Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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We normally think of equality in social and political terms but true equality begins closer to home, at first with ourselves and then extending to a relationship. The balance of power in our relationships then extend to the type of power in our governmental and cultural forms.

Most likely, matriarchal societies prospered much longer than patriarchal ones have. Some version of matriarchy was prevalent during the hunting-and-gathering as well as the nomadic periods of human history until the patriarchal styles that accompanied the agricultural periods became dominant. Now, in this electronic age of advanced technology, neither matriarch or patriarchy seem to fit. Both may only be examples of mistaking the words for the sense, the surface for the substance, and falling to address the realities essential to cultural survival in our modern era. Buddhist texts describe the feminine principle as perception and the masculine as perceiving. This kind of non-surface, not-physical way of understanding gender could show us the way toward evolving a new system of equality that transcends both matriarchy and patriarchy.

In political and institutional terms, Rousseau condensed a deep understanding of inequality into one sentence: "The flaws that make social institutions necessary are the same as make the abuse of them unavoidable." In spite of a deeply romantic view of basic goodness and human nature, he recognized that deeply embedded human instincts drive us toward aggression, conflict, and chaos; that, while our institutions may help prevent some of these most egregious abuses, they also—because the same human failing still exist within the institutionscreate inequality, corruptions of power, mental and physical slavery.

Although inequality existed during the Stone Age, it didn't become a major force in civilization until the Agricultural Revolution. This led to a trade-off compromise between sustenance and freedom: humanity gained the ability to sustain a much larger population at the cost of worse conditions and less freedom for the majority—including the beginning and proliferation of slavery. This more rigid hierarchy and subjugation eased somewhat after the Industrial Revolution created a need for millions of healthy laborers and loyal soldiers. As artificial intelligence and biotech rapidly increase now, however, this trend may reverse again creating a vast inequality unknown in previous eras. Already in 2017, the richest 100 people own more than the poorest 4 billion; the richest 1% own half of the world's entire wealth.

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Quotes (79)

“Equality does not create war.”

Solon 638 – 558 BCE
Founder of Athenian democracy

Themes: Equality War

“There are no large or small states; all are Heaven's townships. There are no young men or old, no patricians or plebians: all are Heavne's subjects...”

Mozi 墨子 470 – 391 BCE
Chinese personification of Newton, da Vinci, and Jesus

“We sit around in our shops denouncing the present order but we perceive that even badly constituted democracies are responsible for fewer disasters than oligarchies. But Athens ruined itself by carrying to excess the principles of liberty and equality, by training the citizens in such fashion that they looked upon insolence as democracy, lawlessness as liberty, impudence of speech as equality, and license to do what they pleased as happiness.”

Isocrates Ἰσοκράτης 436 – 338 BCE via H.H. Wells, Shan Dao, et alia
from Areopagiticus

“Political 'equality' has been understood in two senses: as meaning either that all are to share absolutely alike, or that every man is to receive his due. Our ancestors preferred that 'equality' which does not efface the distinction between merit and worthlessness.”

Isocrates Ἰσοκράτης 436 – 338 BCE

“Democracy arose from men's thinking that if they are equal in any respect, they are equal absolutely.”

Aristotle Ἀριστοτέλης 382 – 322 BCE
from Politics

“It is the nature of things to be unequal… If you rank them equally you throw the world into confusion. Suppose shoes, large and small, were the same price—who would make large ones?”

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

“The master uses his skill to harmonize with both sides which makes all things equal. This is called 'walking on two paths at once.'”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 369 – 286 BCE via Stephen Mitchell

from Zhuangzi

“In ancient times, when sage kings ruled, their government and education were egalitarian, and their charity extended to all. Those above and those below were of like mind.”

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

68. Joining Heaven & Earth

“Pale Death knocks with impartial foot at poor men's hovels and kings' palaces.”

Horace 65 – 8 BCE
from Odes

“The ten thousand questions are one question. If you cut through the one question, then the ten thousand questions disappear.”

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

Themes: Equality

48. Unlearning

“All living beings by nature are one’s parents… How will you find the Guru to accept you when you look down on others?”

Nāropā 955 – 1040 CE

Themes: Equality

66. Go Low

“Though the sun and moon both appear in the azure firmament, the blue sky does not favor one over the other.”

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

Themes: Equality

“everything is a naturally occurring realm of bliss—the very context of sublime enlightenment, a state of spontaneous equalness”

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

Themes: Equality

“Even after all this time, the sun never says to the earth, ‘You owe Me.’”

Hafiz خواجه شمس‌‌الدین محمد حافظ شیرازی 1315 – 1394 CE via Daniel Ladinsky
(Hafez, Shams-ud-Dīn Muḥammad)
Inspiring friend to the true and free human spirit

“Friends, each one the other must obey [for] love will not be constrained by mastery; both men and women by nature love their liberty and not to be constrained and so both become servant and lord.”

Geoffrey Chaucer 1343 – 1400 CE via Shan Dao, et alia
“Father of English literature”
from Canterbury Tales

Themes: Equality Family

“Slavery is founded in the selfishness of man's nature—opposition to it, is his love of justice.”

Poggio Bracciolini 1380 – 1459 CE
from Nel VI Centenario della Nascita

“All men would be equal had they been without wants; it is the misery attached to our species which subordinates one man to another; inequality is not the real misfortune, it's dependence... why should servants be sought for when no service is required.”

Voltaire, François-Marie Arouet 1694 – 1778 CE via Raymond Naves, Shan Dao
from Philosophical Dictionary

Themes: Equality

“The flaws that make social institutions necessary are the same as make the abuse of them unavoidable. The progress of inequality began with laws and property rights, developed sovereignty and domination which led to the conversion of legitimate into arbitrary power. The conditions of rich and poor, powerful and weak were established and later the institution of master and slave—a sure sign that this sequence has gone too far and either revolution or radical, internal change imminent.”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1712 – 1778 CE via GDH Cole, Shan Dao
from On the Origin of Inequality

“The difference between the most dissimilar characters, between a philosopher and a common street porter, for example, seems to arise not so much from nature, as from habit, custom, and education... By nature a philosopher is not in genius and disposition half so different from a street porter, as a mastiff is from a greyhound”

Adam Smith 1723 – 1790 CE
''The Father of Economic Capitalism"
from Wealth of Nations

“We came equals into this world, and equals shall we go out of it.”

George Mason 1725 – 1792 CE
First American abolitionist, founding father, and Constitutional savior

Themes: Equality

“The perfect equality of men is the point at which the extremes of democracy and despotism are confounded”

Edward Gibbon 1737 – 1794 CE
from Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire

“If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation."”

Abigail Adams 1744 – 1818 CE
One of the most exceptional women in American history

Themes: Equality

“...men endeavor to sink us still lower, merely to render us alluring objects for a moment; and women, intoxicated by the adoration which men, under the influence of their senses, pay them, do not seek to obtain a durable interest in their hearts, or to become the friends of the fellow creatures who find amusement in their society… Weakness may excite tenderness, and gratify the arrogant pride of man; but the lordly caresses of a protector will not gratify a noble mind that pants for, and deserves to be respected. Fondness is a poor substitute for friendship.”

Mary Wollstonecraft 1759 – 1797 CE
Seminal feminist
from Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)

“The freest government cannot long endure when the tendency of the law is to create a rapid accumulation of property in the hands of a few, and to render the masses poor and dependent.”

Daniel Webster 1782 – 1852 CE
America's greatest orator
from The Cry for Justice, Sinclair

“Equality may perhaps be a right, but no power on earth can ever turn it into a fact.”

Balzac 1799 – 1850 CE
(Honoré de Balzac)

Themes: Equality

“Americans are so enamored of equality, they would rather be equal in slavery than unequal in freedom”

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

Themes: Equality

“Socialism admits freedom only after equality—in equality and through equality—because freedom outside of equality can only create privilege.”

Mikhail Bakunin 1814 – 1876 CE
Romantic rebel, revolutionary anarchist, founding father of modern socialism

“The battle for democracy will not be won until the working class raises the proletariat to the position of the ruling class. Otherwise, 'democracy' will permit, condone, or even promote social and economic inequalities.”

Karl Marx 1818 – 1883 CE via Shan Dao

“That country is the richest which nourishes the greatest numbers of noble and happy human beings”

John Ruskin 1819 – 1900 CE

“When the gap between the highly educated and the practical, working classes gets too big, the former will have no influence and the latter no benefit.”

Henry Thomas Buckle 1821 – 1862 CE
from History of Civilization

53. Shameless Thieves

“The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities.”

Lord Acton 1834 – 1902 CE
(John Dalberg-Acton)
Prolific historian and politician
from History of Freedom, 1907

“To dream of equal rights, equal training, equal claims and obligations: that is a typical sign of shallow-mindedness.”

Friedrich Nietzsche 1844 – 1900 CE

Themes: Dream Equality

“Class, creed and nationality are words which should find no place in the vocabulary of the Australians, because these words are synonymous with everything that is hostile to peace and happiness in the world.”

Arthur Desmond 1859 – 1929 CE
from Might Is Right

“Equality before the Law, is thus a contradiction in terms for Law itself is an incarnation of Inequality. It is true only in the subjective sense, that all who OBEY the Law are equally the servants of those who make it or caused it to be made.”

Arthur Desmond 1859 – 1929 CE
from Might Is Right

“The democratic faith in human equality is belief that every human being, independent of the quantity or range of his personal endowment, has the right to equal opportunity with every other person for development of whatever gifts he has.”

John Dewey 1859 – 1952 CE
The "Second Confucius"

“Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet, till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgement Seat; But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth, when two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!”

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

from The Ballad of East and West

Themes: Equality

“Pythagoras, like Saint Francis, preached to animals. In the society that he founded, men and women were admitted on equal terms; property was held in common, and there was a common way of life.”

Bertrand Russell 1872 – 1970 CE
“20th century Voltaire”
from History of Western Philosophy

“The young intellectuals are all chanting, 'Revolution, Revolution', but I say the revolution will have to start in our homes, by achieving equal rights for women.”

Qiu Jin 秋瑾 1875
"China’s Joan of Arc"

“Some men remain irresponsible, self-assertive, uncontrolled, inept to their last day; others from their youth are serious, self-controlled, talented, and friendly... it is this variation of temperament or inheritance which constitutes the natural inequality of men, an inequality that is too often ignored in the theories of Western democracy.”

Ananda Coomaraswamy குமாரசுவாமி 1877 – 1947 CE
Perennial philosophy's Citizen of the World
from The Dance of Shiva (1918)

“The fear of capitalism has compelled socialism to widen freedom, and the fear of socialism has compelled capitalism to increase equality. East is West and West is East, and soon the twain will meet.”

Will (and Ariel) Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
from Lessons of History

“Since inequality grows in an expanding economy... internal barbarization by the majority is part of the price that the minority pays for its control”

Will (and Ariel) Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
from Lessons of History

“People are intrinsically unequal and while enforced equality creates a rebellion of the more skilled and intelligent, too much freedom creates an extreme of inequality that creates a rebellion of the less intelligent and skilled.”

Will (and Ariel) Durant 1885 – 1981 CE

Themes: Equality Freedom

“All men are created unequal... Politics is the art of compromise between the classes”

Will (and Ariel) Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
from Heroes of History

17. True Leaders

“Nature smiles at the union of freedom and equality in our utopias. For freedom and equality are sworn and everlasting enemies, and when one prevails the other dies.”

Will (and Ariel) Durant 1885 – 1981 CE

72. Helpful Fear

“Every advance in the complexity of the economy puts an added premium upon superior ability, and intensifies the concentration of wealth, responsibility, and political power... Economic freedom, even in the middle classes, become more and more exceptional, making political freedom a consolatory pretense.”

Will (and Ariel) Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
from Lessons of History

“Democracy—the deceitful theory that all men are created equal.”

Adolf Hitler 1889
the most immoral and cruel conqueror in human history
from Mein Kampf (1935)

“So now when he looked at the woman he wanted, it was no simple lust that he felt. He wanted her in many ways to fill out his own being in its lacks, and he was pleased to think her learned and different from himself, and because he knew his own worth, he was not afraid to let her be in some ways better than himself, and he felt her like him in his deepest parts.”

Pearl Buck 1892 – 1973 CE
from Dragon Seed

“Liberties are not given, they are taken.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE

“Just as modern mass production requires the standardization of commodities, so the social process requires standardization of man, and this standardization is called equality.”

Eric Fromm 1900 – 1980 CE

Themes: Equality

75. Greed

“Just as modern mass production requires the standardization of commodities, so the social process requires standardization of man, and this standardization is called equality.”

Eric Fromm 1900 – 1980 CE

2. The Wordless Teachings
72. Helpful Fear

“freedom is more important than equality; the attempt to realize equality endangers freedom; and, if freedom is lost, there will not even be equality among the unfree.”

Karl Popper 1902 – 1994 CE
Major Philosopher of Science
from Unended Quest

Themes: Equality Freedom

“All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.”

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

Themes: Equality

“We shouldn’t see some as sharp and others as dull. By treating all children without discrimination, we enable them to see all beings as equal.”

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi 1904 – 1971 CE

20. Unconventional Mind
42. Children of the Way

“Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.”

Albert Camus 1913 – 1960 CE

“Economic growth without social progress lets the great majority of the people remain in poverty while a privileged few reap the benefits of rising abundance.”

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

from Message to Congress, 1961

“The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.”

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

Themes: Equality Justice

“21st century technology makes have and have-not inequities, as well as their rationales, anachronistic.”

Ralph Alan Dale 1920 – 2006 CE
Translator, author, visionary
from Tao Te Ching, a new translation and commentary

Themes: Poverty Equality

“Be wary of saying or doing anything to a child that you would not do to another adult, whose good opinion and affection you valued.”

John Holt 1923 – 1985 CE
from Teach Your Own

Themes: Equality

“The idea that ‘all men are created equal’ is a gift to the world from the American Indian.”

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

Themes: Equality

“We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”

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

“If we only use our strength to help ourselves, we will automatically make hierarchies to prevent others in a subtle way from being equal. As a result of this style in which those on top try to keep others down, everyone's mind becomes heavy.”

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

“The further back in time, the more narrow and limited our perceptions of the world. It slowly expanded from family to clan to village to city to country. With the revolution of information technology, it now includes all the world and all the people in it. Unfortunately our conceptions of equality and justice haven’t expanded as quickly as this awareness. People becoming true citizens of the world is evolution’s main challenge for us today.”

Shan Dao 山道 1933 CE –

“Did slavery in the world end because of people’s sense of injustice or only because it stopped being economically profitable? As technology evolves, unskilled labor becomes both less necessary and less valuable. As physical slavery organically ended in the world, mental slavery, true-believership, and wage slavery are rapidly ending now.”

Shan Dao 山道 1933 CE –

“The pedestal on which some thought women were standing all too often turned out to be a cage.”

Ruth Bader Ginsburg 1933 CE –
Fierce and influential voice for justice, equality, and women's rights

“Give all of mankind an equal share of material goods today, and tomorrow there will exist the old inequities.”

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

Themes: Equality

“For those of you in the cheap seats I'd like ya to clap your hands to this one; the rest of you can just rattle your jewelry!”

John Lennon 1940 – 1980 CE

Themes: Equality

44. Fame and Fortune

I spoke the word
As if a wedding vow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I'm younger than that now.”

Bob Dylan 1941 CE –
from My Back Pages (1964)

Themes: Equality

“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”

Muhammad Ali 1942 – 2016 CE
(Cassius Clay)

Themes: Equality

67. Three Treasures

“Until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned... Everything is war.”

Bob Marley 1945 – 1981 CE

“People are not clones in a monoculture, What satisfies one will frustrate another. The only way they can end up equal is if they are treated unequally.”

Steven Pinker 1954 CE –
Humanistic scientist, insightful cultural commentaror
from Enlightenment Now

Themes: Equality

“Not long ago half the world’s countries had laws that discriminated against racial minorities; today more countries have policies that favor their minorities than policies that discriminate against them.”

Steven Pinker 1954 CE –
Humanistic scientist, insightful cultural commentaror
from Enlightenment Now

Themes: Equality

“At the turn of the 20th century, women could vote in just one country; today they can vote in every country where men can vote save one (Vatican City).”

Steven Pinker 1954 CE –
Humanistic scientist, insightful cultural commentaror
from Enlightenment Now

Themes: Equality

“as political power became more widely disbursed, so did wives… one-man-one-vote and one-man-one-wife… monogamy is a straightforward expression of political [and economic] equality among men”

Robert Wright 1957 CE –
from Moral Animal — Why we are the Way we Are

Themes: Equality

“The choice [between monogamy and polygyny] isn’t between equality and inequality. It’s between equality among men and equality among women.”

Robert Wright 1957 CE –
from Moral Animal — Why we are the Way we Are

Themes: Sex Equality

“Social hierarchy can assume many forms, and in every human society it seems to find one… the deeply human hunger for status and the seemingly universal presence of hierarchy… it becomes doubtful that any truly egalitarian human society has ever existed… Is inequality indeed, as Darwin suggested, a prerequisite for economic or political advancement?”

Robert Wright 1957 CE –

“No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half of its citizens.”

Michelle Obama 1964 CE –

Themes: Equality

“The veil deliberately marks women as private and restricted property, nonpersons. The veil sets women apart from men and apart from the world; it restrains them, confines them, grooms them for docility. A mind can be cramped just as a body may be, and a Muslim veil blinkers both your vision and your destiny. It is the mark of a kind of apartheid, not the domination of a race but of a sex.”

Ayaan Hirsi Ali 1969 CE –
Powerful voice for Islamic reform

“the 21st century might create the most unequal societies in history. Though globalization and the internet bridge the gap between countries, they threaten to enlarge the rift between classes.”

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

from 21 Lessons for the 21st Century

Themes: Equality

“we are all absolutely equal in our wish for happiness and in our longing to be free of pain and suffering... Opening up to the view of interconnectedness helps us to break down the barriers erected by our own egocentrism and to emerge from the the dark cell in which we tend to shut ourselves away.”

Karmapa XVII ཨོ་རྒྱན་འཕྲིན་ལས་རྡོ་རྗ 1985 CE –
(Orgyen Thrinlay Dorje)
from Interconnected (2017)

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