Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Complaint

The foundation of complaint builds on arrogance, grows on mindless, selfish self-serving, and easily becomes some type of egomania. To bewail any circumstance means to think we know that something else would have been better. But how can we know that? We would have to get in a time machine, go back, do something differently, and see if the outcome becomes more beneficial. Too often, what we want and chase after becomes a disaster while circumstances we wish we could run away from become the best things that happen to us. Most of us, most of the time want our lives to improve but don’t want to suffer through the confusion and irritations of the changes that make that improvement possible. We avoid what does benefit, what's truly good for us—obstacles that make us think, challenges that test and improve our skills, pain and suffering that hurts but opens our hearts to more compassion and appreciation.

The relativity of our complaints magnify when we look from a more global perspective. The situation of an extremely poor, homeless person in the US transposed to a poor place in India, China, or Africa becomes middle class. When people in the West complain about the income gap between the top and bottom classes, they don’t realize that the same situation applies on the global scale, and that the same complaint and resentment the lower classes have for the middle classes applies to them from people in developing countries and resentment the middle classes have toward the upper applies to them from the middle class point of view.

Most of us bemoan our fates, complain about our problems, and feel bad about the difficulties we mush face. Some of us though appreciate difficulties as creative challenges, see problems as opportunities, and are too busy working on solutions to feel bad about anything. Without change, life becomes insipid and meaningless. Without meaning, what is the value of life? So often, our desires and attachments are to what's not good for us—like only seeking pleasure and comfort, an uncaring attitude toward human suffering, running from difficulties, and feeling a victim of problems.

The opposite approach, however—never complaining about anything—can easily slip into an indulgent complacency, a Candide-like naivte´, an animal-realm unconsciousness. One difference becomes focusing the criticism on past events that we can't do anything to change versus a focus on current situations that can be improved or corrected. Complaining about past injustice and slights only encourages listeners to follow that bad example. But the recognizing of problems that need attention doesn't have to become criticism. Often a more skillful approach would involve a focus on and expression of appreciation for people and systems that have potential for solving the problem rather than feeding the negative with attention.


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Quotes (71)

“To make wail and lament for one's ill fortune, when one will win a tear from the audience, is well worthwhile.”

Aeschylus Αἰσχύλος 525 – 455 BCE via David Grene
The Father of Tragedy
from Prometheus Bound 478 BCE

Themes: Complaint

“Whoever criticizes others must have something to replace them. Criticism without suggestion is like trying to stop flood with flood and put out fire with fire. It will surely be without worth.”

Mozi 墨子 470 – 391 BCE
(Mòzǐ)
Chinese personification of Newton, da Vinci, and Jesus

“We all sit around complaining that we have never been worse governed... but really listen only to those who support our desires... the masses like better a person who flatters them than one who really benefits them.”

Isocrates Ἰσοκράτης 436 – 338 BCE via Edith Hamilton

“No man is hurt but by himself.”

Diogenes 412 – 323 BCE
(of Sinope)

Themes: Complaint

63. Easy as Hard

“A bad feeling is a commotion of the mind repugnant to reason, and against nature.”

Zeno Ζήνων ὁ Κιτιεύς 334 – 262 BCE
(of Citium)

Themes: Complaint

“He who exposes the faults of others endangers himself.”

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

“The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.”

Anonymous 1
Freedom from the narrow boxes defined by personal history
from Arabic proverb

Themes: Complaint

“He that falls by himself never cries.”

Anonymous 1
Freedom from the narrow boxes defined by personal history
from Turkish proverb

Themes: Complaint

“Someone else is happy with less than what you have.”

Anonymous 1
Freedom from the narrow boxes defined by personal history

Themes: Complaint

“Those who complain the most accomplish the least. Complaining is a complete waste of one’s energy.”

Anonymous 1
Freedom from the narrow boxes defined by personal history

Themes: Complaint

“Epicurus himself—whose genius outshone the race of men and dimmed them all as the stars are dimmed by the rising of the fiery sun—died. And will you kick and protest against your sentence?”

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

Themes: Complaint

“Why so quick to remove a speck from your eye, when If it's your mind, you put off the cure till next year?”

Horace 65 – 8 BCE

Themes: Complaint

54. Planting Well

“How does it help…to make troubles heavier by bemoaning them?”

Seneca ˈsɛnɪkə 4 BCE – 65 CE
(Lucius Annaeus)

Themes: Complaint

“To find fault is easy; to do better may be difficult.”

Plutarch 46 – 120 CE
(Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus)
from Parallel Lives

“Seemeth it nothing to you, never to accuse, never to blame either God or Man? to wear ever the same countenance in going forth as in coming in? This was the secret of Socrates: yet he never said that he knew or taught anything…”

Epictetus Ἐπίκτητος 55 – 135 CE
from Discourses of Epictetus, Ἐπικτήτου διατριβαί

77. Stringing a Bow

“Small-minded people blame others. Average people blame themselves. The wise see all blame as foolishness.”

Epictetus Ἐπίκτητος 55 – 135 CE
from Discourses of Epictetus, Ἐπικτήτου διατριβαί

8. Like Water

“When you start to criticize someone’s fault, ask yourself which of your own faults most closely resembles it.

Marcus Aurelius 121 – 219 CE via Shan Dao
from Meditations Τὰ εἰς ἑαυτόν

“People scorn the poor who have no wealth. They also criticize the rich who have it. What pleasure can derive from keeping company with people such as these, so difficult to please?”

Shantideva ཞི་བ་ལྷ།།། 685 – 763 CE
(Bhusuku, Śāntideva)
from Bodhisattva Way of Life, Bodhicaryavatara

46. Enough

“Whosoever complains of the bad character of another man has revealed the badness of his own character.”

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

“Complaint is only possible while living in the suburbs of God.”

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: Complaint

“For both of us with right on love complain.
I am so full of sorrow, I maintain
Another single drop could find no place
To sit on me, because there is no space.”

Geoffrey Chaucer 1343 – 1400 CE via W. W. Skeat
“Father of English literature”
from Troilus and Cressida

“Never complain. To complain always brings discredit... and to disclose one insult just creates an excuse for another.”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE via Joseph Jacobs and Shan Dao chapter #129
from Art of Worldly Wisdom

Themes: Complaint

36. The Small, Dark Light

“People Are Always Wrong About: hating to be fooled by others while liking to be fooled by oneself.”

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

“The longer we dwell on our misfortunes, the greater is their power to harm us.”

Voltaire, François-Marie Arouet 1694 – 1778 CE

Themes: Complaint

79. No Demands

“Constant complaint is the poorest sort of pay for all the comforts we enjoy.”

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

Themes: Complaint

“Those whose main concern is food and clothing are untrustworthy in an impasse… complaining against heaven and blaming people.”

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

Themes: Complaint

8. Like Water

“I hate to complain...No one is without difficulties, whether in high or low life, and every person knows best where their own shoe pinches.”

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

Themes: Complaint

“May I not be like those who spend their days complaining about headaches and their nights drinking the wine which gives them their headaches!”

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 1749 – 1832 CE via Shan Dao

Themes: Complaint

“It's useless to complain about your enemies; if your whole being is a standing reproach to them, they can never become your friends.”

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 1749 – 1832 CE via Arthur Schopenhauer, Shan Dao
from Westoóstlicher Divan

“When people cease to complain, they cease to think.”

Napoleon Bonaparte 1769 – 1821 CE
from Maxims

Themes: Complaint

“Hatred comes from the heart; contempt from the head; and neither feeling is quite within our control.”

Arthur Schopenhauer 1788 – 1860 CE

Themes: Hate Complaint

“Never complain and never explain.”

Disraeli, Benjamin 1804 – 1881 CE
(Earl of Beaconsfield )
Political balance between mob rule and tyranny

“But one also finds in the human heart a depraved taste for equality, which impels the weak to want to bring the strong down to their level, and which reduces men to preferring equality in servitude to inequality in freedom”

Alexis de Tocqueville 1805 – 1859 CE
Pioneering researcher into the conflicts between freedom and equality

“Detraction paves the way for the very perfections which it doubts and denies.”

Frederick Douglass 1818 – 1895 CE
International symbol of social justice

Themes: Complaint

“Summer is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces up, snow is exhilarating; there is no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.”

John Ruskin 1819 – 1900 CE

“Noise proves nothing. Often a hen who has merely laid an egg cackles as if she had laid an asteroid.”

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

30. No War

“there is no unfairness in punishing people for their misfortunes or rewarding them for their sheer good luck; it is the normal condition of human life that this should be done, and no right-minded person will complain of being subjected to the common treatment.”

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

“Oh, don't the days seem lank and long
When all goes right and nothing goes wrong,
And isn't your life extremely flat
With nothing whatever to grumble at!”

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

“Denunciatory rhetoric is so much easier and cheaper than good works, and proves a popular temptation. Yet is it far better to light the candle than to curse the darkness.”

William L. Watkinson 1838 – 1925 CE
Well-known and accomplished Christian preacher

“A pessimist is somebody who complains about the noise when opportunity knocks.”

Oscar Wilde 1854 – 1900 CE

“Worry is interest paid on trouble before it comes due.”

Dean Inge 1860 – 1954 CE
Christian mystic and philosopher

Themes: Complaint

“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”

G. K. Chesterton 1874 – 1936 CE

Themes: Complaint

81. Journey Without Goal

“We cannot change anything unless we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses.”

Carl Jung 1875 – 1961 CE
Insightful shamanistic scientist

“Will is of little importance, complaining is nothing, fame is nothing. Openness, patience, receptivity, solitude is everything.”

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

44. Fame and Fortune

“Nothing can doom man but the belief in doom, for this prevents the movement of return.”

Martin Buber מרטין בובר‎‎ 1878 – 1965 CE

40. Returning

“Do what you feel in your heart to be right – you’ll be criticized anyway.”

Eleanor Roosevelt 1884 – 1962 CE

Themes: Complaint

18. The Sick Society

The problem goes much deeper than religion or politics, it starts in our minds, in our habits, in the constant conditioning that has gone on and on for centuries. Judging, prejudice, likes and dislike are all part of this same problem.”

Krishnamurti 1895 – 1986 CE via Satish Kumar, Shan Dao
(Jiddu Krishnamurti)

“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one... just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had.”

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

“However unpalatable certain aspects of reality may be, they have to be faced as facts and met at their own level. Problems cannot be solved by disapproval but only by facing them.”

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

from Way of the White Clouds (1966)

“She would rather light a candle than curse the darkness, and her glow has warmed the world.”

Adlai Stevenson 1900 – 1965 CE

Themes: Complaint

“And when they became discontented, as they sometimes did, their discontentment led nowhere, because being without general ideas, they could only focus it on petty specific grievances.”

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

Themes: Complaint

“Instead of only criticizing your culture, you should devote your mind and body to practicing this simple way. Then society and culture will grow out of you.”

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi 1904 – 1971 CE

54. Planting Well

“All situations result from and merge into other situations... We accept what cannot be altered with tranquil joy, never repining, no matter what unpleasant things happen to us. We make the best of each temporary setback.”

John Blofeld 1913 – 1987 CE
from Talk (1978)

“The slave is completely at the mercy of external events. If fortune smiles on him, he struts and boasts and attributes her favors to his own power and wisdom—which, as often as not, had nothing to do with it. If fortune frowns, he whines and weeps and grovels, putting the blame for his sufferings on everything and everybody except himself.”

Robert S. De Ropp 1913 – 1987 CE

“There was never a moralist at any time who was not certain that things were going from bad to worse.”

Alan Watts 1915 – 1973 CE
from Psychotherapy East and West

“A complaint is one form of anger, and anger—especially hidden anger—keeps the world in a mess... There's a big difference between experiencing your anger and thinking you have to put it out there and fix somebody with it.”

Charlotte Joko Beck 1917 – 2011 CE
Authentic, pioneering Western Zen master

from Ordinary Wonder

Themes: Complaint Anger

“When I really worry about something, I don't just fool around. I even have to go to the bathroom when I worry about something. Only, I don't go. I'm too worried to go. I don't want to interrupt my worrying to go.”

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

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.”

Maya Angelou 1928 – 2014 CE

“Don’t complain of terrible circumstances… they are the sources of celebrated trophies.”

Martin Luther King Jr. 1929 – 1968 CE
Leading world influence for equality, peace, non-violence, and poverty alleviation

“Anger, resentment, envy, and self-pity are wasteful reactions. They greatly drain one's time. They sap energy better devoted to productive endeavors.”

Ruth Bader Ginsburg 1933 – 2020 CE
Fierce and influential voice for justice, equality, and women's rights

Themes: Anger Complaint

“Oh, how short-sighted you who dismiss the philosophy or sage
Because of one small disagreement.
Don’t you know that every whole is flawed
And also full of truth?
Much more suspect
Believing all of anything is true.”

Shan Dao 山道 1933 CE –

Themes: Complaint Truth

“The best way to ‘complain’ is not to say something, but to change something.”

Shan Dao 山道 1933 CE –

Themes: Complaint

“Race, gender, ethnic, national, age, handicap, appearance-based prejudice are all ways of substituting something trivial and unworthy for real merit and ability. Prejudice means trying to preserve unearned privilege and advantage.”

Shan Dao 山道 1933 CE –

32. Uncontrived Awareness

“Don't criticize other people's way of life; reflect on your own complaining, resentment, and anxiety.”

Jakusho Kwong 1935 CE –
from Mind Following Breath

Themes: Complaint

“Maybe the most important teaching is to lighten up and relax. It’s such a huge help in working with our crazy mixed-up minds to remember that what we’re doing is unlocking a softness that is in us and letting it spread. We’re letting it blur the sharp corners of self-criticism and complaint.”

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

63. Easy as Hard

“All people complain to a greater or lesser extent... But the ultimate complaint comes from a sense of having no joy... You are being toasted between two pieces of hot metal.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE
from Path of Individual Liberation

Themes: Complaint

“Complaints are prayers to the devil.”

Bob Marley 1945 – 1981 CE

Themes: Complaint

“For a Westerner to trash Western culture is like criticizing our nitrogen/oxygen atmosphere on the grounds that it sometimes gets windy, and besides, Jupiter's is much prettier. You may not realize its advantages until you're trying to breathe liquid methane.”

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

Themes: Complaint

“All emotions are basically a form of prejudice.”

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

26. The Still Rule the Restless

“most people end up blaming either external conditions or themselves. However, because it reflects a loss of confidence in oneself, blame only makes the search for happiness more difficult”

Mingyur Rinpoche 1975 CE –
Modern-day Mahasiddha

“Nothing is intrinsically or ultimately bad. Any situation that arises is only relatively good or bad based on many factors, including—most significantly—how you perceive the situation and how you respond to it.”

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

20. Unconventional Mind

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