Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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From a point of view within the Western, capitalist society, Lao Tzu’s conclusive critique of competition may seem strange and radical. Cultural anthropologists, however, going back as far as Herodotus, point out two main trends in our social evolution. One of these include strong, militaristic and domineering social hierarchies. Often dedicated to warfare, they torture their enemies, don’t hug their children, use alcohol as a form of sacrament, dominate women, and don’t permit premarital sex. Within the second trend, people hug their children, let their teenagers have sex, don’t have strong hierarchies, accept sexual equality, and use some kind of mind-altering substance as the sacrament instead of alcohol. In the first, pecking-order competition is fierce, often violent and full of hate. In the second, collaboration, sharing, non-competitiveness, and equality predominate. Both approaches have survived through the ages and vividly display today in America’s Republican and Democratic parties. Optimistically, the current transformation from an alcohol to marijuana-based culture will shift this balance.

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Quotes (85)

“The Way of Heaven doesn't compete but easily wins.”

Lao Tzu 老子 1 via Shan Dao, chapter #73
from Tao Te Ching 道德经 Dàodéjīng

Themes: Competition

“Less fame, less fighting, less praise, less competition”

Lao Tzu 老子 1 via Shan Dao, chapter #3
from Tao Te Ching 道德经 Dàodéjīng

Themes: Fame Competition

“The gods love to thwart whatever is greater than the rest. They do not suffer pride in anyone but themselves.”

Herodotus Ἡρόδοτος 1
“The Father of History”
from Histories

“When an archer is shooting for nothing, he has all his skill… But the prize divides him… He thinks more of winning than of shooting – the need to win drains him of power.”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 369 – 286 BCE

44. Fame and Fortune

“Everyone wants to be first, while I alone want to be last, which means to endure the world’s disgrace.”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 369 – 286 BCE

Themes: Competition

78. Water

“Each denying what the other affirms and affirming what the other denies brings us only confusion.”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 369 – 286 BCE via Lin Yutang

“Sages… treat the people as if they were their children. Thus, the whole world wants them for their leaders. The people never grow tired of them because sages don’t struggle against them. Everyone struggles against something but no one struggles against those who don’t struggle against anything.”

Heshang Gong 河上公 202 – 157 BCE
(Ho-shang Kung or "Riverside Sage”)

66. Go Low

“If someone can conquer others, it is only by using force. If someone can conquer their own desires, no one in the world can compete with them. Hence we call them strong.”

Heshang Gong 河上公 202 – 157 BCE
(Ho-shang Kung or "Riverside Sage”)

Themes: Competition

33. Know Yourself

“A horse never runs so fast as when he has other horses to catch up and outpace.”

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

“the life of every man is short and yours is almost finished while you do not respect yourself but allow your happiness to depend upon others”

Marcus Aurelius 121 – 219 CE

“The nature of water is to stay low, to not struggle, and to take on the shape of its container. Thus nothing is weaker. Yet despite such weakness it can bore through rocks. Rocks, however, cannot wear down water.”

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

Themes: Competition Water

78. Water

“The heat of a candle flame can’t compete with the heat of the sun… When you grasp this, then all things will be your teacher.”

Yuanwu Keqin 圜悟克勤 1063 – 1135 CE via Thomas Cleary
(Yuánwù Kèqín)
from Zen Letters

34. An Unmoored Boat

“Those who work mainly for the welfare of others are like clever people furthering their own interests;
But those who work only for their own interests are like honest people working to help others get ahead.”

Sakya Pandita ས་སྐྱ་པཎྜ་ཏ་ཀུན་དགའ་རྒྱལ་མཚན། 1182 – 1251 CE via John T. Davenport
(Kunga Gyeltsen)
from Ordinary Wisdom, Sakya Legshe (Jewel Treasury of Good Advice)

Themes: Competition

“Take someone who doesn't keep score, who's not looking to be richer, or afraid of losing, who has not the slightest interest evenin his own personality: he's free.”

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

Themes: Competition

“Any thought that you are better or less than another man
Quickly breaks the wine glass.”

Hafiz خواجه شمس‌‌الدین محمد حافظ شیرازی 1315 – 1394 CE via Daniel Ladinsky
(Hafez, Shams-ud-Dīn Muḥammad)
Inspiring friend to the true and free human spirit

Themes: Competition

“What the wise choose is what everyone else hates. Who is going to compete with them?”

Li Hungfu 1574 – 1574 CE via Red Pine
from Lao-tzu-chieh

“In the nature of man we find three main causes of conflict: competition, diffidence, and the lust for approval.”

Thomas Hobbes 1588 – 1679 CE via Shan Dao
from Leviathan

“Never compete with someone who has nothing to lose.”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE
from Art of Worldly Wisdom

Themes: Competition

“Never compete. Every competition damages your reputation… people of goodwill are always at peace and those of good reputation are of goodwill.”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE via Joseph Jacobs, chapter #114
from Art of Worldly Wisdom

Themes: Competition

3. Weak Wishes, Strong Bones

“The establishment of any new manufacture, of any new branch of commerce, or any new practice in agriculture, is always a speculation, from which the projector promises himself extraordinary profits... If the project succeeds, they [the profits] are commonly at first very high. When the trade or practice becomes thoroughly established and well known, the competition reduces them to the level of other trades.”

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

Themes: Competition

“Seek not the favor of the multitude; it is seldom got by honest and lawful means. But seek the testimony of the few; and number not voices, but weigh them.”

Immanuel Kant 1724 – 1804 CE
from Metaphysics of Morals (1909)

“competitiveness and desire for power are the beginnings of beckoning disaster in business and social relations.”

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

9. Know When to Stop

“No wise combatant underestimates their antagonist.”

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 1749 – 1832 CE

“Better to shun the bait than struggle in the snare.”

William Blake 1757 – 1827 CE

Themes: Competition

58. Goals Without Means

“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

“Our life is not really a mutual helpfulness; but rather, it's fair competition cloaked under due laws of war; it's a mutual hostility.”

Thomas Carlyle 1795 – 1881 CE
"Great Man” theory of history creator

“In nature, nothing can be given, all things are sold.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803 – 1882 CE
Champion of individualism

“a State which dwarfs its men… will find that with small men no great thing can really be accomplished.”

John Stuart Mill 1806 – 1873 CE

Themes: Competition

17. True Leaders

“As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other.”

John Stuart Mill 1806 – 1873 CE

“To sum up: the more productive capital grows, the more it extends the division of labour and the application of machinery; the more the division of labour and the application of machinery extend, the more does competition extend among the workers, the more do their wages shrink together... the more he works, the more he competes against his fellow workmen, the more he compels them to compete against him, and to offer themselves on the same wretched conditions as he does so that, in the last analysis, he competes against himself as a member of the working class.”

Karl Marx 1818 – 1883 CE
from Wage-Labour and Capital/Value

“Capitalism will kill competition.”

Karl Marx 1818 – 1883 CE

“It is competition that is ruining us. Competition is division, disunion, every man for himself, every man against his brother. the remedy must be in association, cooperation, self-sacrifice for the sake of one another.”

Charles Kingsley 1819 – 1875 CE
Founder of Christian Socialism in England
from Cheap Clothes and Nasty, 1849​

Themes: Competition

“The whole history of mankind—since the dissolution of primitive tribal society that held land in common—has been a history of class struggles, contests between exploiting and exploited, ruling and oppressed classes and has now reached a stage where emancipation cannot be achieved without once and for all emancipating society at large from all exploitation, oppression, class distinctions and class struggles.”

Friedrich Engels 1820 – 1895 CE
Businessman-philosopher, political theorist
from Preface to Communist Manifesto, 1888

“Competition is the most extreme expression of that war of all against all which dominates modern middle-class society.”

Friedrich Engels 1820 – 1895 CE
Businessman-philosopher, political theorist
from The Condition of the Working Class in England

Themes: Competition

“men love the downfall and disgrace of the righteous”

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

“How happy is the little stone
That rambles in the road alone,
And doesn't care about careers,
And exigencies never fears.”

Emily Dickinson 1830 – 1886 CE

72. Helpful Fear

“Deer-stalking would be a very fine sport if only the deer had guns.”

W. S. Gilbert 1836 – 1911 CE
Innovative, influential, inspiring dramatist

“Opposition between the men who have and the men who are is immemorial.”

William James 1842 – 1910 CE
"Father of American psychology”
from The Varieties of Religious Experience, 1902

Themes: Competition

“It is no wonder he wins every game. He has never done a thing in his life except play games”

Henry James 1843 – 1916 CE

Themes: Competition

“A woman can defend her virtue from men much more easily than she can protect her reputation from women.”

Elbert Hubbard 1856 – 1915 CE
from A Thosand and One Epigrams, 1911

Themes: Competition

“Sacredness of human life! The world has never believed it! It has been with life that we settled our quarrels, won wives, gold and land, defended ideas, imposed religions. We have held that a death toll was a necessary part of every human achievement, whether sport, war or industry. A moment's rage over the horror of it, and we sink into indifference.”

Ida Tarbell 1857 – 1944 CE

“Religious fanaticism, unlimited competition, and war are the murderers of freedom. Though they win victories, we now know that they end in suicide.”

Dean Inge 1860 – 1954 CE
Christian mystic and philosopher
from The Modern Churchman

“The competitor to be feared is one who never bothers about you at all but goes on making his own business better all the time.”

Henry Ford 1863 – 1847 CE

Themes: Competition

“We need an enlightened education to bring to emphasize ideas of cooperation and solidarity rather than values of competition and indifference. A vision of an interdependent and connected world can be at the heart of what we pass on to future generations. This way, we may understand how interdependency and cooperation can remedy contemporary ills”

Shechen Gyaltsap 1871 – 1926 CE via Matthieu Ricard
Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche's main teacher
from Chariot of Complete Liberation

“Life is nothing but a competition to be the criminal rather than the victim.”

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

Themes: Competition Crime

“the only thing that will redeem mankind is co-operation”

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

Themes: Competition

“I hated all competition, and if someone played a game too competitively I turned my back on the game. Thereafter I remained second in the class, and found this considerably more enjoyable.”

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

Themes: Competition

8. Like Water

“The crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational systems suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career.”

Albert Einstein 1879 – 1955 CE
from Monthly Review, 1949

“The universe... is always emptying, always full; the more it yields, the more it holds.”

Witter Bynner 1881 – 1968 CE
(Emanuel Morgan)

5. Christmas Trees

“Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off.”

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

Themes: Competition

“Spare me the political events and power struggles, as the whole earth is my homeland and all men are my fellow countrymen.”

Kahlil Gibran 1883 – 1931 CE

Themes: Competition Power

58. Goals Without Means

“the natural inequality of men was producing a new degree of comfort and luxury for the strong, and a new routine of hard and disciplined labor for the rest. The theme was struck on which history would strum its myriad variations.”

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

“Industrial competition among corporations and individuals has strengthened the profit motive and other individualistic instincts, and has broken down moral restraints in the conduct of business.”

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

Themes: Competition

“Real learning comes about when the competitive spirit has ceased.”

Krishnamurti 1895 – 1986 CE
(Jiddu Krishnamurti)

Themes: Competition

“Throughout life, we are taught to compare ourselves with another; yet when I compare myself with another I am destroying myself.”

Krishnamurti 1895 – 1986 CE
(Jiddu Krishnamurti)

Themes: Competition

3. Weak Wishes, Strong Bones

“There is no coming there is no going”

Nisargadatta Maharaj 1897 – 1981 CE via Maurice Frydman
Householder guru of non-duality
from I Am That

Themes: Competition

“The very process of living is a continual interplay between the individual and his environment, often taking the form of a struggle resulting in injury or disease.”

René Dubos 1901 – 1982 CE
Influential scientific environmentalist

“Sister is probably the most competitive relationship within the family, but once the sisters are grown, it becomes the strongest relationship.”

Margaret Mead 1901 – 1978 CE

“If, however, economic ambitions are good servants, they are bad masters.”

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

9. Know When to Stop

“The way to keep up is to be ahead. (Start with the 'other' man's ignorance–not his knowledge.)”

Marshall McLuhan 1911 – 1980 CE
from War and Peace in the Global Village

Themes: Competition

“I think that Gandhi's way, a methodless method, acting with a non-winning, non-opposing state of mind, is akin to natural farming.”

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

Themes: Competition

“If you do something too good, then, after a while, if you don't watch it, you start showing off, and then you're not as good any more.”

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

“I'm not afraid to compete. It's just the opposite. I'm afraid I will compete... Just because I'm so horribly conditioned to accept everybody else's values, and just because I like applause and people to rave about me, doesn't make it right. I'm ashamed of it. I'm sick of it.”

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

Themes: Competition

“We are at war with ourselves, with the environment, and with others. It is a matter of overcoming the old ways of thinking and the old premises of being, including our economic and political structures. The old competitive market economy and the old political parties, representing special selfish interests, will give way to a co-operative global community.”

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

“We destroy the love of learning… by encouraging and compelling them to work for petty and contemptible rewards… A's on report cards, or honor rolls, or dean's lists, or Phi Beta Kappa keys, in short, for the ignoble satisfaction of feeling that they are better than someone else.”

John Holt 1923 – 1985 CE

66. Go Low

“Anytime you find someone more successful than you are, especially when you're both engaged in the same business - you know they're doing something that you aren't.”

Malcolm X الحاجّ مالك الشباز‎‎ 1925 – 1965 CE
from Autobiography of Malcolm X

“Leaders must encourage their organizations to dance to forms of music yet to be heard.”

Warren Bennis 1925 – 2014 CE
Authentic Leadership pioneering thought leader

Themes: Competition

“What’s the point of being better than someone else?”

Noam Chomsky 1928 CE –

“This last poem is self-reflexive, wrapping it all up tight in the first verse, then opening out again to praise the undestructive, uncompetitive generosity of the spirit that walks on the Way.”

Ursula Le Guin 1929 – 2018 CE

Themes: Competition

81. Journey Without Goal

“who wins empire, fortune, and fame but loses in love has lost in everything.”

James P. Carse 1932 – 2020 CE
Thought-proving, influential, deep thinker
from Finite and Infinite Games

Themes: Competition

“All weapons are designed to affect others without affecting ourselves... meant not to win contests but to end them. Killers are not victors; they are unopposed competitors”

James P. Carse 1932 – 2020 CE
Thought-proving, influential, deep thinker
from Finite and Infinite Games

Themes: Competition

“It helps to remember that our spiritual practice is not about accomplishing anything—not about winning or losing—but about ceasing to struggle and relaxing as it is.”

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

66. Go Low

“trying constantly to attain something higher and greater... completely drunk on competitiveness... everyone is regarded as the enemy... your experiences are so strong that they overpower you, hypnotize you.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE
from Myth of Freedom

Themes: Competition Enemy

“Arrogant people are so involved with themselves and they are competing so much with others that they won’t even look. When you are fully gentle, without arrogance and without aggression, you see the brilliance of the universe.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE

36. The Small, Dark Light

“Instead of getting hard ourselves and trying to compete, women should try and give their best qualities to men - bring them softness, teach them how to cry.”

Joan Baez 1941 CE –

“The first will be last and the last will be first; the times they are a changin’.”

Bob Dylan 1941 CE –

36. The Small, Dark Light
7. Lose Yourself, Gain Your Soul

“Competition gone to extremes becomes conflict... the economic cost of war translates directly into human cost above and beyond that of the dead, wounded, widowed, and orphaned”

Thomas Cleary 1949 CE –
from Wen-Tzu Understanding the mysteries (1991)

“Nobody's going to win all the time. On the highway of life you can't always be in the fast lane.”

Haruki Murakami 1949 CE –
from What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

“female reticence left males competing with one another for scarce reproductive opportunities... why males so often have built-in weapons... males not hereditarily equipped for combat with other males have been excluded from sex and their traits have thus been discarded by natural selection.”

Robert Wright 1957 CE –
from Moral Animal — Why we are the Way we Are

Themes: Competition

“Not only have males evolved to compete for scare female eggs; females have evolved to compete for scare male investment.”

Robert Wright 1957 CE –
from Moral Animal — Why we are the Way we Are

Themes: Competition

“It is the leaders of companies that see profit as fuel for their culture that will outlast their dopamine-addicted, cortisol-soaked competitors.”

Simon Sinek 1973 CE –
from Leaders Eat Last

Themes: Competition

“Rejoicing in the success of others means letting go of competitiveness, jealousy, and envy”

Mingyur Rinpoche 1975 CE –
Modern-day Mahasiddha

“One who desires victory over others perpetuates a cycle of resistance and violence that only decrease one’s likelihood of survival.”

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

69. No Enemy

“Humanity now finds itself hosting a high-stakes competition. It is a race between technological progress and societal progress—between our ability to create and destroy, and our ability to govern, manage, and coexist.”

Deepak Malhotra 1
"Professor of the Year"

from Peacemaker's Code

“Building our society or personal lives on competition means we are building lives of guaranteed dissatisfaction... Competition has yielded some important immediate results in the areas of survival and material development, but we should not let these advantages blind us to the serious disadvantages of competition.”

Karmapa XVII ཨོ་རྒྱན་འཕྲིན་ལས་རྡོ་རྗ 1985 CE –
(Orgyen Thrinlay Dorje)
from Interconnected (2017)

Themes: Competition

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