Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Paradox

Suzuki Roshi said that, “If it’s not a paradox, it’s not the truth” and the Taoist symbol of yin-yang symbolizes the dual nature of our experience. There’s always a dark side to the most positive situation in the same way as there is always a “silver lining” to our problems and tribulations. The Jain tradition takes this notion even further positing 7 aspects to each experience instead of two. Gracian’s aphorism that “All fools are fully convinced, and everyone fully convinced is a fool” brings this understanding into the practicality of our lives. Humans seem plagued with many contradictory desires. Chief among them may be the desire for stability, peace, and comfort of the known and traditional juxtaposed with the desire for things to get better, to evolve and improve, the desire for progress. While most acknowledge and approve of both, few may realize the inherent and obvious but unacknowledged contradiction: things can’t get better without changing. This could also describe how the root cause of our political woes may lie deeper than merely the surface of our polarized, chauvinistic “tribalism.” The deeper cause is Our polarized thinking based on unconscious beliefs that we can condense reality into tiny, conceptualized boxes—right and wrong, good and bad, should and shouldn’t. A sane political system grows from open, rational mind and is fertilized by composting dogmatic belief with the psychological microbe, paradox.

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Quotes (131)

“Attracting the disaffected weakens the enemy and strengthens the state.”

Jiang Ziya 姜子牙 11th century BCE
"Master of Strategy"

Themes: Paradox Enemy

“As want can reward you, wealth can bewilder.”

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

22. Heaven's Door

“The oldest, shortest words - 'yes' and 'no' - are those which require the most thought.”

Pythagorus 570 – 495 BCE
(of Samos)
"The most influential philosopher of all time"
from Golden Verses of Pythagoras Χρύσεα

Themes: Paradox

“Things are not what they seem, nor are they otherwise.”

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

Themes: Paradox

“All things travel in opposite directions!”

Parmenides 540 – 450 BCE via John Burnett
Grandfather of Western philosophy
from On Nature

Themes: Paradox

22. Heaven's Door

“Men do not know how what is at variance agrees with itself. It is an attunement of opposite tensions, like that of the bow and the lyre.”

Heraclitus Ἡράκλειτος 535 – 475 BCE
(of Ephesus, the "Weeping Philosopher")
A Greek Buddha

Themes: Paradox One Taste

“In a really just cause, the week conquer the strong.”

Sophocles Σοφοκλῆς 497 – 405 BCE
“The Wise and Honored One”
from Oediplus at Colonus, 406 BCE

Themes: Justice Paradox

“The nature of God is a circle of which the center is everywhere and the circumference is nowhere.”

Empedocles 490 – 430 BCE
"The father of rhetoric"—Aristotle
from On Nature

“Perfect truthfulness though unmoving, creates change; though taking no action, brings about completion; though making no display, becomes manifest.”

Zisi 子思 481 – 402 BCE via Daniel K. Gardner, Shan Dao
(Kong Ji or Tzu-Ssu)
Confucius' grandson and early influence on Neo-Confucianism
from Doctrine of the Mean, Maintaining Perfect Balance, Zhongyong 中庸

Themes: Wu Wei Paradox

57. Wu Wei

“There is in the worst of fortune the best of chances for a happy change.”

Euripides 480 – 406 BCE
Ancient humanitarian influence continuing today

Themes: Change Paradox

46. Enough

“One man means as much to me as a multitude, and a multitude only as much as one man.”

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

“Many much-learned men have no intelligence.”

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

Themes: Paradox Wisdom

81. Journey Without Goal

“When we understand we are at the center of the circle, and there we sit while Yes and No chase each other around the circumference.”

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

Themes: Paradox

“Now, the phoenix dispossessed,
In the shrine crows make their nest.
Withered is the jasmine rare,
Fair is foul, and foul is fair,
Light is darkness, darkness day,
Sad at heart I haste away.”

​ Qu Yuan 屈原 340 – 278 BCE via Arthur Waley
(Qū Yuán)
"King of the Water Immortals"
from Li Sao

Themes: Paradox

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

Ashoka 304 – 232 BCE
One of the world's most enlightened leaders

Themes: Paradox Problems

“Standing on a whale fishing for minnows”

Anonymous -800 to present via Polynesian saying
Freedom from the narrow boxes defined by personal history

Themes: Paradox

“The philosopher may arrive at more than one explanation for a given phenomenon—in some cases, even at explanations that are mutually exclusive or contradictory.”

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

Themes: Paradox

“I am dragged along by a strange new force. Desire and reason are pulling in different directions. I see the right way and approve it, but follow the wrong.”

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

“When you try to stop doing to achieve being, this very effort fill you with doing.”

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

Themes: Paradox Wu Wei

“The true Tao exists and yet does not exist. It does not exist and it does not not exist… Outside of the Tao, there are no things. And outside of things, there is no Tao.”

Chéng Xuanying 成玄英 631 – 655 CE
(Ch'eng Hsuan-ying)

Themes: Paradox

21. Following Empty Heart

“Realizing the unreality of opposites and the non-existence of relatives like good/bad, love/hate, happy/sad brings deliverance and the wisdom of knowing what to accept and what to reject.”

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

“This thing we tell of can never be found by seeking, yet only seekers find it.”

Abu Yazid al-Bisṭāmī بایزید بسطامی‎‎ 804 – 874 CE

Themes: Paradox Wu Wei

“Chase it and it always eludes you; run from it and it is always there.”

Huangbo Xiyun 黄檗希运 ? - 850 CE
(Huangbo Xiyun, Huángbò Xīyùn, Obaku)
from Zen Teachings of Huang Po on the Transmission of Mind, John Blofeld translation

Themes: Paradox

29. Not Doing

“What is not alive is the basis for life. By equating life and death, we are no longer burdened by life and death.”

Cao Daochong 道寵 fl. 960 - 1268
(​Daochong or Ts’ao Tao-Ch’ung)

Themes: Paradox

“Don’t be predictable and guileless.”

Atisha ཨ་ཏི་ཤ་མར་མེ་མཛད་དཔལ་ཡེ་ཤེས་ 980 – 1054 CE
(Atiśa Dīpaṃkara Śrījñāna)
from Seven Points of Mind Training, Lojong བློ་སྦྱོངས་དོན་བདུན་མ;

18. The Sick Society

“To get what you love, you must first be patient with what you hate.”

Al-Ghazali أبو حامد محمد بن محمد الطوسي الغزالي 1058 – 1111 CE
(Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali)
Philosopher of Sufism

“Double meanings are given to suit people's diverse intelligence. The apparent contradictions are meant to stimulate the learned to deeper study.”

Averroes, Ibn Rushd ابن رشد‎‎ 1126 – 1198 CE

Themes: Paradox

“When you meet someone who understands the Tao, don't talk but don't keep silent!”

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: Paradox

22. Heaven's Door

“May they realize that the real nature of poison is the essential medicine.”

Mondup Sherab 12th century CE via Keith Dowman
from Masters of Mahamudra

“Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment; cleverness is mere opinion, bewilderment is intuition.”

Rumi مولانا جلال‌الدین محمد بلخی 1207 – 1283 CE
(Rumi Mawlānā Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Balkhī)

Themes: Opinion Paradox

“This is true which is, therefore contradictions can be true at the same time since they seem to be true as seen by different persons at the same time.”

Thomas Aquinas 1225 – 1274 CE via Daniel J. Sullivan
from Summa Theologica

Themes: Paradox

“Do you want me to thank you for it? Why should I? The giver should be thankful.”

Mujū Dōkyō 無住道曉 1227 – 1312 CE via Paul Reps
(Ichien Dōkyō )
”The Non-Dweller”
from Shaseki-shu (Collection of Stone and Sand)

Themes: Paradox

“To treat the complete as complete, the full as full, the straight as straight, and the clever as clever is mundane. To treat what seems deficient as complete, what seems empty as full, what seems crooked as straight, what seems clumsy as clever, this is transcendent.”

Wu Cheng 吴澄 1249 – 1333 CE via Red Pine
"Mr. Grass Hut"
from Tao-te-chen-ching-chu

Themes: Paradox

45. Complete Perfection

“Those who plant something well, plant it without planting. Thus it is never uprooted. Those who hold something well, hold it without holding. Thus it is never taken away.”

Wu Cheng 吴澄 1249 – 1333 CE via Red Pine
"Mr. Grass Hut"
from Tao-te-chen-ching-chu

Themes: Paradox Gardening

54. Planting Well

“For fear of becoming miserable, we never cease to be so.”

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

“All know that the drop merges into the ocean but few know that the ocean merges into the drop.”

Kabīr कबीर 1399 – 1448 CE

Themes: Paradox

32. Uncontrived Awareness

“Always choose the lesser evil never imagining that you can decide on a perfectly safe course. You can never avoid one trouble without running into another one.”

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

“Valor produces peace; peace, repose; repose, disorder; disorder, ruin. From disorder, order springs; from order, valor (virtue).”

Machiavelli 1469 – 1527 CE
(Niccolò Machiavelli)
from History of Florence

“Monarchies quickly becomes Tyrannies, Aristocracies Oligarchies, Democracies degenerate into Anarchy… no precaution can prevent them from sliding into their opposites because of how closely the virtue resembles the vice.”

Machiavelli 1469 – 1527 CE via Shan Dao
(Niccolò Machiavelli)
from Discourses on Livy

18. The Sick Society

“Melancholy is my joy
And discomfort is my rest.”

Michelangelo 1475 – 1564 CE

Themes: Problems Paradox

“Poison is in everything, and no thing is without poison. Only the dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy.”

Paracelsus 1493 – 1541 CE
(Theophrastus von Hohenheim)
Revolutionary, shamanistic alchemist

Themes: Paradox Medicine

“If someone wishes to be sure of the road they’re traveling on, they must close their eyes and travel in the dark.”

John of the Cross 1542 – 1591 CE

Themes: Wu Wei Paradox

“Good without evil is like light with out darkness which in turn is like righteousness without hope.”

William Shakespeare 1564 – 1616 CE
from All's Well That Ends Well

Themes: Evil Paradox

“The half is more than the whole, the reserve is more important that the attacking force.”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE via Joseph Jacobs, Shan Dao, chapter #170
from Art of Worldly Wisdom

Themes: Paradox

“What a chimera then is man! What a novelty, what a monster, what a chaos, what a contradiction, what a prodigy! Judge of all things, feeble earthworm, repository of truth, server of uncertainty and error, the glory and the scum of the universe.”

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

“The more we know of particular things, the more we know of God.”

Baruch Spinoza 1632 – 1677 CE

Themes: God Paradox

“He who hasn't tasted bitter things hasn't earned sweet things.”

Leibniz 1646 – 1716 CE
(Gottfried Wilhelm (von) Leibniz)

“He who hasn't tasted bitter things hasn't earned sweet things.”

Leibniz 1646 – 1716 CE
(Gottfried Wilhelm (von) Leibniz)

“Imperfection in the part may be required for a greater perfection in the whole.”

Leibniz 1646 – 1716 CE
(Gottfried Wilhelm (von) Leibniz)

Themes: Paradox

“If a man would register all his opinions upon love, politics, religion, learning, etc., beginning from his youth and so go on to old age, what a bundle of inconsistencies and contradictions would appear at last!”

Jonathan Swift 1667 – 1745 CE
"Foremost prose satirist in the English language"

from Thoughts on Various Subjects (1703)

Themes: Opinion Paradox

“I would rather be a man of paradoxes than a man of prejudices.”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1712 – 1778 CE

Themes: Paradox

78. Water

“A few years' experience will convince us that those things which at the time they happened we regarded as our greatest misfortunes have proved our greatest blessings.”

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

“Practice contemplation in action by combining flexibility with firmness, solidity with openness, and returning the nonexistent to existence.”

Liu Yiming 刘一明 1734 – 1821 CE via Thomas Cleary, Shan Dao, #53 Gradual Progress
(Liu I-ming)
from Taoist I Ching, , Zhouyi chanzhen 周易闡真

12. This Over That

“I've always felt that a person's intelligence is directly reflected by the number of conflicting points of view he can entertain simultaneously on the same topic.”

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

“What we agree with leaves us inactive, but contradiction makes us productive.”

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 1749 – 1832 CE

Themes: Paradox

18. The Sick Society

“Must it ever be thus-that the source of our happiness must also be the fountain of our misery?”

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 1749 – 1832 CE

46. Enough

“the fool who persists in his folly will become wise”

William Blake 1757 – 1827 CE

“A proposition expressed in numbers is definitely false or true. In all other relations, the truth is so mingled with the false that often only instinct can help us to decide among virtuous influences, sometimes equally as strong in one direction as in the other.”

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

Themes: Paradox

“I have seen gross intolerance shown in support of tolerance.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge 1772 – 1834 CE

Themes: Paradox

18. The Sick Society

“the difficulty is… that something can be both true and untrue at the same time… mankind cannot get on without a certain amount of absurdity.”

Arthur Schopenhauer 1788 – 1860 CE

Themes: Paradox

22. Heaven's Door

“The more he saw, the more he doubted… courage was often rashness; and prudence, cowardice; generosity, a clever piece of calculation; justice, a wrong; honesty, a modus vivendi; and by some strange dispensation of fate, he must see that those who at heart were really honest, scrupulous, just, generous, prudent or brave were held cheaply by their fellow-men.”

Balzac 1799 – 1850 CE
(Honoré de Balzac)

“One man's beauty is another's ugliness; one man's wisdom, another's folly.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803 – 1882 CE
Champion of individualism

Themes: Paradox

“Paradox is the source of the thinker's passion, and the thinker without a paradox is like a lover without feeling: a paltry mediocrity.”

Søren Kierkegaard 1813 – 1855 CE
"The first existentialist philosopher"
from Philosophical Fragments (1844)

Themes: Paradox
“For all men tragically great are made so through a certain morbidness.... all mortal greatness is but disease.”

Herman Melville 1819 – 1891 CE
from Moby Dick or The Whale

Themes: Paradox

“Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)”

Walt Whitman 1819 – 1892 CE
Premier "poet of democracy" and model for Dracula

Themes: Paradox

“The stupider one is, the closer to reality. Intelligence is a knave, it wriggles and hides but stupidity is honest and straight-forward.”

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

Themes: Paradox Reality

“The more things are forbidden, the more popular they become.”

Mark Twain 1835 – 1910 CE
(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)
America’s most famous author

Themes: Paradox

75. Greed

“there is no genius who is not also a fool, and no fool who is not also a genius”

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

Themes: Paradox

“Strange fat for man! He must perish if he get that which he must perish if he strive not after. If he strive not after it, he is not better than the brutes, if he get it he is more miserable than the devils.”

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

Themes: Paradox

“One is fruitful only at the cost of being rich in contradictions.”

Friedrich Nietzsche 1844 – 1900 CE
from Twilight of the Idols

Themes: Paradox

40. Returning

“No good deed goes unpunished.”

Oscar Wilde 1854 – 1900 CE

Themes: Paradox

“Neurosis is the inability to tolerate ambiguity.”

Sigmund Freud 1856 – 1939 CE

Themes: Paradox

“All great truths begin as blasphemies.”

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

Themes: Truth Paradox

“A pessimist is a person who has been compelled to live with an optimist.”

Elbert Hubbard 1856 – 1915 CE
from The Note Book, 1927

Themes: Paradox

“Think like a man of action, act like a man of thought.”

Henri-Louis Bergson 1859 – 1941 CE

“Revolutions are ambiguous things. Their success is generally proportionate to their power of adaptation and to the reabsorption within them of what they rebelled against”

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

“To believe in medicine would be the height of folly, if not to believe in it were not a greater folly still.”

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

Themes: Paradox Health

“It is always during a passing state of mind that we make lasting resolutions.”

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

“Kant, like Darwin, gave rise to a movement which he would have detested... The stages in the evolution of ideas have... developed by steps that each seem natural, into their opposites... governed throughout by external circumstances and the reflection of these circumstances in human emotions.”

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

Themes: Paradox Evolution

“The bee fertilizes the flower it robs.”

Charles Beard 1874 – 1948 CE
(Austin)
Pioneering progressive historian

Themes: Paradox

“If you marry the ordered to the chaos you produce the divine child, the supreme meaning beyond meaning and meaninglessness.”

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

“The conquest of the air marked a decisive advance for humanity. Yet we grasped at once the opportunity it offered to kill and destroy from the skies…. and obliged us to seek refuge underground like a hunted animal… the more the superman gains in strength, the poorer he becomes… we are becoming inhuman to the extent that we become supermen.”

Albert Schweitzer 1875 – 1965 CE

Themes: Paradox Poverty

“Take your practiced powers and stretch them out until they span the chasm between two contradictions... For the god wants to know himself in you.”

Rainer Maria Rilke 1875 – 1926 CE via Stephen Mitchell
Profound singer of universal music

Themes: Paradox

“You say the Christian God is unequivocal, he is love. But what is more ambiguous than love?”

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

Themes: God Paradox

“Do not guard yourself against those who call themselves thieves, for when you find out the opposite, they turn out to be gentlemen. Guard yourself against those who call themselves gentlemen, for when you discover the opposite, they turn out to be thieves.”

Lǔ Xùn 鲁迅 1881 – 1936 CE via Lin Yutang
(Zhou Shuren; Lusin)
Insightful satirist representing the "Literature of Revolt"

from Epigrams of Lusin

Themes: Paradox Crime

“whoever uproots his instincts uproots his strength—for with time, satiety, and discipline this dark matter may turn to spirit... if you wish to conquer temptation, there is only one way: embrace it, taste it, learn to despise it.”

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

“A nation, like an individual, can be too sensible, too prosaically sane and unbearably right... an intellectual bureaucracy irksome and hostile to every free and creatively erring soul.”

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

“Perhaps our national vitality depends upon a continuing tension between youth and age, whereby innovation meets tradition, and the ardor of experiment fuses with the coolness of experience.”

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

Themes: Paradox
“Every experience is a paradox in that it means to be absolute, and yet is relative; in that it somehow always goes beyond itself and yet never escapes itself. ”

T. S. Eliot 1888 – 1965 CE

Themes: Paradox

78. Water

“Men who are not free... always idealize their bondage.”

Boris Pasternak Бори́с Леони́дович Пастерна́к 1890 – 1960 CE
Russia's greatest poet

Themes: Paradox Freedom

In this age, which believes that there is a short-cut to everything, the greatest lesson to be learned is that the most difficult way, in the long run, is the easiest.”

Henry Miller 1891 – 1980 CE
from Books in My Life (1952)

Themes: Paradox Problems

“The principle of leveling of all opposites, and the theory of cycles and universal reversion to opposites are basic for the understanding of Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu philosophy and its practical teachings. All Lao Tzu's paradoxes arise from this point of view.”

Lín Yǔtáng 林語堂 1895 – 1976 CE
from Wisdom of Laotse

Themes: Paradox

2. The Wordless Teachings

“the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald 1896 – 1940 CE
Prototype of "Jazz Age" exuberance
from The Crack-Up (1936)

Themes: Paradox

“We learn to desist from concentrating on what might be good for us in the short run; because, when we study underlying trends, we often find that what is good for us in the short run may be far from good in the long run.”

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

from Inner Structure of the I Ching

Themes: Strategy Paradox

“By admitting the conception of goodness, you are simultaneously creating a conception of badness.”

Arthur Waley 1899 – 1969 CE
from The Way and its Power

2. The Wordless Teachings

“If I could put it into a very few words, I should say that our prevalent belief is in moderation. We inculcate the virtue of avoiding excesses of all kinds—even including, if you will pardon the paradox, excess of virtue itself.”

James Hilton 1900 – 1954 CE
from Lost Horizon

77. Stringing a Bow

“Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.”

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

Themes: Paradox

“when we don't understand anything, then our mind is very great, very wide”

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi 1904 – 1971 CE via David Chadwick

Themes: Paradox Mind

“If it’s not a paradox, it’s not the truth.”

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi 1904 – 1971 CE

Themes: Paradox

22. Heaven's Door
78. Water

“Machiavelli... undermined my earlier assumption, based on the philosophia perennis, that there could be no conflict between true ends, true answers to the central problems of life.”

Isaiah Berlin 1909 – 1997 CE
"the world's greatest talker"
from The Proper Study of Mankind

“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

“if man made it, don't eat it; if it tastes too good, spit it out”

Jack LaLanne 1914 – 2011 CE

Themes: Paradox

“Chuang Tzu agrees with the paradox of Lao Tzu, ‘When all the world recognizes good as good, it becomes evil’ because it becomes something that one does not have and which one must constantly be pursuing until, in effect, it becomes unattainable.”

Thomas Merton 1915 – 1968 CE

Themes: Paradox

2. The Wordless Teachings

“one is a great deal less anxious if one feels perfectly free to be anxious”

Alan Watts 1915 – 1973 CE
from Psychotherapy East and West

“We live on the brink of disaster because we do not know how to let life alone. We do not respect the living and fruitful contradictions and paradoxes of which true life is full.”

Thomas Merton 1915 – 1968 CE

“The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word 'crisis.' One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger—but recognize the opportunity.”

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

Themes: Paradox

“I'm quite illiterate, but I read a lot... What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.”

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

“The miracle of Chinese and Japanese verse is that one pure poet's voice is absolutely the same as another's and at once absolutely distinctive and different.”

J. D. Salinger 1919 – 2010 CE
from Raise High the Roof Beams, Seymour an Introduction

Themes: Culture Paradox

“Goodness can be found sometimes in the middle of hell.”

Charles Bukowski 1920 – 1994 CE
"Laureate of American lowlife”
from Women

40. Returning

“It is the paradox of every poet to have to transcend the logical function of language through language... Because paradox is the principal mode of Lao Tzu's thought processes, it is the nature of Chinese language, especially ancient Chinese, to be poetic.”

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

Themes: Paradox Poetry

“How can a man be so brave and so stupid, so gentle and so cruel, so warming and so detestable — all at the same time?”

James Clavell 1921 – 1994 CE
Fictionalizing and fictional historian
from Shōgun, 1975

Themes: Paradox

“In war and in peace, a good enemy can be more valuable than a good ally.”

James Clavell 1921 – 1994 CE
Fictionalizing and fictional historian
from Shōgun, 1975

Themes: Paradox Enemy

“Lao Tzu is… explaining a profound and difficult truth here, one of those counter-intuitive truths that, when the mind can accept them, suddenly double the size of the universe.”

Ursula Le Guin 1929 – 2018 CE

Themes: Paradox

11. Appreciating Emptiness

“So I had better fly in the ten directions even though I have lost the social custom and people call me aimless.
So I had better stay in one place even though I have lost the gypsy custom and people call me lazy.”

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

Themes: Travel Paradox

“An innocent man is a sin before God. Inhuman and therefore untrustworthy. No man should live without absorbing the sins of his kind, the foul air of his innocence, even if it did wilt rows of angel trumpets and cause them to fall from their vines.”

Toni Morrison 1931 – 2019 CE
(Chloe Ardelia Wofford)
Story-telling voice of American wisdom
from Tar Baby (1981)​​

Themes: Warriors Paradox

“We’re only as weak as our greatest strength.”

Shan Dao 山道 1933 CE –

Themes: Paradox

“Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck.”

Dalai Lama XIV Tenzin Gyatso 1935 CE –

Themes: Paradox

46. Enough

“Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.”

Dalai Lama XIV Tenzin Gyatso 1935 CE –

58. Goals Without Means

“We deserve our birthright, which is the middle way, an open state of mind that can relax with paradox and ambiguity.”

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

40. Returning

“If we try to solve society’s problems without overcoming the confusion and aggression in our own state of mind, then our efforts will only contribute to the basic problems.”

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

Themes: Paradox

21. Following Empty Heart

“It's weird not to be weird.”

John Lennon 1940 – 1980 CE

Themes: Paradox

41. Distilled Life

“Everything is true and not true about everything. That’s one thing I’ve learned.”

John Lennon 1940 – 1980 CE

Themes: Paradox

45. Complete Perfection

“There are paradoxes born of wit and paradoxes born of insight. No thought is true, bur some thoughts are so much truer that the ones we're used to that they seem absurd”

Stephen Mitchell 1943 CE –
from Second Book of Tao

Themes: Paradox Reason

“The command to be free is a double bind”

Kim Stanley Robinson 1952 CE –
from 2312

“The command to be free is a double bind”

Kim Stanley Robinson 1952 CE –
from 2312

“The difference between stupid and intelligent people—and this is true whether or not they are well-educated—is that intelligent people can handle subtlety. They are not baffled by ambiguous or even contradictory situations—in fact, they expect them and are apt to become suspicious when things seem overly straightforward."”

Neal Stephenson 1959 CE –
(Stephen Bury)
Speculative futurist and cultural social commentator

from Diamond Age

Themes: Paradox Reason

“It’s a huge psychological achievement to accept other humans in their bewildering mixture of good and bad… no one we love will ever satisfy us completely—but that this is never a reason to hate them either. We should move away from the naivety and cruelty of splitting people into the camps of the awful and the wondrous, to the mature wisdom of integrating them into the large collective of the ‘good enough’.”

Alain de Botton 1969 CE –
Philosophic link between ancient wisdom and modern challenge

“everyone just wants to be happy. The truly sad thing is that most people seek happiness in ways that actually sabotage their attempts. If we could see the whole truth of any situation, our only response would be one of compassion.”

Mingyur Rinpoche 1975 CE –
Modern-day Mahasiddha

from Joy of Living, 2007

“a dramatic increase in the collective power and ostensible success of our species went hand in hand with much individual suffering... This discrepancy between evolutionary success and individual suffering is perhaps the most important lesson we can draw from the Agricultural Revolution.”

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

from Sapiens

“Consistency is the playground of dull minds.”

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

from Sapiens

Themes: Paradox

“The flood of Wells’s prose lifted him from the respectable poverty in which he was raised to wealth and international fame... The problem he set himself was how to combine that mission, his furious devotion to human progress, with a cool certainty that the end of all progress would be entropy, devolution, nullity. The way he lived this paradox, even more than his books, is what makes Wells, still, an exemplary modern man.”

Adam Kirsch 1976 CE –
from The New Yorker

Themes: Paradox

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