Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Spiritual Materialism

What is the difference between striving for spiritual goals and striving for fame, fortune, pleasure or power?
E.F. Schumacher told a story about two monks who both smoked cigarettes. Because they wanted to fill their lives with meditation and prayer, they wondered if they could somehow include smoking and decided to ask their teacher. The teacher told the first monk that he should never do this but the second one that he always should. When the monks talked to each other again, they were perplexed and retold each other exactly what they asked. The first (who received the no answer) inquired, “Can I smoke while meditating?” and the second, “Can I meditate while smoking?” This anecdote illustrates the meaning of spiritual—and other kinds of—materialism. For these monks, the main difference was applying a goal-oriented technique to their meditation versus applying meditation to what they were already doing. Any kind of gaining idea corrupts the intent and result of action. In the first case, there was an intention to justify smoking while meditating. In the second, there was only a motive of seeing and experiencing more clearly the reality of experience.

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Quotes (78)

“Lord, my mind is not noisy with desires, and my heart has satisfied its longing. I do not care about religion or anything that is not you.”

King David 1000 – 920 BCE
"The baffled king composing Hallelujah!"
from Book of Psalms

“Homer and Hesiod have attributed to the gods all sorts of things that are disreputable and worthy of blame when done by men: theft, adultery, and mutual deception.”

Xenophanes Ξενοφάνης ὁ Κολοφώνιος 570 – 475 BCE
(Xenophanes of Colophon)

“Those on a spiritual path can easily become so intoxicated with the bliss of mental tranquillity that they fail to realize that the world is nothing but Mind.”

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

“As long as people desire Enlightenment and grasp after it, it means that delusion is still with them.”

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

“When you do not crave what is useless, you do not hurt your nature by greed... If you are endlessly greedy and ambitious, then penalties will kill you.”

Wenzi 文子 1 via Thomas Cleary
"Authentic Presence of Pervading Mystery.”
from The Wenzi, Wénzǐ 文子

“Seek not, my soul, the life of the immortals; but enjoy to the full the resources that are within thy reach.”

Pindar Πίνδαρος 522 – 443 BCE
Archetype of poetry

“The descent to hell is the same from every place.”

Anaxagoras Ἀναξαγόρας 510 – 428 BCE via William H. Gass, The Tunnel
“The Copernicus and Darwin of his age”

“Do not seek the truth; only cease to cherish opinions.”

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

“Whatever you put out at usury shall have no increase from God; but whatever you give in alms shall be doubled to you.”

Muhammad محمد‎; محمد‎; 570 – 632 CE via George Seldes
from Koran

“Illumination means the realization that Illumination is not something to be attained.”

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

“Talking about ‘attaining enlightenment’ is the one of the best ways to drive true realization far away.”

Huangbo Xiyun 黄檗希运 1 via Shan Dao
(Huangbo Xiyun, Huángbò Xīyùn, Obaku)

71. Sick of Sickness

“Because your own mouth is not good for anything you come to note down my words. It is certain that some day you'll sell me!”

Yunmen Wenyan 雲門文偃 862 – 949 CE
(Ummon Daishi, Yúnmén Wényǎn)
The most eloquent Chan master

“[When asked ‘Why don’t you try practicing Zen?’] Touzi said, ‘Fancy food doesn’t interest someone who’s full.’”

Touzi Yiqing 投子義青 1032 – 1083 CE
(Tōsu Gisei, “Zen Master of Complete Compassion”)

“People all drown in what they love… People chase things and forget about the Tao, while the sage clings to the Tao and ignores everything else.”

Su Che 呂洞 1039 – 1112 CE via Red Pine
(Su Zhe)
Great writer of the Tang and Sung dynasties
from Tao-te-chen-ching-chu

20. Unconventional Mind

“Some people see God with their eyes as they see a cow, and love Him as they love their cow—for the milk and cheese and profit it brings them.”

Meister Eckhart 1260 – 1328 CE via Aldous Huxley
(Eckhart von Hochheim)

“A man must become truly poor and as free from his own creaturely will as he was when he was born... He alone has true spiritual poverty who wills nothing, knows nothing, desires nothing.”

Meister Eckhart 1260 – 1328 CE via Aldous Huxley
(Eckhart von Hochheim)

“Recognizing the irrelevance of mass propaganda, realization becomes a world-shattering experience as we uproot ego, the familiar fades away, and we lose it's comforting normality.”

Longchenpa ཀློང་ཆེན་རབ་འབྱམས་པ། 1308 – 1364 CE
(Longchen Rabjampa, Drimé Özer)
from Kindly Bent to Ease Us, Trilogy of Finding Comfort and Ease ངལ་གསོ་སྐོར་གསུམ་

“Spiritual seekers often have numerous imperfections that could be called spiritual lust—not because the lust is spiritual but because it proceeds from spiritual things. Never content with what they experience, they continually look to hear sermons and talks, read books, learn maxims. Peevish and unhappy, they strive after the superficial while neglecting genuine spiritual practice.”

John of the Cross 1542 – 1591 CE via Shan Dao

“The pompous speak with an echo and at every sentence look for applause or flattery but contempt is the only reward for self-satisfaction.

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE via Joseph Jacobs, Shan Dao chapter #141
from Art of Worldly Wisdom

“All of you are right now Buddhas, only you do not know it. If you do know it, you break with the Buddhas and Patriarchs. If you do not know it, you become entangled in birth and death.”

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

“Rather than trying to become a buddha, nothing could be simpler than taking the shortcut of remaining a buddha!”

Bankei 盤珪永琢 1622 – 1693 CE
(Bankei Yōtaku)

10. The Power of Goodness

“To exert yourselves in religious practice, trying to produce enlightenment by doing religious practices and zazen, is all wrong too... by wanting to realize enlightenment, you create a duality between the one who realizes enlightenment and what it is that's being realized... When you cherish even the smallest desire to realize enlightenment, right away you leave behind the realm of the Unborn and go against the Buddha Mind.”

Bankei Yōtaku 盤珪永琢 1622 – 1693 CE
Zen Master of the unborn

“Curiosity is only vanity. We usually only want to know something so we can talk about it.”

Blaise Pascal 1623 – 1662 CE
One of the greatest French writers of all time

“We make an idol of truth itself; for truth apart from charity is not God, but his image and idol, which we must neither love nor worship.”

Blaise Pascal 1623 – 1662 CE
One of the greatest French writers of all time

“There is a God-shaped vacuum in every heart that we try in vain to fill with everything around us, seeking in things that are not there the help we cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself”

Blaise Pascal 1623 – 1662 CE
One of the greatest French writers of all time

“people who renounce the world and live for the spirit in this fashion [are] living in a house that has no foundation, that gradually either settles or develops gaping cracks or totters until it collapses.”

Emanuel Swedenborg 1688 – 1772 CE
Scientist, mystic, influential philosopher

from Heaven and Hell​​

“Men who seek happiness are like drunkards who can never find their house but are sure that they have one.”

Voltaire, François-Marie Arouet 1694 – 1778 CE
from Notebooks

“Nothing appears more surprising to those who consider human affairs with a philosophical eye than the easiness with which the many are governed by the few, and the implicit submission with which men resign their own sentiments and passions to those of their rulers.”

David Hume 1711 – 1776 CE
"One of the most important philosophers"

“A man does not serve God when he prays, for it is himself he is trying to serve”

Thomas Paine 1737 – 1809 CE

“In every country in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection of his own.”

Thomas Jefferson 1743 – 1826 CE
from Letter (1810)

“I am more and more convinced that man is a dangerous creature and that power, whether vested in many or a few, is ever grasping, and like the grave, cries, 'Give, give.'”

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

“In no instance has a system in regard to religion been ever established, but for the purpose, as well as with the effect of its being made an instrument of intimidation, corruption, and delusion, for the support of depredation and oppression in the hands of government.”

Jeremy Bentham 1748 – 1832 CE
from Constitutional Code

“From desire I plunge to its fulfillment, where I long once more for desire.”

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 1749 – 1832 CE

“Buddha is a conception of your mind, The Way isn’t anything that is made… If to reach the south you point your cart north, when can you ever hope to arrive?”

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

38. Fruit Over Flowers

“Deeply rooted in human nature is the mistaken belief that the ultimate goal for all our effort is gaining greater respect from other people… set limits on this great weakness and susceptibility to public opinion.”

Arthur Schopenhauer 1788 – 1860 CE via John T. Davenport, Shan Dao
from Wisdom of Life

“Life is a journey, not a destination.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803 – 1882 CE
Champion of individualism

81. Journey Without Goal

“Prayer as a means to effect a private end is meanness and theft.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803 – 1882 CE
Champion of individualism

“Pride of place, and the power of living well in front of the world’s eye, are dear to us all; — are, doubtless, intended to be dear. Only in acknowledging so much, let us remember that there are prices at which these good things may be too costly.”

Anthony Trollope 1815 – 1882 CE
Novelist as teacher

“definition of a philanthropist: a man whose charity increases directly as the square of the distance.”

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

from Middlemarch

“Everyone strives to keep their individuality, to secure the greatest possible fullness of life for themselves; but instead of self-realization, this only results in impotence and complete isolation.”

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky Фёдор Миха́йлович Достое́вский 1821 – 1881 CE via Constance Garnett, Shan Dao
from Brothers Karamatzov

“Virtue and wisdom are sublime things, but if they create pride and a consciousness of separateness from the rest of humanity, they are only the snakes of self reappearing in a finer form.”

Blavatsky, Helena Еле́на Петро́вна Блава́тская 1831 – 1891 CE
Co-founder of Theosophy

“Slavery to State and men has disappeared only to make room for slavery to things and Self, to one's own vices and idiotic social customs and ways. Rapid civilization, adapted to the needs of the higher and middle classes, has doomed by contrast to only greater wretchedness the starving masses.”

Blavatsky, Helena Еле́на Петро́вна Блава́тская 1831 – 1891 CE
Co-founder of Theosophy
from The Key to Theosophy (1889)

“Instead of stating that God made man after his own image, we ought in truth to say that 'man imagines God after his image,' forgetting that he has set up his own reflection for worship.”

Blavatsky, Helena Еле́на Петро́вна Блава́тская 1831 – 1891 CE
Co-founder of Theosophy
from Isis Unveiled

“Religion, in short, is a monumental chapter in the history of human egotism.”

William James 1842 – 1910 CE
"Father of American psychology”
from The Will to Believe, 1897

“The means employed by the lust for power have changed, but the same volcano continues to glow... what one formerly did 'for the sake of God' one now does for the sake of money—that which now gives the highest feeling of power and good conscience.”

Friedrich Nietzsche 1844 – 1900 CE

“It is in the darkness of their eyes that men get lost.”

Black Elk 1863 – 1950 CE
(Heȟáka Sápa)

35. The Power of Goodness

“Within the herd we are more friendly to each other than are many species of animals, but in our attitude toward those outside the herd, in spite of all that has been done by moralists and religious teachers, our emotions are as ferocious as those of any animal, and our intelligence enables us to give them a scope which is denied to even the most savage beast.”

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

“If your virtues hinder you from salvation, discard them, since they have become evil to you. The slave to virtue finds the way as little as the slave to vices.”

Carl Jung 1875 – 1961 CE
Insightful shamanistic scientist
from Red Book, Liber Novus

“I had to do certain yoga exercises in order to keep my emotions in check. But since it was my purpose to know what was going on within myself, I would do these exercises only until I had calmed myself enough to resume my work with the unconscious.”

Carl Jung 1875 – 1961 CE
Insightful shamanistic scientist
from Memories, Dreams, Reflections

“For what I always hated and detested and cursed above all things was this contentment, this healthiness and comfort, this carefully preserved optimism of the middle classes, this fat and prosperous brood of mediocrity.”

Hermann Hesse 1877 – 1962 CE

24. Unnecessary Baggage

“If you should enter the temple for no other purpose than asking, you shall not receive.”

Kahlil Gibran 1883 – 1931 CE
from The Prophet

“Free yourself from one passion to be dominated by another and nobler one. But is not that, too, a form of slavery? To sacrifice oneself to an idea, to a race, to God? Or does it mean that the higher the model, the longer the tether of our slavery?”

Nikos Kazantzakis 1883 – 1957 CE
from Zorba the Greek

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“The end is happiness, and philosophy is only a means; if we take it as an end, we become like the Hindu mystic whose life-purpose is to concentrate upon his navel.”

Will Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
Philosophy apostle and popularizer of history's lessons
from The Story of Philosophy, 1926

“Already madness lifts its wing to cover half my soul. Now everything is clear... Nothing I counted mine, out of my life, is mine to take...”

Anna Akhmatova Анна Ахматова 1889 – 1966 CE
(Andreyevna Gorenko)
Russia's most loved female poet

“This history of Europe during the later Middle Ages and the Renaissance is largely a history of the social confusions that arise when large numbers of those who should be seers abandon spiritual authority in favor of money and political power.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE
from Perennial Philosophy

“the moment we want to be something we are no longer free.”

Krishnamurti 1895 – 1986 CE
(Jiddu Krishnamurti)

“Man does not only sell commodities, he sells himself and feels himself to be a commodity.”

Erich Fromm 1900 – 1980 CE
One of the most powerful voices of his era promoting the true personal freedom beyond social, political, religious, and national belief systems

“But Zen can be dangerous to innocent minds…that may easily see Zen as something good or special by which they can gain something. This attitude can lead to trouble.”

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi 1904 – 1971 CE
from Crooked Cucumber: the Life and Zen Teaching of Shunryu Suzuki

68. Joining Heaven & Earth

“When we ask what Buddha nature is, it vanishes; but when we just practice zazen, we have full understanding of it… When you give up trying to understand it, true understanding is always there.”

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi 1904 – 1971 CE

81. Journey Without Goal

“Darth Vader has not developed his own humanity. He's a robot, a bureaucrat living not in terms of himself but in terms of an imposed system. This is the threat to our lives that we all face today... How do you relate to the system so that you are not compulsively serving it.”

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

“Every wish to experience happiness, to have it at one's beck and call—instead of being in a state of happiness, as though by grace—must instantly produce an intolerable sense of want.”

Denys de Rougemont 1906 – 1985 CE
Non-conformist leader, influential cultural theorist

“the medicine of the discipline becomes a diet, the cure an addiction, and the raft a houseboat... liberation turns into just another social institution and dies of respectability”

Alan Watts 1915 – 1973 CE
from Psychotherapy East and West

“Even if you did go around saving guys' lives and all, how would you know if you did it because you really wanted to save guys' lives, or because you did it because what you really wanted to do was be a terrific lawyer, with everybody slapping you on the back and congratulating you”

J. D. Salinger 1919 – 2010 CE
from Catcher in the Rye

“As a matter of simple logic, there's no difference at all, that I can see, between the man who's greedy for material treasure or even intellectual treasure—and the man who's greedy for spiritual treasure.”

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

“I think it matters almost infinitely that we practice one of the authentic religions. But if you mean does it make any difference which, the answer is no.”

Huston Smith 1919 – 2016 CE
from World's Religions

“Religions appear to be schismatic technical harangues, corruptions of some original pure Vision”

Jack Kerouac 1922 – 1969 CE
from Some of the Dharma

“When these organizations work for their own expansion, they have already started rotting. The aim should be to increase other people’s benefits... if you want your organization to grow, there is attachment and that pollutes”

Goenka ဂိုအင်ကာ 1924 – 2013 CE
(Satya Narayan)
"The Man who Taught the World to Meditate"

“When a man finally realizes that he has taken a path without heart, that the path is ready to kill him; at that point, very few men can stop to deliberate, and leave that path.”

Carlos Castaneda 1925 – 1998 CE
from Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge

72. Helpful Fear

“Appeals to the base lusts that hide in everyone no matter how respectable on the surface. Yes, the novelist knows humanity, how worthless they are , ruled by their testicles, swayed by cowardice, selling out every cause because of their greed”

Philip K. Dick 1928 – 1982 CE
Legendary consciousness provocateur
from Man in the High Castle,

“The materialistic outlook dominates everywhere and the mind is intoxicated with worldly concerns.”

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

“And the people bowed and prayed to the neon God they made and the sign flashed its warning, in the words that it was forming”

Paul Simon 1941 CE –
Prolific planter of musical, cultural wisdom seeds
from Sounds of Silence, 1964

“the risk is that it's taken too literally—to just 'be mindful.' Well, you could have a very mindful sniper and a mindful psychopath.”

Matthieu Ricard माथ्यु रिका 1946 CE –
"The happiest person in the world”

“You can best achieve success at meditation by not pursuing success, and achieving this success may mean caring less about success”

Robert Wright 1957 CE –
from Why Buddhism is True

“God is a dream, a hope… someone who loves you—even, perhaps, against all evidence, a celestial being whose only interest is to make sure your football team, army, business, or marriage thrives, prospers, and triumphs over all opposition.”

Neil Gaiman 1960 CE –
Myth-transmitting creative maelstrom
from American Gods

“It is such a mistake to assume that practicing dharma will help us calm down and lead an untroubled life; nothing could be further from the truth. Dharma is not a therapy. Quite the opposite, in fact; dharma is tailored specifically to turn your life upside down.”

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche རྫོང་གསར་ འཇམ་དབྱངས་ མཁྱེན་བརྩེ་ རིན་པོ་ཆེ། 1961 CE –
(Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche)
"Activity" incarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo
from Not For Happiness: A Guide to the So-Called Preliminary Practices

“until mindfulness becomes more explicit in stressing an ethical vision, it will serve to sustain our culture of self-interest, or at least fail to mount any serious challenge to it.”

Roman Krznaric 1
Practical, popular, modern philosopher

from Carpe Diem Regained (2017)

“it's a trap to get attached to any particular experience, especially those that relate to spiritual awakening.”

Mingyur Rinpoche 1975 CE –
Modern-day Mahasiddha

from In Love With the World

“Much of ancient mythology is in fact a legal contract in which humans promise everlasting devotion to the gods in exchange for mastery over plants and animals—the first chapters of the book of Genesis are a prime example. For thousands of years, religious liturgy consisted mainly of humans sacrificing lambs, wine and cakes to divine powers who in exchange promised abundant harvests and fecund flocks.”

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

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