Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Sandro Botticelli, 1486

Basic Goodness

During the hunter-gatherer stage of civilization’s evolution, the men were seldom at home, goddesses were worshipped, children belonged to their mothers, and matriarchy prevailed. When agriculture became dominant, biology’s choice became the male who was physically stronger and more adept at fighting to protect the home where men began to stay. For men to take over, the feminine principle needed to be degraded and the myth of Eve eating the devil’s apple, ensnaring men, and causing expulsion from paradise was born. An unfortunate collateral damage from this process was “Basic Badness” replacing the previous attitude of “Basic Goodness” in the Judeo-Christian-Muslim traditions. The assumption that people are deeply and sinfully flawed justifies the despotic positions of political, cultural, and religious leaders as well as genocide, imperialism, racism, and misogyny. Because so deeply flawed, humans need priests-imams-rabbis-gurus to tell them what they should believe; tyrannical politicians to control their external lives; and cultural icons telling them how to experience their personal lives.

A foundation in Basic Goodness contrarily builds a foundation for democracy, personal choice, and individual liberation. The main Eastern Traditions—Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Hinduism—all start from this premise, that humans are basically good. When this attitude came into Western Civilization, it became the bedrock for the Enlightenment, Humanism, Science, and the Age of Reason.

Rousseau took this idea to an extreme describing agriculture and technology for "ruining humanity" (On the Origin of Inequality) and separate, personal property as the foundation and cause of war, murder, and the major cause of the majority of human suffering. This argument—although easily refuted by the long list of innovations that have made human life longer, less painful, and more comfortable—has its own deep truth that sees through the seductions of consumerism, the soul-selling of the many versions of materialism, and nurtures artistic, social, and political creativity.

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Quotes (87)

“When you stop trying to be kind and just, you will discover basic goodness.”

Lao Tzu 老子 1 via Shan Dao, chapter #19
from Tao Te Ching 道德经 Dàodéjīng

Themes: Basic Goodness

“When impressed by an image of goodness, we create badness. If this becomes good, that becomes bad.”

Lao Tzu 老子 1 via Shan Dao, chapter #2
from Tao Te Ching 道德经 Dàodéjīng

Themes: Basic Goodness

“Beans have a soul.”

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

Themes: Basic Goodness

“How wonderful! How wonderful! All things are perfect, exactly as they are.”

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

Themes: Basic Goodness

25. The Mother of All Things

“If you look into your own heart, and you find nothing wrong there, what is there to worry about? What is there to fear?”

Confucius 孔丘 551 – 479 BCE
(Kongzi, Kǒng Zǐ)
History's most influential "failure"

Themes: Basic Goodness

63. Easy as Hard

“Numberless are the world’s wonders, but none more wonderful than man.”

Sophocles Σοφοκλῆς 497 – 405 BCE
“The Wise and Honored One”
from Antigone, 442 BCE

Themes: Basic Goodness

“No intelligent man believes that anybody ever willing errs or willingly does base and evil deeds.”

Protagoras 490 – 420 BCE
“The wisest man alive”—Socrates

62. Basic Goodness

“The way of great learning is keeping clear our original, clear, basic goodness.”

Zisi 子思 481 – 402 BCE via Lin Yutang, Shan Dao
(Kong Ji or Tzu-Ssu)
Confucius' grandson and early influence on Neo-Confucianism

Themes: Basic Goodness

“The Tao is the way things are which you can't depart from even for one instant.”

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

“The sage honors his inborn, basic goodness rising in influence when sanity reigns in society; enduring protected by silence when the Way does not prevail.”

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

“In the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen...to be the universal author of all things beautiful and right”

Plato Πλάτων 428 – 348 BCE
from Republic Πολιτεία

Themes: Basic Goodness

“Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, is thought to aim at some good, and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim.”

Aristotle Ἀριστοτέλης 382 – 322 BCE
from Nicomachean Ethics

Themes: Basic Goodness

“All people have a mind-and-heart that cannot bear to see the suffering of others... to be without compassion is not to be human.”

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

“All things are good and acceptable. That is why all things – a blade of grass or a hundred-foot pine, a leper or a legendary beauty, a national hero or a traitor – are equal in the Tao.”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 369 – 286 BCE

62. Basic Goodness

“Human nature is evil, and goodness is caused by intentional activity.”

Xun Kuang 荀況 310 – 235 BCE via Fayek S. Hourani
(Xún Kuàng, Xúnzǐ)
Early Confucian philosopher of "basic badness"

“It is the function of the historian to prolong the memory of goodness by preserving its record for all ages to see.”

Sima Qian 司馬遷 145 – 86 BCE via Burton Watson
(Ssu-ma Ch'ien)
Father of Chinese historians
from Shiji, Records of the Grand Historian, 太史公書

“If our deeds don’t influence others, we should look into ourselves and cultivate a greater goodness.”

Yang Xiong 揚雄 53 BCE – 18 CE via Michael Nylan, Shan Dao
from Fayan 法言, Exemplary Figures or Model Sayings

“the kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty.”

Jesus 3 BCE – 30 CE

33. Know Yourself

“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”

Jesus 3 BCE – 30 CE

Themes: Basic Goodness

21. Following Empty Heart

“Dig within. Within is the wellspring of Good; and it is always ready to bubble up, if you just dig.”

Marcus Aurelius 121 – 219 CE

62. Basic Goodness

“It is called, ‘consummation of incomparable enlightenment.’ attained by freedom from separate personal selfhood and by cultivating all kinds of goodness… though there is no goodness; such is merely a name.”

Nagarjuna नागर्जुन 1

54. Planting Well

“Withdraw into yourself and look. If you do not find yourself beautiful, act as does the creator of a statue who cuts away here, smooths there, makes this line lighter, the other purer until a lovely face has grown upon his work... never cease chiseling your statue until you see the perfect goodness established in the stainless shrine.”

Plotinus 204 – 249 CE via MacKenna, Shan Dao

“essence is either originally good—if looked at from the standpoint of the eternal idea (Mencius), or it is originally evil, or at least neutral—if taken from the standpoint of empirical evolution (Xun Kuang)—and has to be made into something good by a long development of custom.”

Lü Dongbin 呂洞賓 1
(Lü Tung-Pin)

from Secret of the Golden Flower 太乙金華宗旨; Tàiyǐ Jīnhuá Zōngzhǐ

Themes: Basic Goodness

“‘Good’ refers to our original nature before our parents were born. Before anything develops within us, we possess this goodness. ‘Good’ means natural.”

Lü Dongbin 呂洞賓 1 via Richard Wilhelm
(Lü Tung-Pin)

from Secret of the Golden Flower 太乙金華宗旨; Tàiyǐ Jīnhuá Zōngzhǐ

Themes: Basic Goodness

62. Basic Goodness

“The three worlds are primordially pure,
Ultimately, there is nothing more to understand.”

Marpa Lotsawa 1012 – 1097 CE via Nalanda Translation Committee

Themes: Basic Goodness

One who returns to his nature and adheres to it is worthy of all things.”

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

Themes: Basic Goodness

“Humanity, take a good look at yourself. Inside, you’ve got heaven and earth, and all of creation. You’re a world—everything is hidden in you.”

Hildegard of Bingen 1098 – 1179 CE

Themes: Basic Goodness

80. A Golden Age

“The mind is morally self-sufficient, endowed with innate knowledge of the good, and an innate ability to do good. It is one and indissoluble. It fills the whole universe… The investigation of things means nothing more than to investigate this mind.”

Lù Jiǔyuān 陸九淵 1139 – 1192 CE
(Lu Xiangshan)

“God is not good, I am good.”

Meister Eckhart 1260 – 1328 CE
(Eckhart von Hochheim)

“Everything is subsumed within all-inclusive awakened mind... the true nature of all phenomena is that of awakened mind”

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

Themes: Basic Goodness

“all is perfect—without being made so, everything is perfect. Naturally occurring timeless awareness is by nature spontaneously perfect.”

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

Themes: Basic Goodness

“Buddha Nature, the Self of all beings, is the simple Truth. From Buddhas to insects, it is the seer, hearer, and mover.”

Bassui Tokushō 抜隊 得勝 1327 – 1387 CE
Meditation master without distraction

“The lotus flower is not stained by the mud.”

Ikkyū Sōjun 休宗純 1394 – 1481 CE via John Stevens
Famous trickster, flute player, and bringer of Zen awareness into everyday life

Themes: Basic Goodness

“Though man is not an immortal animal, like the universe, he is nonetheless reasonable, and with his intelligence, his imagination and his soul, he can act upon and transform the whole world.”

Agrippa 1486 – 1535 CE via Kurt Seligmann
(Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim)
Historian of the occult and early, important influence on science
from Three Books of Occult Philosophy or Magic

“The Tao is in us all. Though good and bad might differ, our nature is the same. How then, can we abandon anyone?”

Deqing 1546 – 1623 CE

Themes: Basic Goodness

62. Basic Goodness

“The world is fine as it is.”

Giordano Bruno 1548 – 1600 CE via Gosselin and Lerner

Themes: Basic Goodness

“How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world that hath such people in it!”

William Shakespeare 1564 – 1616 CE
from The Tempest

“The moon’s the same old moon, the flowers exactly as they were;
Yet I’ve become the thingness of all the things I see!”

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

“Man is by nature good, only our institutions have made him bad.”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1712 – 1778 CE
from Letter (1762)

Themes: Basic Goodness

“Man was a 'noble savage' when in the state of nature, before the creation of civilization. He has been corrupted by the social interdependence of society.”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1712 – 1778 CE

“The function of the true State is to impose the minimum restrictions and safeguard the maximum liberties of the people, and it never regards the person as a thing.”

Immanuel Kant 1724 – 1804 CE
from Critique Of Pure Reason

“The way you see people is the way you treat them and the way you treat them is what they become.”

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 1749 – 1832 CE

Themes: Basic Goodness

49. No Set Mind

“As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live.”

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 1749 – 1832 CE

Themes: Basic Goodness

38. Fruit Over Flowers

“Just trust yourself and you'll learn the art of living.”

William Blake 1757 – 1827 CE

33. Know Yourself

“Surely something resides in this heart that is not perishable - and life is more than a dream.”

Mary Wollstonecraft 1759 – 1797 CE
Seminal feminist

“Luminosity is the nature of one's mind that aeons of confusion cannot darken.”

Shabkar Tsokdruk Rangdrol ཞབས་དཀར་ཚོགས་དྲུག་རང་གྲོལ། 1781 – 1851 CE via Erik Pema Kunsang
from Flight of the Garuda

32. Uncontrived Awareness

“secretly conscious in the profoundest depths of our being that we share in the inexhaustible well of eternity, out of which we can for ever draw new life and renewed time.”

Arthur Schopenhauer 1788 – 1860 CE via R. J. Hollingdale
from Essays and Aphorisms

Themes: Basic Goodness

“Right makes might.”

Abraham Lincoln 1809 – 1865 CE

Themes: Basic Goodness

“The primordial purity of the ground completely transcends words, concepts, and formulations.”

Jamgon Kongtrul the Great འཇམ་མགོན་ཀོང་སྤྲུལ་བློ་གྲོས་མཐའ་ཡས། 1813 – 1899 CE via Kunhyab Choling committee
(Jamgön Kongtrül Lodrö Thayé)
from Myriad Worlds

Themes: Basic Goodness

“Both [Church and State] have the same principle as their point of departure: that of the natural wickedness of man... Both strive to transform men, the one into a saint, the other into a citizen. But the natural man must die.”

Mikhail Bakunin 1814 – 1876 CE
Romantic rebel, revolutionary anarchist, founding father of modern socialism
from Le Progrés (1869)

“I believe that people are almost always better than their neighbors think they are.”

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

from Middlemarch

Themes: Basic Goodness

“I know nothing more rare than a reverent appreciation of the People—of their measureless wealth of latent worth and capacity, their vast, artistic contrasts of lights and shades... far surpassing all the vaunted samples of book-heroes in all the records of the world.”

Walt Whitman 1819 – 1892 CE
Premier "poet of democracy" and model for Dracula
from Democratic Vistas (1870)

“Life is paradise, and we are all in paradise, but we refuse to see it.”

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky Фёдор Миха́йлович Достое́вский 1821 – 1881 CE
from Brothers Karamatzov

“All I care to know is that a man is a human being—that is enough for me; he can't be any worse.”

Mark Twain 1835 – 1910 CE
(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)
America’s most famous author
from Concerning The Jews (1899)

Themes: Basic Goodness

“God looked upon His work and saw that it was good. That is where the clergy take issue with Him.”

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

Themes: Basic Goodness

“I always prefer to believe the best of everybody; it saves so much trouble”

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

Themes: Basic Goodness

“the historical truth that man is by nature oppressor and oppressed, and that it is only slowly by law, education, and the spirit of love in the world that men can be made happy and free.”

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

Themes: Basic Goodness

“Our heart always transcends us.”

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

Themes: Basic Goodness

“My experiences with human beings, too had taught me anything rather than a belief in man's original goodness and decency... On the other hand, man and the proper animals were bits of God that had become independent.”

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

Themes: Basic Goodness

“Create an ocean from a dewdrop. Do not beg for light from the moon, obtain it from the spark within you.”

Muhammad Iqbal محمد اقبال 1877 – 1938 CE

“The law of the dignity of human personality beyond castes and outer distinctions creates a continuous rainbow of joy for humanity.”

Helena Roerich Елéна Ивáновна Рéрих 1879 – 1955 CE

“The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.”

Albert Einstein 1879 – 1955 CE

Themes: Basic Goodness

“that which is boundless in you abides in the mansion of the sky, whose door is the morning mist, and whose windows are the songs and the silences of night.”

Kahlil Gibran 1883 – 1931 CE
from The Prophet

Themes: Basic Goodness

“In your longing for your giant self lies your goodness.”

Kahlil Gibran 1883 – 1931 CE
from The Prophet

Themes: Basic Goodness

“History sees the newborn child as the product of millions of years, during most of which he was a hunter fighting for his food and his life against beasts stronger than himself except for his use of weapons and tools. Those years formed the basic nature of our species: acquisitiveness, greed, competition, and pugnacity tending to violence.”

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

“What has for centuries raised man above the beast is not the cudgel but an inward music: the irresistible power of unarmed truth, the powerful attraction of its example.”

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

“We all derive from the same source… We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open up, only to discover what is already there.”

Henry Miller 1891 – 1980 CE

1. The Unnamed

“When I reflect that one man was able to bring forth out of the desert this land of Canaan, I can't help feeling the human condition in general is admirable, in spite of everything.”

Jean Giono 1895 – 1970 CE via Barbara Bray
from Man Who Planted Trees

Themes: Basic Goodness

“If we have not found the heaven within, we have not found the heaven without.”

James Hilton 1900 – 1954 CE
from Lost Horizon

Themes: Basic Goodness

56. One with the Dust

“So to be a human being is to be a Buddha… the most important thing is to express your true nature in the simplest, most adequate way and to appreciate it in the smallest existence.”

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi 1904 – 1971 CE

35. The Power of Goodness

“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”

Albert Camus 1913 – 1960 CE

Themes: Basic Goodness

“As the Chinese Taoists have seen, there is really no alternative to trusting man's nature. It is the most practical of practical politics.”

Alan Watts 1915 – 1973 CE
from Psychotherapy East and West

“Having been created in the image God, all human beings have a God-shaped vacuum built into their hearts. Since nature abhors a vacuum, people keep trying to fill the one inside them.”

Huston Smith 1919 – 2016 CE
from World's Religions

“Give people what they need: food, medicine, clean air, pure water, trees and grass, pleasant homes to live in, some hours of work, more hours of leisure. Don't ask who deserves it. Every human being deserves it”

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

from Marx in Soho

Themes: Basic Goodness

“We are actually fourth dimensional beings in a third dimensional body inhabiting a second dimensional world!”

Neal Cassady 1926 – 1968 CE

“Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference.”

Jane Goodall 1934 CE –

Themes: Basic Goodness

“when we say that human beings are basically good, we mean that they have every faculty they need, so that they don’t have to fight with their world.”

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

10. The Power of Goodness

“The key to warriorship and the first principle of Shambhala vision is not being afraid of who you are… If we are willing to take an unbiased look, we will find that, in spite of all our problems and confusion, all our emotional and psychological ups and downs, there is something basically good about our existence.”

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

51. Mysterious Goodness

“Before any kind of perception occurs, wakefulness is already thre—beyond concept, beyond limitation, beyond anything measurable.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE via Judith Lief, editor
from Bodhisattva Path of Wisdom and Compassion

Themes: Basic Goodness

“The result of letting go is that you discover a bank of self-existing energy that is always available to you – beyond any circumstance. It actually comes from nowhere, but is always there. It is the energy of basic goodness.”

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

Themes: Basic Goodness

62. Basic Goodness

“When you meet a person with authentic presence, you find he has an overwhelming genuineness, which might be somewhat frightening because it is so true and honest and real. You experience a sense of command radiating from the person of inner authentic presence. Although that person might be a garbage collector or a taxi driver, still he or she has an uplifted quality, which magnetizes you and commands your attention. This is not just charisma.”

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

“They did not tell us that we were born as whole, and that no-one in our lives deserve to carry on his back such responsibility of completing what is missing on us: we grow through life by ourselves. If we have a good company it’s just more pleasant.”

John Lennon 1940 – 1980 CE

Themes: Basic Goodness

62. Basic Goodness

“You special, miraculous, unrepeatable, fragile, fearful, tender, lost, sparkling ruby emerald jewel, rainbow splendor person.”

Joan Baez 1941 CE –

“No matter who you are, no matter where you come from, you are beautiful.”

Michelle Obama 1964 CE –

“Your life amounted to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean… yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops.”

David Mitchell 1969 CE –
from Bone Clocks

“Meditation is about learning to recognize our basic goodness in the immediacy of the present moment, and then nurturing this recognition until it seeps into the very core of our being”

Mingyur Rinpoche 1975 CE –
Modern-day Mahasiddha

Themes: Basic Goodness

“Morality, art, spirituality, and creativity are universal human abilities embedded in our DNA. Their genesis was in Stone Age Africa. It is therefore crass egotism to ascribe to them a more recent place and time, be it China in the age of the Yellow Emperor, Greece in the age of Plato, or Arabia in the age of Muhammad.”

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

from 21 Lessons for the 21st Century

Themes: Basic Goodness

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