Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Calumny of Apelles (Sandro Botticelli)

Desire

Paragon of paradox, desire spans the range of human experience. As the Buddha so insightfully described, it’s a kind of desire at the root of our suffering. At the same time though, without the passion of desire, there would be no life, no inspiration, no transforming evolution. In the earliest of recorded times, the Sumerian garden-of-eden story depicted the serpent and desire as wisdom and the power of life. Also sacred in the Buddhist, Hindu, and Native American traditions, the snake and desire were vilified in the Old Testament as part of the transformation from matriarchal to patriarchal society. The goddess symbolism of old was vilified and the sacred feminine principle tarnished with descriptions of sinful seducer.

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Quotes (95)

“Hell has three gates: lust, anger and greed.”

Vyasa व्यास c. 3000 BCE
Hindu immortals, Vishnu avatar, 5th incarnation of Brahma
from Mahābhārata महाभारतम्

44. Fame and Fortune

“Discontent springs from a constant endeavor to increase the amount of our claims when we are powerless to increase the amount which will satisfy them.”

Homer 850 BCE - ? via Arthur Schopenhauer
Primogenitor of Western culture
from Odyssey, Ὀδύσσεια

Themes: Suffering Desire

“As our desire, so is our will; as our will, so are our acts. Our desire determines what we will become.”

Yājñavalkya fl. c. 7th century BCE
One of the earliest non-dual philosophers

Themes: Desire

“No holy place existed without us then, no woodland, no dance, no sound… I prayed one word: ‘I want.’”

Sappho 612 – 570 BCE
“The Poetess” and most famous Greek woman

“Always wanting, we are blinded and only see what we want.”

Lao Tzu 老子 604 BCE - via Shan Dao, chapter #1
(Lǎozǐ)
from Tao Te Ching 道德经 Dàodéjīng

Themes: Greed Desire

Focused on uncontrived awareness, not seduced by hope and fear, grasping and fixation; they are not swayed by a desire for change.”

Lao Tzu 老子 604 BCE - via Shan Dao, chapter #15
(Lǎozǐ)
from Tao Te Ching 道德经 Dàodéjīng

Themes: Hope Change Desire

“Less treasure, less theft, less desire, less delusion”

Lao Tzu 老子 604 BCE - via Shan Dao, chapter #3
(Lǎozǐ)
from Tao Te Ching 道德经 Dàodéjīng

“Shut out from sight the things of desire so that the people's hearts shall not be disturbed.”

Lao Tzu 老子 604 BCE - via Lin Yutang, chapter 3
(Lǎozǐ)
from Tao Te Ching 道德经 Dàodéjīng

Themes: Desire

“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

“From the deepest desires often come the deadliest hate… The hottest love has the coldest end.”

Socrates 469 – 399 BCE
One of the most powerful influences on Western Civilization

Themes: Desire Hate

42. Children of the Way

“By desiring little, a poor man makes himself rich.”

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

Themes: Desire

46. Enough

“To want nothing is godlike; and the less we want, the nearer we approach the divine.”

Xenophon of Athens Ξενοφῶν  (430–354 BCE)
General, Socratic biographer, philosopher
from Memorabilia

“It is the privilege of the gods to want nothing, and of godlike men to want little.”

Diogenes 412 – 323 BCE via Will Durant
(of Sinope)
from Life of Greece

Themes: Desire

20. Unconventional Mind

“If things do not turn out as we wish, we should wish for them as they turn out.”

Aristotle Ἀριστοτέλης 382 – 322 BCE

Themes: Letting Go Desire

46. Enough

“I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is over self.”

Aristotle Ἀριστοτέλης 382 – 322 BCE

Themes: Victory Desire

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

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

Themes: Desire

“Don’t spoil what you have by desiring what you don’t. Remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”

Epicurus ɛpɪˈkjɔːrəs 341 – 270 BCE
Western Buddha
from On Nature

9. Know When to Stop

“We fail to take into account the sources of our desires when we make moral choices, not recognizing, for example, that the desire for great wealth or reputation is so empty and vain.”

Philodemus Φιλόδημος 110 – 35 BCE
(of Gadara)

Themes: Desire Wealth

“Men suffer the worst evils for the sake of the most alien desires.”

Philodemus Φιλόδημος 110 – 35 BCE via Giovanni Indelli
(of Gadara)
from On Choices and Avoidances

Themes: Evil Desire

“I desire not what is ready to hand, but long for whatever is kept under lock and key.”

Philodemus Φιλόδημος 110 – 35 BCE via W. R. Paton
(of Gadara)
from Epigrams

Themes: Desire

“So long as the object of our craving is unattained, it seems more precious than anything. But once it is ours, we crave for something else.”

Lucretius 99 – 55 BCE via R.E. Latham, Shan Dao
(Titus Carus)
from De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things)

Themes: Desire

“Do the gods light this fire in our hearts or does each man's mad desire become his god?”

Virgil 70 – 19 BCE
(Publius Vergilius Maro)
from Aeneid

Themes: Desire God

“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

“First, abandon all thought of action. Then see desirable objects as mere concepts, delusory mental pictures.”

Nagarjuna नागर्जुन c. 150-250 CE via Keith Dowman

Themes: Wu Wei Desire

“When we are free of desire, we see where things begin. When we are subject to desire, we see where things end.”

Wang Bi 王弼 226 – 534 CE via Red Pine, Shan Dao

Themes: Desire

“mists fumed up and overcast my heart, that I could not discern the clear brightness of love, from the fog of lustfulness.”

Augustine ɔːɡəstiːn 354 – 430 CE
(Saint Augustine, Saint Austin, Augustine of Hippo)
from Confessions

Themes: Desire Sex

“People of this world are deluded. They're always longing for something - always, in a word, seeking.”

Bodhidharma 菩提達磨 5th-6th C. CE
(Daruma)

Themes: Delusion Desire

“The Way is not difficult for those without preferences.”

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

“And once we are free of desire, we must also forget the desire to be free of desire. Serene and at peace, the ruler does nothing, while the world takes care of itself.”

Xuanzong 武隆基 685 – 756 CE
(Hsuan-Tsung or Wu Longji)

Themes: Desire

37. Nameless Simplicity

“Those desiring to escape suffering hasten right toward it. With the very desire for happiness, out of delusion they destroy their own happiness as if it were an enemy.”

Shantideva ཞི་བ་ལྷ།།། 685 – 763 CE
(Bhusuku, Śāntideva)

“A wild dog with honey rubbed on its nose madly devours whatever it sees.”

Lūipa ལཱུ་ཨི་པ། 8th century CE via Keith Dowman
(“The Fish-Gut Eater” )
Mahasiddha #1
from Masters of Mahamudra

Themes: Desire

53. Shameless Thieves

“There is no buddha, no dharma, no training and no realization - what are you so hotly chasing?”

Rinzai Gigen 臨済義玄 ? - 866 CE via Irmgard Schloegl
(Línjì Yìxuán)
from Zen Teachings of Rinzai (Record of Rinzai), Irmgard Schloegl translation 1976

Themes: Emptiness Desire

29. Not Doing

“I desire not to desire, for my will is without value, since I am ignorant in any case.”

Abu Yazid al-Bisṭāmī بایزید بسطامی‎‎ 804 – 874 CE

Themes: Desire

“Desire is like the child of a barren woman.”

Aciṅta ཨ་ཙིངྟ་།། 862 – 912 CE via Keith Dowman
("The Avaricious Hermit")
Mahasiddha #38

Themes: Desire

“The essential way is to focus on one thing and in action find absolute peace with no desire; impartial, straightforward, tranquil, and all-embracing.”

Zhou Dunyi 周敦頤 1017 – 1073 CE via Shan Dao
(Chou Tun-i)
from Penetrating the Book of Changes

“How long, how long, in infinite pursuit of this and that endeavor and dispute?”

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

from Rubaiyat

Themes: Desire

“Desire makes slaves out of kings, and patience makes kings out of slaves.”

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

Themes: Desire Slavery

“Without judgment evaluation or significance what is there to be desired.”

Hóngzhì Zhēngjué 宏智正覺 1091 – 1157 CE via Stephen H. Wolinsky
(Shōgaku)
from Book of Equanimity

Themes: Desire

“illuminate all conditions... clear and desireless, the wind in the pines and the moon in the water are content in their elements.”

Hóngzhì Zhēngjué 宏智正覺 1091 – 1157 CE via Dan Leighton
(Shōgaku)
from Cultivating the Emplty Field

Themes: Desire

“Like a rainbow dissolving into the sky, birth, life and death have no hold”

Kālapa ཀཱ་ལ་པ། 12th century CE via Keith Dowman
("The Handsome Madman")
Mahasiddha #27
from Masters of Mahamudra

Themes: Desire

50. Claws and Swords

“The wise know they have everything they need within themselves. Hence, they do not seek anything outside themselves.”

Li Xizhai 12th century CE via Red Pine
(Li Hsi-Chai)
from Tao-te-chen-ching yi-chieh

Themes: Desire

44. Fame and Fortune

“Abandon your desire and take on the light of wisdom, for that desire would soon lead to disappointment.”

Rumi مولانا جلال‌الدین محمد بلخی 1207 – 1283 CE via Helminski and Rezwani
(Rumi Mawlānā Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Balkhī)
from Love's Ripening

Themes: Desire

“Verily, the roots of passion are deep, and remote its sources. It can hardly be uprooted, and young and old, wise and foolish are alike its slaves.”

Yoshida Kenkō 兼好 1284 – 1350 CE via Sir George Bailey Sansome
Inspiration of self-reinvention
from Harvest of Leisure

Themes: Sex Desire

“A short cut to riches is to subtract from our desires.”

Petrarch 1304 – 1374 CE

Themes: Desire Wealth

46. Enough

“The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”

Erasmus 1466 – 1536 CE
(Desiderius Roterodamus)
"Greatest scholar of the northern Renaissance"

“You neither desire wealth nor greatness; and, indeed, I value and admire such a man much more than I do any of the great men in the world.”

Thomas More 1478 – 1535 CE
from Utopia

Themes: Desire Wealth

“After making me fall for you so hard, where are you going? Until the day I see you, no repose: my life, like a fish washed on shore, flails in agony.”

Meera 1498 – 1546 CE
(Mirabai, Meera Bai )
Inspiring poet, cultural freedom inspiration

Themes: Desire

“We grasp at everything, but catch nothing except wind.”

Montaigne 1533 – 1592 CE

Themes: Desire

29. Not Doing

“To arrive at being everything, desire to be nothing.”

John of the Cross 1542 – 1591 CE

Themes: Desire One Taste

“Those who seek the Tao begin by using wisdom to eliminate desires… Once their desires are gone, they eliminate wisdom… Thus by doing nothing, the sage can do great things… those who would rule the world should know the value of not being busy.”

Deqing 1546 – 1623 CE
(Te-Ch’ing)

48. Unlearning

“Choice... momentary as a sound, swift as a shadow, short as any dream; brief as the lightening in the collied night.”

William Shakespeare 1564 – 1616 CE
from A Midsummer Night's Dream

Themes: Desire

“Leave something to wish for. That way you will not be miserable from too much happiness… If one possessed all, all would be disillusion and discontent… Surfeits of happiness are fatal… when desire dies, fear is born.”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE

Themes: Delusion Desire

44. Fame and Fortune

“There is only one passion, the passion for happiness.”

Diderot 1713 – 1784 CE

Themes: Happiness Desire

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

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 1749 – 1832 CE

“The best laid schemes of mice and men go often askew, and leave us nothing but grief and pain for promised joy.”

Robert Burns 1759 – 1796 CE

“The desire of the man is for the woman, but the desire of the woman is for the desire of the man.”

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

Themes: Desire

“The man's desire is for the woman; but the woman's desire is rarely other than for the desire of the man.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge 1772 – 1834 CE
from Table Talk, 1827

“A man can do what he wants, but not want what he wants.”

Arthur Schopenhauer 1788 – 1860 CE

Themes: Desire Freedom

10. The Power of Goodness

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

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

Themes: Sex Desire

“Passion is universal humanity. Without it religion history art and romance would be useless.”

Balzac 1799 – 1850 CE
(Honoré de Balzac)

Themes: Desire

“what trances of torments does the man endure who is consumed with one unachieved revengeful desire. He sleeps with clenched hands; and wakes with his own bloody nails in his palms.”

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

Themes: Hate Desire

“Now he found out a new thing - namely, that to promise not to do a thing is the surest way in the world to make a body want to go and do that very thing.”

Mark Twain 1835 – 1910 CE
(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)

Themes: Desire Strategy

53. Shameless Thieves

“We work in the dark — we do what we can — we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.”

Henry James 1843 – 1916 CE

Themes: Doubt Desire

“In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants and the other is getting it”

Oscar Wilde 1854 – 1900 CE

Themes: Desire

46. Enough

“Wisdom does not consist in banishing passion, but in purifying it.”

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

Themes: Desire

“There are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart's desire. The other is to get it.”

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

Themes: Desire

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

Black Elk 1863 – 1950 CE
(Heȟáka Sápa)

Themes: Desire

3. Weak Wishes, Strong Bones

“Amorous curiosity is like the curiosity aroused in us by the names of places; perpetually disappointed, it revives and remains for ever insatiable.”

Marcel Proust 1871 – 1922 CE via Moncrieff and Kilmartin
Apostle of Ordinary Mind
from In Search of Lost Time

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

Carl Jung 1875 – 1961 CE
Insightful shamanistic scientist

Themes: Desire

50. Claws and Swords

“You find yourself in your desire… wherever the creative power of desire is, there springs the soil’s own seed. But do not forget to wait.”

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

Themes: Desire Patience

“Desire is when you do what you want, will is when you can do what you do not want.”

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

Themes: Desire

“All that produces longing in the heart deprives the heart of freedom.”

Inayat Khan 1882 – 1927 CE

Themes: Desire

48. Unlearning

“This is true happiness: to have no ambition and to work like a horse as if you had every ambition.”

Nikos Kazantzakis 1883 – 1957 CE
from Zorba the Greek

20. Unconventional Mind

“Our human life is always a hell, says the poet (Dante) until wisdom (Virgil) purges us of evil desire, and love (Beatrice) lifts us to happiness and peace.”

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

Themes: Desire Peace

“Beauty is worse than wine, it intoxicates both the holder and the beholder.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE

Themes: Beauty Desire

“Regard life with passion to see its manifest forms, do away with passion to see the Secret of Life.”

Lín Yǔtáng 林語堂 1895 – 1976 CE via Lin Yutang, Shan Dao
from Wisdom of Laotse

Themes: Desire

1. The Unnamed

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

Krishnamurti 1895 – 1986 CE
(Jiddu Krishnamurti)

“I am slow thinking and full of interior rules that act as brakes on my desires... Everyone suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine”

F. Scott Fitzgerald 1896 – 1940 CE
Prototype of "Jazz Age" exuberance
from Great Gatsby

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

John Fire Lame Deer 1903 – 1976 CE via Richard Erdoes

31. Victory Funeral

“Try not to achieve anything special. You already have everything in your own pure quality.”

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi 1904 – 1971 CE
from Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

Themes: Desire

“As long as you think, ‘I must attain something special,’ you are actually not doing anything. When you give up, when you no longer want something… then you do something.”

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi 1904 – 1971 CE

Themes: Desire

40. Returning

“What stirs lyrical poets to their finest flights is neither the delight of the senses nor the fruitful contentment of the settled couple; not the satisfaction of love, but its passion. And passion means suffering.”

Denys de Rougemont 1906 – 1985 CE
Non-conformist leader, influential cultural theorist
from Love in the Western World

Themes: Suffering Desire

“Passion and marriage are essentially irreconcilable. Their origins and their ends make them mutually exclusive. Their co-existence in our midst constantly raises insoluble problems, and the strife thereby engendered constitutes a persistent danger for every one of our social safeguards.”

Denys de Rougemont 1906 – 1985 CE
Non-conformist leader, influential cultural theorist
from Love in the Western World

Themes: Marriage Desire

Unless there are conscious efforts to the contrary, wants will always rise faster than the ability to meet them.”

E. F. Schumacher 1911 – 1977 CE
The “People's Economist”
from Good Work

Themes: Desire

“You can never get enough of what you don't really want.”

Huston Smith 1919 – 2016 CE

Themes: Desire Greed

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

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

Themes: Desire Pleasure

“Desire, any sort of gaining idea only distorts and diminishes the natural progression of wisdom into enlightened society.”

Shan Dao 山道 1933 CE –

“When we find… something familiar, we are dying to get on to the next… and we rush. We are constantly looking for. We don’t really want to read the pages of life properly and we panic.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE
from Journey Without Goal

Themes: Desire

35. The Power of Goodness

“It’s okay. Everything is okay… Don’t rush; everything is going to be okay… Just cool it. You don’t have to do a complete job, all at once. If you go too far, if you are too hungry, you could become a cosmic monster. That message is very courageous, but very few people have the courage to say that.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE
from Journey Without Goal

Themes: Patience Desire

57. Wu Wei

“You can be totally entranced by the glow of something one minute, be willing to sacrifice everything to make it yours, but then a little time passes, or your perspective changes a bit, and all of a sudden you're shocked at how faded it appears.”

Haruki Murakami 1949 CE – via Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen

“So what is wild? What is wilderness? What are dreams but an internal wilderness and what is desire but a wildness of the soul?”

Louise Erdrich 1954 CE –

Themes: Dream Desire

“Melting our attachment to self is the most powerful medication.”

Dzigar Kongtrül Rinpoche ཛི་གར་ཀོང་སྤྲུལ། 1964 CE –

13. Honor and Disgrace

“In a sense, we’re homesick for our true nature.”

Mingyur Rinpoche 1975 CE –
Modern-day Mahasiddha

Themes: Desire

“The most common reaction of the human mind to achievement is not satisfaction, but craving for more.”

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

from Sapiens

Themes: Desire

“When we see the world through the lens of desire, reality becomes fractured into what we want and what we do not want.”

Yi-Ping Ong 1978 CE –
from Tao Te Ching - Introduction and Notes

Themes: Desire Delusion

1. The Unnamed

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