Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Is it progress if a cannibal uses knife and fork? (Stanislaw Lec)
A mixed bag in many ways, the myth and symbolism of progress has become pervasive, unquestioned and devastatingly harmful to society, the environment, and personal happiness. In medicine progress has saved countless babies and sick people but also condemns others to spending their children’s inheritance on hospital bills that only delay the inevitable and more days, months, years in painful suffering instead of dying peacefully but sooner. Progress with machines has made transportation easy but has also created horrible pollution, mass weapons of war that have killed millions, and deprived many of meaningful work. The internet has made access to information readily available but has also contributed to more car accidents, sophisticated brainwashing techniques, and filled everyone’s space up to an extent that they no longer to have time to think and contemplate. Progress has become a religious belief and with its tools of entertainment venues, movies, TV, and Las Vegas pleasure domes captivate our attention but waste away our precious lives in mindless, meaningless activity. Just because something is new and “better,” that doesn’t mean it’s good or beneficial.

On the other hand, "progress" has brought billions out of poverty, greatly expanded life expectancy; dramatically decreased poverty, infant, child, and maternal mortality. Deaths from famine have decreased from 1400 out of every 100,00 people in 1870 to almost 0 today. Although income inequality has risen to a major political focus, global inequality has significantly decreased, overall wealth and well being have tremendously improved.

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Quotes (91)

“A seed that sprouts at the foot of its parent tree remains stunted until it is transplanted… Every human being, when the time comes, has to depart to seek his fulfillment in his own way.”

Vyasa व्यास 1
Hindu immortals, Vishnu avatar, 5th incarnation of Brahma
from Mahābhārata महाभारतम्

Themes: Progress

33. Know Yourself

“And some day let them say of him: 'He is better by far than his father.'”

Homer 1
Primogenitor of Western culture
from Iliad

Themes: Progress

“No society can prosper if it aims at making things easier. Instead, it should aim at making people stronger.”

Chandragupta Maurya 340 – 297 BCE
Ashoka’s grandfather, founder of the Maurya Empire

“The greater part of progress is the desire to progress.”

Seneca ˈsɛnɪkə 4 BCE – 65 CE
(Lucius Annaeus)
from Epistulae ad Lucilium

Themes: Progress

“Moral progress results in freedom from inner turmoil. The surest sign of the higher life is serenity and external circumstances and people should not have the power to cause you any disturbance.”

Epictetus Ἐπίκτητος 55 – 135 CE via Sharon Lebell, Shan Dao
from Discourses of Epictetus, Ἐπικτήτου διατριβαί

Themes: Progress

“What passes for learning in the world never ends. For every truth found, two are lost.”

Li Xizhai 1 via Red Pine
(Li Hsi-Chai)
from Tao-te-chen-ching yi-chieh

Themes: Progress

20. Unconventional Mind

“How do you step forward from the top of a hundred-foot pole?”

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: Progress

“Sameness is the mother of disgust, variety the cure.”

Petrarch 1304 – 1374 CE

18. The Sick Society

“Progress on the Path is a reconstitution of our belief in a fictitious self, a transformation of ego being into real, authentic being.”

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

“We have been kept back from scientific progress by a kind of enchantment and reverence for antiquity, for the authority of those considered great in philosophy, and by general consent.”

Francis Bacon 1561 – 1626 CE via "Aphorisms" (tr: Shan Dao)
from The New Organon, 1620

Themes: Science Progress

“All good activity in life depends on discretion, the highest virtue — that natural tendency toward the most rational and sure actions.”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE via Shan Dao, #96
from Art of Worldly Wisdom

Themes: Progress

54. Planting Well

“A resolution declared is never highly thought of.”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE
from Art of Worldly Wisdom

Themes: Progress

56. One with the Dust

“All systems either of preference or of restraint... retards, instead of accelerating, the progress of the society towards real wealth and greatness; and diminishes, instead of increasing, the real value of the annual produce its land and labor.”

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

Themes: Control Progress

“We many acquiesce in the pleasing conclusion that every age in the world has increased and still increases the real wealth, the happiness, the knowledge, and perhaps the virtue, of the human race.”

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

Themes: Progress

“If we contrast the rapid progress of this mischievous discovery (gunpowder) with the slow and laborious advances of reason, science, and the arts of peace, a philosopher, according to his temper, will laugh or weep at the folly of mankind.”

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

“There is no greater impediment to progress in the sciences than the desire to see it take place too quickly.”

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg 1742 – 1799 CE
One of history’s best aphorists

“Progress has not followed a straight ascending line, but a spiral with rhythms of progress and retrogression, of evolution and dissolution.”

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 1749 – 1832 CE
from Maxims

“The human mind always makes progress, but it is a progress in spirals.”

Madame de Staël 1766 – 1817 CE
(Anne Louise Germaine de Staël-Holstein)
"The greatest woman of her time"

Themes: Progress

“When a man can do better than everyone else in the same walk, he does not make any very painful exertions to outdo himself. The progress of improvement ceases nearly at the point where competition ends.”

William Hazlitt 1778 – 1830 CE
One of the English languages best art and literature critics of all time

“If the true spark of religious and civil liberty be kindled it will burn… the ocean may overwhelm it; mountains may press it down; but its inherent and unconquerable force will heave both the ocean and the land, the volcano will break out and flame up to heaven.”

Daniel Webster 1782 – 1852 CE
America's greatest orator
from Address, 1825

Themes: Freedom Progress

“The nobler and more perfect a thing is, the later and slower it is in arriving at maturity.”

Arthur Schopenhauer 1788 – 1860 CE
from Works of Schopenhauer

Themes: Progress

“I do not share the belief in indefinite progress for society as a whole; only in man’s improvement in himself.”

Balzac 1799 – 1850 CE
(Honoré de Balzac)

Themes: Progress

“man in the distant future will be a far more perfect creature than he is now; it is an intolerable thought that he and all other sentient beings are doomed to complete annihilation after such long-continued slow progress”

Charles Darwin 1809 – 1882 CE
from Descent of Man

Themes: Progress

“Literature is at once the cause and the effect of social progress. It deepens our natural sensibilities, and strengthens by exercise our intellectual capacities.”

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

Themes: Progress

“Social progress may be measured precisely by the social position of the fair sex”

Karl Marx 1818 – 1883 CE

3. Weak Wishes, Strong Bones

“A political party has never accomplished anything for humanity. Individuals and geniuses have been the pioneers of every reform and of progress.”

Leo Tolstoy 1828 – 1910 CE

“All progress is based upon a universal innate desire on the part of every organism to live beyond its income.”

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

Themes: Progress Greed

“Human efforts are daily unifying the world more and more in definite systematic ways.”

William James 1842 – 1910 CE
"Father of American psychology”
from Pragmatism

Themes: Progress

“Every progress of the whole must be preceded by a partial weakening.”

Friedrich Nietzsche 1844 – 1900 CE
from Human All Too Human - A Book for Free Spirits

Themes: Progress

42. Children of the Way

“Life begets life. Energy creates energy. It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich.”

Sarah Bernhardt 1844 – 1923 CE
“One of the finest actors of all time”

Themes: Wealth Progress

“Legend remains victorious in spite of history.”

Sarah Bernhardt 1844 – 1923 CE
“One of the finest actors of all time”

Themes: History Progress

“Wherever progress is to evolve, deviating natures are of greatest importance.”

Friedrich Nietzsche 1844 – 1900 CE
from Human All Too Human - A Book for Free Spirits

Themes: Progress

“Restlessness is discontent—and discontent is the first necessity of progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I will show you a failure.”

Thomas Edison 1847 – 1931 CE
America's greatest inventor

Themes: Progress Problems

“Concentrated power can be always wielded in the interest of the few and at the expense of the many. Government in its last analysis is this power reduced to a science. Governments never lead; they follow progress. When the prison, stake or scaffold can no longer silence the voice of the protesting minority, progress moves on a step, but not until then.”

Lucy Parsons 1853 – 1942 CE
(Eldine Gonzalez)
Political activist “more dangerous than a thousand rioters”

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

George Bernard Shaw 1856 – 1950 CE
UK playwright second only to Shakespeare

Themes: Progress

“[The child's] great task is freeing himself from the parents... only after this detachment is accomplished can he cease to be a child and so become a member of the social community.”

Sigmund Freud 1856 – 1939 CE

Themes: Family Progress

“What progress we are making. In the Middle Ages they would have burned me. Now they are content with burning my books.”

Sigmund Freud 1856 – 1939 CE

“What is your ‘civilization and progress‘ if its only outcome is hysteria and down going? What is ‘government and law‘ if their ripened harvests are men without sap? What are ‘religions and literatures‘ if their grandest productions are hordes of faithful slaves?”

Arthur Desmond 1859 – 1929 CE
from Might Is Right

“The path of least resistance and least trouble is a mental rut already made. It requires troublesome work to undertake the alteration of old beliefs.”

John Dewey 1859 – 1952 CE
The "Second Confucius"

Themes: Belief Progress

“We had made a religion of our belief in progress—a baseless dream—but because we had made a religion of it, our disappointment has shaken our faith.”

Dean Inge 1860 – 1954 CE via Things That Remain
Christian mystic and philosopher

Themes: Progress

“Things do not grow better; they remain as they are. It is we who grow better, by the changes we make in ourselves.”

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

Themes: Progress

“The remains of the old must be decently laid away; the path of the new prepared. That is the difference between Revolution and Progress.”

Henry Ford 1863 – 1847 CE

“Many people are busy trying to find better ways of doing things that should not have to be done at all. There is no progress in merely finding a better way to do a useless thing.”

Henry Ford 1863 – 1847 CE

Themes: Progress

“scientific progress without a corresponding moral and political progress may only increase the magnitude of the disaster that misdirected skill may bring about.”

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

Themes: Progress

“Change is one thing, progress is another. Change is scientific, progress is ethical; change is indubitable, progress is a matter of controversy.”

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

“in perpetual conflict for possession of the world: force and justice, tyranny and freedom, superstition and knowledge; the law of permanence and the law of change, of ceaseless fermentation issuing in progress.”

Thomas Mann 1875 – 1955 CE
Deep, psychologically insightful author
from The Magic Mountain (1924)

“The purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things.”

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

Themes: Progress

18. The Sick Society

“We are not going in circles, we are going upwards. The path is a spiral; we have already climbed many steps.”

Hermann Hesse 1877 – 1962 CE via Hilda Rosner
from Siddhartha

“the social change from co-operation to competition is spoken of as progress... [but] we are not all deceived by the illusion of progress... 'the object of human life is not to waste it in a feverish anxiety and race after physical objects and comforts, but to use it in developing the mental, moral, and spiritual powers latent in man' (Basu)”

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

Themes: Progress

“Authentic religion ends stops when it believes it has found truth and ceases the search.”

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

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

Franklin Roosevelt 1882 – 1945 CE
Champion and creator of a more just and equitable society

Themes: Progress

“a previously unheard of intoxication, a drunken desire to lean and make progress, to pursue the bluebird with (as I afterwards discovered) is called Spirit.”

Nikos Kazantzakis 1883 – 1957 CE
from Report to Greco

Themes: Progress

“If undertakers are miserable, progress is real.”

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

Themes: Progress

“Progress in knowledge, science, comforts, and power is only progress in means; if there is no improvement in ends, purposes, or desires, progress is a delusion.”

Will (and Ariel) Durant 1885 – 1981 CE

80. A Golden Age

“I see men standing on the edge of knowledge, and holding the light a little farther ahead... history not as a dreary scene of politics and carnage, but as the struggle of man to understand, control, and remake himself and the world.”

Will Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
Philosophy apostle and popularizer of history's lessons
from Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Time, 1968

Themes: Progress History

“How can man progress if he is forbidden to question tradition?”

Will (and Ariel) Durant 1885 – 1981 CE

Themes: Progress Doubt

20. Unconventional Mind

“It is difficult rather than easy conditions that produce achievements… where life was easy, natives remained primitive… the harder a time a country has had, the more brilliant its record as an originator of civilization.”

Arnold Toynbee 1889 – 1975 CE
from A Study of History

“The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible -- and achieve it, generation after generation.”

Pearl Buck 1892 – 1973 CE

Themes: Progress

55. Forever Young

“devotees of the apocalyptic religion of Inevitable Progress [believe] that the Kingdom of Heaven is outside you and in the future.

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE
from Perennial Philosophy

67. Three Treasures

“They thought they would improve on Nature by turning dry prairies into wheat fields, and produced deserts; chopped down vast forests to provide the newsprint demanded by that universal literacy which was to make the world safe for democracy, and got wholesale erosion, pulp magazines and the organs of Fascist, Communist, capitalist and nationalist propaganda... the free press is everywhere the servant of its advertisers, of a pressure group, or of the government.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE
from Perennial Philosophy

“As long as we invent and progress in mechanical things and not in love, we shall not achieve happiness.”

Jean Giono 1895 – 1970 CE

80. A Golden Age

“Just as alchemy led to the science of chemistry, astrology to the science of astronomy, or in the way that ritual dances led to the art of dramatic performances, man, by first obeying his inner urges—the powers of depth consciousness—felt his way toward the mysteries of life.”

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

from Inner Structure of the I Ching

“The principle enemy of freedom is illusion... the illusion of the importance of the sie or quantity, the illusion of our technical superiority, the illusion that we don't dare to think. and there is the illusion related to all these illusions—the illusion of progress.”

Robert Hutchins 1899 – 1977 CE
(Robert Maynard Hutchins)

Themes: Illusion Progress

“The human race has improved everything except for the human race.”

Adlai Stevenson 1900 – 1965 CE

Themes: Progress

“All things living are in search of a better world.”

Karl Popper 1902 – 1994 CE
Major Philosopher of Science
from In Search of a Better World (1984)

Themes: Progress

“Love slays what we have been,
That we may be what we were not.”

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

Themes: Progress Love

“Every idea subverts the old to make way for the new. To shut off subversion is to shut off peaceful progress and to invite revolution and war.”

I. F. Stone 1907 – 1989 CE
One of the greatest 20th century reporters

“On the day that you were born, you began to die. Do not waste a single moment more!”

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche དིལ་མགོ་མཁྱེན་བརྩེ། 1910 – 1991 CE via Matthieu Ricard
"Mind" incarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo
from Journey to Enlightenment

Themes: Progress

“We become what we behold. We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.”

Marshall McLuhan 1911 – 1980 CE

80. A Golden Age

“People complacently view the world as a place where 'progress' grows out of turmoil and confusion. But purposeless and destructive development invites confusion of thought, invites nothing less than the degeneration and collapse of humankind.”

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

Themes: Progress

“The progress of man... depends largely on his ability to accept superficial paradoxes, to see that what at first looks like a contradiction need not always remain one.”

Daniel J. Boorstin 1914 – 2004 CE
American intellectual Paul Revere
from Hidden History (1987)

Themes: Paradox Progress

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things. Not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

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

“You call this progress, because you have motor cars and telephones and flying machines and a thousand potions to make you smell better? And people sleeping on the streets?”

Howard Zinn 1922 – 2010 CE
Historian of the oppressed and defeated

from Marx in Soho

Themes: Progress

“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"

“Where man goes, trees die; or, to paraphrase Tacitus, we make a desert and call it progress.”

Ursula Le Guin 1929 – 2018 CE
from Lavinia

Themes: Progress

80. A Golden Age

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

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

Demian is an example of the artist's miraculous power of surviving a mental earthquake... It is a question of self-realization. It is not enough to accept a concept of order and live by it; that is cowardice, and such cowardice cannot result in freedom. Chaos must be faced. Real order must be preceded by a descent into chaos. This is Hesse's conclusion.”

Colin Wilson 1931 – 2013 CE
from Outsider

Themes: Progress

“‘Progress’ is a process best described by the phrase ‘two steps forward, one step back.’ When we’re in the ‘one step back’ phase, it’s extremely hard to see the bigger picture that we’ve actually made one step forward. This tends to give historians a much more optimistic view of life and civilization.”

Shan Dao 山道 1933 CE –

Themes: Progress

“Life is like a relay race. We receive a baton from those who have gone before and pass it on to those who come after us—either diminished or increased.”

Shan Dao 山道 1933 CE –

Themes: Progress

“When going back makes sense, you are going ahead.”

Wendell Berry 1934 CE –

Themes: Progress

28. Turning Back

“Evolution doesn't mean progress. Which is more conscious, the butterfly or the flower?”

Stephen Mitchell 1943 CE –
from Second Book of Tao

“Our ideas about success are based on unexamined assumptions. Fixation on these subverts our best efforts leading either to counterfeit success or true frustration.”

B. Alan Wallace 1950 CE –
(Bruce Alan Wallace)
from Buddhism with an Attitude

Themes: Success Progress

“The region of the world that should be naturally rich has made itself poor by repeatedly letting the past bury the future and the region that is naturally poor has made itself rich by letting the future bury the past.”

Thomas L. Friedman 1953 CE –

Themes: Progress Poverty

“The only kind of progress we can have is a kind that is easy to miss while we are living through it... long term gains with short-term setbacks... Pulling us forward are ingenuity, sympathy, and benign institutions. Pushing us back are the darker sides of human nature and the Second Law of Thermodynamics.”

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

“When we’re young, we think we are the only species worth knowing. But the more I come to know people, the better I like ravens.”

Louise Erdrich 1954 CE –

“We live longer, suffer less, learn more, get smarter, and enjoy more small pleasures and rich experiences. Fewer of us are killed, assaulted, enslaved, oppressed, or exploited by others... peace and properity are growing and could someday encompass the globe.”

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

“They were all enamored with the idea of progress and believed that whatever was new must be superior to what was old. As if merit was a function of chronology!”

Susanna Clarke 1959 CE –
from Piranesi

Themes: Progress Ambition

“There are still many causes worth sacrificing for, so much history yet to be made.”

Michelle Obama 1964 CE –

Themes: History Progress

“When you can't describe a powerful experience in words anymore, it's a sign of progress. It means you've at least dipped your toes into the realm of the ineffable vastness of your true nature, a very brave step that many people, too comfortable with the familiarity of their discontent, lack the courage to take.”

Mingyur Rinpoche 1975 CE –
Modern-day Mahasiddha

from The Joy of Living (2007)

Themes: Progress

“The idea of progress is built on the notion that if we admit our ignorance and invest resources in research, things can improve. Whoever believes in progress believes that geographical discoveries, technological inventions and organizational developments can increase the sum total of human production, trade and wealth... I can become wealthy without you becoming poor; I can be obese without you dying of hunger.”

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

from Sapiens

Themes: Progress

“Ending a war is easy. Creating peace is hard... We know that war demands sacrifice. But we fail to see that the demands of peace are greater still.”

Deepak Malhotra 1
"Professor of the Year"

from Peacemaker's Code

Themes: Progress


Enlightenment Now

by Steven Pinker

Humanistic scientist, insightful cultural commentaror

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