Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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In our era of rampant Capitalism as the fastest-growing and most popular religion, the connotations of “poverty” have taken on a much more sinister semblance. When wealth is elevated above all virtues, poverty sinks to the bottom. Epitomized by St. Francis, the Christian tradition characterizes poverty as a virtue and vow, a voluntary acceptance of simplicity saying in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The Buddha and an abundance of spiritual saints from almost all traditions left riches for a simple life of poverty. When criticized by Churchill for only wearing a loincloth for a meeting with the Kind of England, Gandhi answered, “Don’t worry, the King will be wearing enough clothes for both of us!” The failure of modern affluence and materialistic consumerism to create happiness is reflected in the unprecedented American drug and alcoholism statistics, the high divorce and suicide rates, obesity, the unparalleled incarceration numbers, and the large percentage of citizens willing to follow corrupt but charismatic political leaders. Instead of recognizing the injustice of today’s extreme income inequalities—and the causes so deeply rooted in greed, exploitation, and environmental pillage—most of the rich only continue to arm-twist politicians into even more tax breaks and incentives. According to a recent Oxfam report, just the annual increase in the richest 100 people’s net worth is enough to end extreme world poverty four times. Basic human needs could be easily met but human greed is hypnotically unlimited, inexhaustible, socially and environmentally calamitous.

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Quotes (78)

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

Lao Tzu 老子 1 via Witter Bynner
from Way of Life According to Lao Tzu

Themes: Poverty Wealth

22. Heaven's Door

“In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.”

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

53. Shameless Thieves

“One who is by nature daring and is suffering from poverty will not long be lawful.”

Confucius 孔丘 551 – 479 BCE via Arthur Waley
(Kongzi, Kǒng Zǐ)
History's most influential "failure"
from Analects

Themes: Poverty

“No one needs to be ashamed of poverty. The real shame is not taking practical measures to escape from it.”

Pericles 495 – 429 BCE via Thucydides, Shan Dao
Disprover that all power corrupts

Themes: Poverty

“Contentment is natural wealth, luxury is artificial poverty.”

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

Themes: Poverty Wealth

53. Shameless Thieves

“Small appetite makes poverty equivalent to wealth.”

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

Themes: Wealth Poverty

3. Weak Wishes, Strong Bones

“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 Poverty

46. Enough

“[citizens] considered poverty among their fellow citizens as their own disgrace and measured their well-being not by being able to outdo each other, but by the absence of want among the whole people”

Isocrates Ἰσοκράτης 436 – 338 BCE via Edith Hamilton

“Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime.”

Aristotle Ἀριστοτέλης 382 – 322 BCE

53. Shameless Thieves

“He does not struggle to make money and does not make a virtue of poverty. He goes his way without relying on others and does not pride himself on walking alone.”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 369 – 286 BCE via Stephen Mitchell

from The Man of Tao

“He will always be a slave who does not know how to live upon a little.”

Horace 65 – 8 BCE

67. Three Treasures

“A hungry people listens not to reason, nor cares for justice, nor is bent by any prayers.”

Seneca ˈsɛnɪkə 4 BCE – 65 CE
(Lucius Annaeus)
from De Brevitate Vitae

Themes: Justice Poverty

“Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Jesus 3 BCE – 30 CE via Sermon on the Mount
from New Testament Διαθήκη

Themes: Poverty

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”

Jesus 3 BCE – 30 CE via Gospel of Saint Matthew
from New Testament Διαθήκη

Themes: Poverty Wealth

“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

“An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.”

Plutarch 46 – 120 CE
(Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus)

53. Shameless Thieves

“Prohibitions are intended to put an end to poverty, and yet the people become poorer. Tools are intended to strengthen the country, and yet the country becomes weaker and more chaotic. This is due to cultivating the branches instead of the roots.”

Wang Bi 王弼 226 – 534 CE

57. Wu Wei

“An old lady who lives to the east got rich a few years ago. Before poorer than me,now she mocks my poverty. She laughs that I’m behind, I laugh that she’s ahead. It seems we can’t stop laughing from the east and from the west.”

Han Shan 1
(Cold Mountain)

42. Children of the Way

“Unless we are crushed by conditions... unless our own mouths water from hunger, we never appreciate a poor man's need to hoard.”

Gesar of Ling གེ་སར་རྒྱལ་པོ། 1 via Robin Kornman
from Gesar of Ling Epic

“The natural endowment of all beings is complete in itself. Poverty does not reduce it. Wealth does not enlarge it. But fools abandon this treasure to chase trash.”

Wang Pang 1044 – 1076 CE via Red Pine
from Lao-tzu-chu

Themes: Wealth Poverty

80. A Golden Age

“When you've cooked the marrow of the sun and moon, the pearl is so bright you don't worry about poverty.”

Sun Bu'er 1119 – 1182 CE via Cahill
from Secret Book on the Inner Elixir

Themes: Moon Poverty

“Much of the poverty and distress of our times arises from the fact that women are kept like domestic animals or house plants for purposes of gratification.”

Averroes, Ibn Rushd ابن رشد‎‎ 1126 – 1198 CE

“If a man has desires but cannot satisfy them, or has money but does not use it, he is exactly the same as a poor man... When it comes to this point, there is no difference between poverty and wealth.”

Yoshida Kenkō 兼好 1284 – 1350 CE via Sir George Bailey Sansom
Inspiration of self-reinvention
from Essays in Idleness

Themes: Poverty Money

“In the affairs of this world, poverty alone is without envy.”

Giovanni Boccaccio dʒoˈvanni bokˈkattʃo 1313 – 1375 CE

Themes: Hate Poverty

“Nor can they understand why a totally useless substance like gold should now, all over the world, be considered far more important than human beings, who gave it such value as it has, purely for their own convenience.”

Thomas More 1478 – 1535 CE
from Utopia

Themes: Money Poverty

“The first remedy or prevention of revolt and sedition to to remove by all means possible want and poverty.”

René Descartes 1596 – 1650 CE

“The art of being happy though poor consists in one phrase, to think ‘it could be worse.’ The same situation can look like hell to one person and like paradise to another.”

Lǐ Yú 李漁 1610 – 1680 CE via Lin Yutang, Shan Dao
(Li Liweng)
from Art of Living

“The art of being happy though poor consists in one phrase, to think ‘it could be worse.’ The same situation can look like hell to one person and like paradise to another.”

Lǐ Yú 李漁 1610 – 1680 CE via Lin Yutang, Shan Dao
(Li Liweng)
from Art of Living

Themes: Poverty

“The poor have little,
Beggars none;
The rich too much,
Enough not one.”

Benjamin Franklin 1706 – 1790 CE
from Poor Richard's Almanack

50. Claws and Swords

“No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the greater part of the members are poor and miserable. It is but equity, besides, that they who feed, cloth and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labor as to be themselves tolerably well fed, clothed, and lodged.”

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

Themes: Poverty

“He who is plenteously provided for from within, needs but little from without.”

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 1749 – 1832 CE

“A dog starv’d at his master’s gate predicts the ruin of the State.”

William Blake 1757 – 1827 CE

Themes: Poverty

74. The Great Executioner

“Religion saves the rich from being massacred by the poor.”

Napoleon Bonaparte 1769 – 1821 CE via Will Durant

Themes: Religion Poverty

“Poverty and slavery are thus only two forms of—one might almost say two words for—the same thing, the essence of which is that a man's energies are expended for the most part not on his own behalf but on that of others”

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

Themes: Poverty Slavery

“The rich rob the poor, and the poor rob one another.”

Sojourner Truth 1797 – 1883 CE
(Isabella (“Bell”) Baumfree)

Themes: Poverty Crime

“Poverty demoralizes.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803 – 1882 CE
Champion of individualism

Themes: Poverty

“All ought to refrain from marriage who cannot avoid abject poverty for their children.”

Charles Darwin 1809 – 1882 CE
from Descent of Man

Themes: Poverty Marriage

“If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin.”

Charles Darwin 1809 – 1882 CE

Themes: Poverty

“Money has often been a cause of the delusion of multitudes. Sober nations have all at once become desperate gamblers, and risked almost their existence upon the turn of a piece of paper.”

Charles Mackay 1814 – 1889 CE
from Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

Themes: Money Poverty

“The world has proclaimed freedom but what do we see in this? Our culture says, 'try to satisfy all of your desires and even multiply them' but what follows from this? In the rich, isolation and spiritual suicide; in the poor, dissatisfaction, envy, and crime.”

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

“When a poor man becomes destitute, it is a moral evil, teeming with consequences and injurious to society and morality.”

Lord Acton 1834 – 1902 CE
(John Dalberg-Acton)
Prolific historian and politician
from The Study of History, 1895

Themes: Poverty

“I wish I could make him understand that a loving good heart is riches enough, and that without it intellect is poverty.”

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

Themes: Poverty Kindness

53. Shameless Thieves

“The prevalent fear of poverty among the educated classes is the worst moral disease from which our civilization suffers.”

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

Themes: Poverty Fear

“The praise of poverty needs to be once more boldly sung. We have grown literally afraid to be poor. We despise anyone who elects to be poor in order to simplify and save his inner life”

William James 1842 – 1910 CE
"Father of American psychology”
from The Will to Believe, 1897

Themes: Poverty

“I thank fate for having made me born poor. Poverty taught me the true value of the gifts useful to life.”

Anatole France 1844 – 1924 CE
(Jacques Anatole Thibault)

47. Effortless Success

“The poor have to labor in the face of the majestic equality of the law, which forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to be in the streets, and to steal bread.”

Anatole France 1844 – 1924 CE
(Jacques Anatole Thibault)

75. Greed

“Instead of sympathizing with the poor and abolishing the rich, we must ruthlessly abolish the poor by raising their standard of life... Lack of money is the root of all evil... What is the matter with the poor is Poverty: what is the matter with the rich is Uselessness.”

George Bernard Shaw 1856 – 1950 CE
UK playwright second only to Shakespeare
from Intelligent Woman's Guide to Socialism

Themes: Poverty Money

“Wealth is dismal and poverty cruel unless both are festive. There is no cure for birth and death save to enjoy the interval.”

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

“Because of poverty, we must adopt the capitalist means of production to develop our resources to get rich. However, if we ignore the issue of social justice at the beginning of China's industrialization, we will sow the seeds of class warfare in the future.”

Sun Yat-sen 孙逸仙 1866 – 1925 CE

“Poverty—more generous than wealth—gives women much more than the clothes they cannot buy: that is the desire for those clothes, which leads to the only true, detailed, and profound knowledge of them.”

Marcel Proust 1871 – 1922 CE via Justin O'Brien
Apostle of Ordinary Mind

“The two great tests of character are wealth and poverty.”

Charles Beard 1874 – 1948 CE
Pioneering progressive historian

“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

“My parents always told me nobody had to be poor—that they wouldn't be if they weren't shiftless or didn't spend everything they earned on drink. I don't understand how Mama and Papa could be so mistaken!”

Frances Perkins 1880 – 1965 CE
One of the most influential champions for worker's rights

Themes: Poverty

“He who stealeth from the poor lendeth to the Lord. Thus spake Zarathustra.”

James Joyce 1882 – 1941 CE
from Ulysses

“The hopes of the Republic cannot forever tolerate either undeserved poverty or self-serving wealth.”

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

Themes: Poverty Hope

“there was poverty, and as if this were not enough, the pride which demanded that no one discover the poverty.”

Nikos Kazantzakis 1883 – 1957 CE
from Report to Greco

“It is in exchanging the gifts of the earth that you shall find abundance and be satisfied - but only if in love and kindly justice or it will only lead some to greed and others to hunger”

Kahlil Gibran 1883 – 1931 CE
from The Prophet

Themes: Poverty Business

“Art without science is poverty, and science without art is barbarism. Let every science strive to fulfill itself in beauty or wisdom, and let us rejoice when a science becomes an art.”

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

Themes: Poverty

“We seek victory—not over any nation or people—but over ignorance, poverty, disease, and human degradation wherever they may be found.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower 1890 – 1969 CE
from State of the Union (1959)

“The poor have given to the rich palaces and yachts, an almost infinite freedom to indulge their doubtful taste... under which have been hidden the excess labor and extravagant misery of the poor.”

Gilbert Seldes 1893 – 1970 CE
Maker of the first full-length documentary film
from Against Revolution, 1932

“It is deliberate policy to keep even the favored groups somewhere near the brink of hardship, because a general state of scarcity increases the importance of small privileges and thus magnifies the distinction between one group and another.”

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

Themes: Poverty

“The affluent societies of today make such exorbitant demands on the world’s resources, create ecological dangers of such intensity, and produce such a high level of neurosis among their populations, that they cannot possibly serve as a model”

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

“21st century technology makes have and have-not inequities, as well as their rationales, anachronistic.”

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

Themes: Poverty Equality

“There were millions of tons of food around, but it was not profitable to transport it, to sell it. Warehouses were full of clothing, but people could not afford it. There were lots of houses, but they stayed empty because people couldn't pay the rent, had been evicted, and now lived in shacks in quickly formed 'Hooversvilles' built on garbage dumps.”

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

from A People's History of the United States​

Themes: Poverty

“History will judge societies and governments — and their institutions — not by how big they are or how well they serve the rich and the powerful, but by how effectively they respond to the needs of the poor and the helpless.”

César Chavez César Estrada Chávez 1927 – 1993 CE
(César Estrada Chávez)

“People are not hungry because there is no food in the world. There is plenty of it; there is a surplus in fact. But between those who want to eat and the bursting warehouses stands a tall obstacle indeed: politics.”

Ryszard Kapuściński 1932 – 2007 CE
“One of the most credible journalists the world has ever seen"

“We can't leave people in abject poverty, so we need to raise the standard of living for 80% of the world's people, while bringing it down considerably for the 20% who are destroying our natural resources.”

Jane Goodall 1934 CE –

“Money doesn't talk, it swears.”

Bob Dylan 1941 CE –

46. Enough

“Very powerful forces are adamantly opposed to creating full employment [because] if enacted would remove ‘wage pressure’ — the fear struck into the hearts of the poor, of anyone who feared becoming poor, almost everyone on Earth.”

Kim Stanley Robinson 1952 CE –

Themes: Poverty Fear Control

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

Thomas L. Friedman 1953 CE –

Themes: Progress Poverty

“The poor may not always be with us. The world is about a hundred times wealthier today than it was two centuries ago, and the prosperity is becoming more evenly distributed across countries and people. Within the lifetimes of most readers, the rate of extreme poverty could approach zero.”

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

Themes: Poverty

“Out of college, money spent
See no future, pay no rent
All the money's gone...
Nowhere to go, nowhere to go.”

Beatles 1960 – 1970 CE via Paul McCartney
from Abbey Road

Themes: Poverty Money

“Proud families spend fortunes on a one-day wedding ceremony for a marriage that may or may not last, while on the same day, in the same village, people are dying of starvation.”

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche རྫོང་གསར་ འཇམ་དབྱངས་ མཁྱེན་བརྩེ་ རིན་པོ་ཆེ། 1961 CE –
(Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche)
"Activity" incarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo
from What Makes You Not a Buddhist

30. No War

“An estimated 11 million people in Africa will die of famine this year. Approximately, two-thirds of all adults and one-third of all children in the United States are now overweight; of these, nearly 50% of adults and 16% of children are obese. Though, we live in an age of globalization, our world still has incredible contradictions.”

Manoj Jain 1963 CE –

Themes: Health Poverty

“without inner richness, the sense of poverty and dissatisfaction never goes away.”

Dzigar Kongtrül Rinpoche ཛི་གར་ཀོང་སྤྲུལ། 1964 CE –
from It's Up to You

Themes: Poverty

“We should educate people in the Third World to understand that it's not poverty to live outside the confines of consumer society. In fact, it is richer for the human spirit and the environment.”

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

Themes: Poverty

“Poverty entails fear, and stress, and sometimes depression; it means a thousand petty humiliations and hardships. Climbing out of poverty by your own efforts, that is indeed something on which to pride yourself, but poverty itself is romanticized only by fools.”

J.K. Rowling 1965 CE –
from Harvard Commencement address, 2008

Themes: Poverty

“Each year the US population spends more money on diets than the amount needed to feed all the hungry people in the rest of the world.”

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

from Sapiens

Themes: Poverty

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