a relationship for pleasure and when it gets to be unpleasureable, it's off. Marriage is a life commitment , the prime concern of your life. If it's not the prime concern, you're not married.”

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

Themes: Marriage Pleasure

“we are most happy when good things are expected to happen, not when they are happening. We get such a kick out of looking forward to pleasures and rushing to meet them that we can't slow down enough to enjoy them when they come.”

Alan Watts 1915 – 1973 CE

“All human beings are at war with themselves... The war is between the way we think we should be and who we are... between wanting pleasure (or ease or success) and being with the truth that life doesn't care about our pleasure (or ease or success)... We are all caught in the feeling that we should be some other way.”

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

from Ordinary Wonder

Themes: War Pleasure

“Desire creates love through attachment to pleasurable circumstances: love creates anger by controlling through grasping. The basis of both is ignorance which creates only darkness by confusing love with anger through grasping.”

Thinley Norbu གདུང་སྲས་ཕྲིན་ལས་ནོར་བུ 1931 – 2011 CE
(Kyabjé Dungse)
from Magic Dance (1981)

“Whatever we experience in our life – pain, pleasure, happiness, sadness… or whatever – is just purely memories… a phantom… things have a dreamlike quality.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE

Themes: Dream Pleasure

49. No Set Mind

“Pleasure is designed by natural selection to evaporate so that the ensuing dissatisfaction will get us to pursue more pleasure.”

Robert Wright 1957 CE –
from Why Buddhism is True

“For more than 2,000 years there has been a long war against pleasure... Carpe diem hedonism was far more than the pursuit of sensory pleasures: it was a subversive political act with the power to reshape the cultural landscape.”

Roman Krznaric 1
Practical, popular, modern philosopher

from Carpe Diem Regained

“St. Augustine, the first intellectual superstar of Christian theology spent his early years 'in the shadowy jungle of erotic adventures' and 'hellish pleasures', and fathered a son with a woman he never married and then abandoned... His formulation of the doctrine of original sin made clear that ever since Adam's fall from grace in the Garden of Eden, humankind had been corrupted by the filthy allures of lust.”

Roman Krznaric 1
Practical, popular, modern philosopher

from Carpe Diem Regained (2017)

Themes: Pleasure

“it is almost impossible to legislate away the desire for hedonistic pleasures. We are drawn to hedonism like moths to torchlight.”

Roman Krznaric 1
Practical, popular, modern philosopher

from Carpe Diem Regained

Themes: Desire Pleasure

“It's the suburbs, where conformity trumps comfort... They are eerily similar in frame, these homes, though they've all got different paint jobs and siding and hedges.”

N. K. Jemisin 1972 CE –
from The City We Became (2020)

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