Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Words or the sense?

Do we understand the words or the sense? Do we see the forest or the trees, the surface or the roots, the effects or the causes, the illusion or the reality? In the famous story about Tilopa’s confrontation with Naropa, Naropa—although at the height of the highly evolved academic world of his time—realized that he only understood the words, not the “sense.” Even the wisest words only fit relevantly into a particular time, place, culture, and circumstance. When most relevant, they’re most often laughed at and ridiculed. And if they persist, condemned. Later they may be admired and honored only to soon sink into cliche, platitude, and numbness.
But at any stage, the words can spark a deeply personal realization.

J. D. Salinger retells an old Taoist story about the Duke of Chin who asked Po Lo to recommend someone who could find a superior horse for him. Po Lo suggested Kao who found a superior horse but when asked by the Duke what kind of a horse he found said a dun-colored mare. When it turned out to actually be a black stallion, Po Lo explained how Kao—because he focused on the inner qualities—lost track of the unimportant external ones. This led to a group realization of the sense underpinning the words.

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Quotes (195)

“A man may fail in his education to penetrate to the real roots of humanity and remain fixed in convention. A partial education of this sort is as bad as none.”

Fu Xi 伏羲 1 via Richard Wilhelm
Emperor/shaman progenitor of civilization symbol
from I Ching

18. The Sick Society

“Empty words are evil.”

Homer 1
Primogenitor of Western culture

56. One with the Dust

“Beware lest you lose the substance by grasping at the shadow.”

Aesop 620 – 546 BCE
Hero of the oppressed and downtrodden
from Aesop's Fables, the Aesopica

57. Wu Wei

“May I write words more naked than flesh, stronger than bone, more resilient than sinew, sensitive than nerve.”

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

“Words that become names are only concepts, not real things.”

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

“The foolish understand the words, the wise understand the sense.”

Lao Tzu 老子 1 via Shan Dao, chapter #81
from Tao Te Ching 道德经 Dàodéjīng

“However many holy words you read, however many you speak, what good will they do you if you do not act on upon them?”

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

48. Unlearning

“We must go beyond word and discrimination and enter upon the path of realization.”

Buddha गौतम बुद्ध 563 – 483 BCE via D. T. Suzuki
(Siddhartha Shakyamuni Gautama)
Awakened Truth
from Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra

“People with opinions just go around bothering one another.”

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

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“Truth cannot be cut up into pieces and arranged into a system. Words are only a figure of speech.”

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

“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”

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

“When a wise man points at the moon the imbecile examines the finger.”

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

64. Ordinary Mind

“Whatever is written or inscribed and can be handed on to others is crude generalization... the world does not know to esteem those who do not speak.”

Wenzi 文子 1 via Thomas Cleary
"Authentic Presence of Pervading Mystery.”
from The Wenzi, Wénzǐ 文子

“The king only loves the words, he cannot make use of the reality.”

Sun Tzu 孙武 544 – 496 BCE via Sima Qian
(Sun Zi)
HIstory's supreme strategist
from Art of War 孙子兵法

“all these things are but the names which mortals have given, believing them, to be true”

Parmenides 540 – 450 BCE via John Burnett
Grandfather of Western philosophy
from On Nature

1. The Unnamed

“Many value appearances more than reality—thus they violate what’s right.”

Aeschylus Αἰσχύλος 525 – 455 BCE
The Father of Tragedy

“Knowledge is not wisdom.”

Euripides 480 – 406 BCE
Ancient humanitarian influence continuing today

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“it is as reprehensible to hear a profitable saying and not grasp it as to be offered a good gift by one's friends and not accept it.”

Isocrates Ἰσοκράτης 436 – 338 BCE

“The artistic representation of history is a more scientific and serious pursuit than the exact writing of history. For the art of letters goes to the heart of things, whereas the factual report merely collocates details.”

Aristotle Ἀριστοτέλης 382 – 322 BCE

“What does ‘understanding words’ mean? With half-truths, it means knowing what is concealed; with seductive words, knowing the trap created; with deceitful words, seeing the lies; with evasive words, understanding the desperation behind the language.”

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

“The purpose of a fish trap is to catch fish, and when the fish are caught, the trap is forgotten. The purpose of words is to convey ideas. When the ideas are grasped, the words are forgotten. Where can I find a man who has forgotten the words, so that I can talk to him?”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 369 – 286 BCE

19. All Methods Become Obstacles

“Where can I find someone who has penetrated beyond words? That's who I'd like to have a word with.”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 369 – 286 BCE via Stephen Mitchell

“The more the words, the less the meaning, and how does that profit anyone?”

Koheleth 1
from Ecclesiastes קֹהֶלֶת‎

5. Christmas Trees

“The learning of the gentleman enters through his ears, fastens to his heart, spreads through his four limbs, and manifests itself in his actions. ... The learning of the petty person enters through his ears and passes out his mouth. From mouth to ears is only four inches—how could it be enough to improve a whole body much larger than that?”

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

“The wise don’t fill their lessons with words or their shelves with books. The world may pass them by, but rulers turn to them when they want to learn what no one else learns.”

Hán Fēi 韓非 280 – 233 BCE

64. Ordinary Mind

“Those who know, value deeds not words. A team of horses can’t overtake the tongue. More talk means more problems.”

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

56. One with the Dust

“When rites and duties become decorations they breed artificial and hypocritical people.”

Liú Ān 劉安 1 via Thomas Cleary
from Huainanzi

19. All Methods Become Obstacles

“Speech is the heart’s sounds and writing it’s images but ‘Speech cannot fully express what is in the heart, nor can writing fully express speech’ — only sages understand the true meanings.”

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

“I did not so much gain the knowledge of things by the words, as words by the experience I had of things.”

Plutarch 46 – 120 CE
(Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus)

81. Journey Without Goal

“The self-directed metaphysician discovers the life-germ, understands not just seeming-knowledge but authentic science; and, abandoning all the realms of deceit and falsity, wanders in the ‘Meadows of Truth.”

Plotinus 204 – 249 CE via Stephen MacKenna, B.S. Page, Shan Dao
from Enneads Ἐννεάδες Plotinus / Porphyry

“When a person follows the way of the world or the way of tradition and believes in words instead of the sense, the rites instead of the experience; knowledge of Reality cannot arise.”

Plotinus 204 – 249 CE via Shan Dao

“The words printed here are concepts. You must go through the experiences.”

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

2. The Wordless Teachings

“Freeing oneself from words is liberation.”

Bodhidharma 菩提達磨 1

2. The Wordless Teachings

“Words are illusions.”

Bodhidharma 菩提達磨 1

23. Nothing and Not

“Freedom of thought means having no thought in the midst of thought.”

Huineng 惠能 638 – 713 CE
(Huìnéng, Enō)
The Sutra of Hui Neng

3. Weak Wishes, Strong Bones

“Truth has nothing to do with words. Truth can be likened to the bright moon in the sky. Words, in this case, can be likened to a finger. The finger can point to the moon’s location. However, the finger is not the moon. To look at the moon, it is necessary to gaze beyond the finger.”

Huineng 惠能 638 – 713 CE
(Huìnéng, Enō)
The Sutra of Hui Neng

64. Ordinary Mind

“Would a sick person be helped only by reading a medical book?”

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

“Your eyes see like a blind man, your mouth speaks like a mute.”

Layman Pang 龐居士 740 – 808 CE

“If the right man preaches the wrong way, the way will follow the man and become right. If the wrong man preaches the right way, the way will follow the man and become wrong.”

Joshu, Zhàozhōu Cōngshěn 趙州從諗 778 – 897 CE

41. Distilled Life

“The meaning does not reside in the words, but a pivotal moment brings it forth.”

Dongshan Liangjie 洞山良价 807 – 869 CE
(Dòngshān Liángjiè; Tōzan Ryōkai)
from Song of the Precious Mirror Samadhi

“The Way is not something which can be studied. Study leads to retention of concepts and so the Way is entirely misunderstood… The first step is to refrain from knowledge-based concepts.”

Huangbo Xiyun 黄檗希运 1
(Huangbo Xiyun, Huángbò Xīyùn, Obaku)

20. Unconventional Mind

“If you know that the real thing has been purposefully put aside, you can use a little effort to discover it.”

Yunmen Wenyan 雲門文偃 862 – 949 CE
(Ummon Daishi, Yúnmén Wényǎn)
The most eloquent Chan master

“Gather every thought and concept into the clarifying universe of body, speech, and mind that empties into the all-embracing mind.”

Jālandhara ཛཱ་ལནྡྷ་ར་པ། 888 CE – via Keith Dowman, Shan Dao
("The Ḍākinī's Chosen One")
Mahasiddha #46

“All abstract labeling is futile, the cause of anxiety.”

Shantipa ཤཱནྟི་པ། 1 via Keith Dowman
("The Academic")
Mahasiddha #12
from Masters of Mahamudra

“Mind is like the sky
Don't corrupt it with a mist of conceptualizations.”

Marpa Lotsawa 1012 – 1097 CE via Nalanda Translation Committee

“If the proverb's secret inner meaning does not become clear,
If you can't feel the results in your life,
All those words are just bubbles of spit.”

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

“Dharma is not found in the written word, how can one speak of it?”

Touzi Yiqing 投子義青 1032 – 1083 CE
(Tōsu Gisei, “Zen Master of Complete Compassion”)

“Only if you can forget the words and embody the meaning will you (have)... the ability to kill people's false selves and conditioned perceptions”

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

48. Unlearning

“The treasury of teachings of the whole age cannot explain it thoroughly.”

Yuanwu Keqin 圜悟克勤 1063 – 1135 CE via J.C. and Thomas Cleary
(Yuánwù Kèqín)
from Blue Cliff Record, Biyan lu 碧巖錄

14. Finding and Following the Formless Form

“What is important is to respect the root and extend it to the branches... Those who realize transcendence pass through words and phrases and make them come to life.”

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

64. Ordinary Mind

“Those who recommend faith without understanding are in many cases seeking to cover up their inability to teach faith intelligibly”

Peter Abelard Pierre Abélard 1079 – 1142 CE via Remusat

“Nothing can be believed unless it is first understood; and that for any one to preach to others that which either he has not understood nor they have understood is absurd.”

Peter Abelard Pierre Abélard 1079 – 1142 CE
from Dialogue Between a Philosopher, a Jew, and a Christian

“Thought brings about the generality in forms.”

Averroes, Ibn Rushd ابن رشد‎‎ 1126 – 1198 CE via Bertrand Russell

“Reading should be an active search for the vital arteries, not a matter of understanding only the words, the literal meaning which only leads to being harmed by what we read.”

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

1. The Unnamed

“Possessing much knowledge is like having a thousand foot fishing line with a hook, but the fish is always an inch beyond the hook.”

Mumon Ekai 無門慧開 1183 – 1260 CE
(Wumen Huikai)
Pioneering pathfinder to the Gateless Gate

from The Gateless Gate, 無門関, 無門關

48. Unlearning

“A noble heart’s words are as rare gems, seldom displayed and of great value.”

Mumon Ekai 無門慧開 1183 – 1260 CE
(Wumen Huikai)
Pioneering pathfinder to the Gateless Gate

from The Gateless Gate, 無門関, 無門關

60. Less is More

“Those who understand yet seem not to understand are the wisest of people… Those who don’t understand yet think they understand are, in fact, the stupidest of people.”

Wu Cheng 吴澄 1249 – 1333 CE
"Mr. Grass Hut"
from Tao-te-chen-ching-chu

71. Sick of Sickness

“Why dost thou prate of God? Whatever thou sayest of Him is untrue.”

Meister Eckhart 1260 – 1328 CE
(Eckhart von Hochheim)

56. One with the Dust

“Our knowledge is molded and limited by our means and ways of perceiving things; it is locked up in the prison of our minds and it must not pretend to be the objective or ultimate truth about anything.”

William of Ockham 1287 – 1347 CE via Will Durant

“If you hear the wordless sutra once, the heavens will become sutras filled with golden words, clear and obvious before you.”

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

“Blindly following ancient customs and traditions doesn’t mean that the dead are alive but that the living are dead.”

Ibn Khaldun أبو زيد عبد الرحمن بن محمد بن خلدون الحضرمي 1332 – 1406 CE

49. No Set Mind

“The vulgar crowd always is taken by appearances, and the world consists chiefly of the vulgar.”

Machiavelli 1469 – 1527 CE
(Niccolò Machiavelli)
from The Prince

“The majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances, as though they were realities, and are often more influenced by the things that seem than by those that are.”

Machiavelli 1469 – 1527 CE
(Niccolò Machiavelli)
from The Prince

“Men in general judge more from appearances than from reality. All men have eyes, but few see clearly.”

Machiavelli 1469 – 1527 CE
(Niccolò Machiavelli)
from The Prince

21. Following Empty Heart

“Learned we may be with another man's learning: we can only be wise with wisdom of our own.”

Montaigne 1533 – 1592 CE
Grandfather of the Enlightenment

10. The Power of Goodness

“Nothing is so firmly believed as that which is least known.”

Montaigne 1533 – 1592 CE
Grandfather of the Enlightenment

38. Fruit Over Flowers

“At the beginning of this book, Lao-tzu says that Tao can’t be put into words. But are its 5,000-odd characters not words? Lao-tzu waits until the last verse to explain this. He tells us that though the Tao itself includes no words, by means of words it can be revealed – but only by words that come from the heart.”

Deqing 1546 – 1623 CE

81. Journey Without Goal

“Human knowledge is a mere ill-digested mass made up of credulity, accident, and childish notions.”

Francis Bacon 1561 – 1626 CE via Shan Dao

“You taught me language; and my profit on't is, I know how to curse.”

William Shakespeare 1564 – 1616 CE
from The Tempest

“Words are the counters of wise men, and the money of fools.”

Thomas Hobbes 1588 – 1679 CE
from Leviathan

“There are names like Buddha, God, or Heavenly Way but they all point to the mind which is nothingness.”

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

“Chasing after words, pursuing phrases, when will you ever be done?”

Bankei 盤珪永琢 1622 – 1693 CE
(Bankei Yōtaku)

11. Appreciating Emptiness

“There are too many men who claim to be pure scholars and yet are stupid and arrogant; we'd be better off with less talk of moral principle and more practice of it.”

Kāngxī 康熙帝 1654 – 1722 CE via Jonathan D. Spence
from Emperor of China, Self-Portrait of K'ang-hsi

“What has the vain science of words to do with the morality which should guide your actions?”

Voltaire, François-Marie Arouet 1694 – 1778 CE via Raymond Naves
from Philosophical Dictionary

“I hate books; they only teach us to talk about things we know nothing about.”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1712 – 1778 CE

48. Unlearning

“I do not mean by this a critique of books and systems, but of the faculty of reason in general to be able to strive after understanding independent of experience.”

Immanuel Kant 1724 – 1804 CE
from Critique Of Pure Reason

“Knowledge of the ingredients without knowledge of the process cannot accomplish the Tao.”

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

56. One with the Dust

“mankind is governed by names… and submit to slavery, provided they are respectfully assured that they still enjoy their ancient freedom.”

Edward Gibbon 1737 – 1794 CE
from Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire

“The Six Classics are all history.”

​Zhang Xuecheng 章学诚 章学诚 1738 – 1801 CE
(Chang Hsüeh-ch'eng)

“We have too many high-sounding words, and too few actions that correspond with them.”

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

“Because of the finger you can point to the moon. Because of the moon you can understand the finger. The moon and the finger are neither different nor the same… Once you’e really seen things as they are, there’s no more moon, no more finger.”

Ryokan 良寛大愚 1758 – 1758 CE
(Ryōkan Taigu,“The Great Fool”)

64. Ordinary Mind

“A truth won by thinking for ourselves is like a natural limb: it alone really belongs to us. This is the difference between a thinker and a mere scholar.”

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

“Genius always rises like a palm-tree above the soil in which it is rooted.”

Arthur Schopenhauer 1788 – 1860 CE

61. Lying Low

“When we read, another person thinks for us: we merely repeat his mental process… we gradually lose the capacity for thinking... This is the case with many learned persons: they have read themselves stupid.”

Arthur Schopenhauer 1788 – 1860 CE

48. Unlearning

“No words suffice the secret soul to show,
For truth denies all eloquence to woe.”

Lord Byron 1788 – 1824 CE
(George Gordon Byron)
The first rock-star style celebrity
from The Corsair (1814)

“What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803 – 1882 CE
Champion of individualism

63. Easy as Hard

“One of the mistakes most often committed—and which are the sources of the greatest practical errors in human affairs—is that of supposing that the same name always stands for the same aggregation of ideas.”

John Stuart Mill 1806 – 1873 CE

“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”

Abraham Lincoln 1809 – 1865 CE

15. Inscrutability

“The arts and sciences, and a thousand appliances: the wind that blows is all that anybody knows.”

Henry David Thoreau 1817 – 1862 CE
Father of environmentalism and America's first yogi
from Walden or Life in the Woods

38. Fruit Over Flowers

“You can't judge a book by its cover.”

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

from The Mill on the Floss (1860)​

“He who knows most believes the least.”

Henry Thomas Buckle 1821 – 1862 CE
from History of Civilization

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“While Moses forbids 'graven images' of Him whose name is not to be taken in vain, Spinoza goes farther. He clearly infers that God must not be so much as described. Human language is totally unfit... Every attempt to the contrary leads a nation to anthropomorphize the deity in whom it believes”

Blavatsky, Helena Еле́на Петро́вна Блава́тская 1831 – 1891 CE
Co-founder of Theosophy
from Isis Unveiled

“Human language is too gross a vehicle of thought—thought being incapable of absolute translation... as there can be no translation from one language into another which will not scant the meaning somewhat, or enlarge upon it, so there is no language which can render thought without a jarring and a harshness somewhere”

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

“Let us make a special effort to stop communicating with each other, so we can have some conversation…”

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

56. One with the Dust

“Until you think of things as they are, and not of the words that misrepresent them, you cannot think rightly. Words produce the appearance of hard and fast lines where there are none.”

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

“It's not what you don't know that kills you, it's what you know for sure that ain't true.”

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

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

The Truth; what a perfect idol of the rationalistic mind!... truths are man-made products... Truth grafts itself on previous truth, modifying it in the process”

William James 1842 – 1910 CE
"Father of American psychology”
from Pragmatism

“Not he is great who can alter matter, but he who can alter my state of mind.

Friedrich Nietzsche 1844 – 1900 CE
from Thus Spoke Zarathustra

“How lovely it is that there are words and sounds. Are not words and sounds rainbows and illusive bridges between things which are eternally apart?”

Friedrich Nietzsche 1844 – 1900 CE

64. Ordinary Mind

“Your thoughts are not your experiences, they are an echo and after-effect of your experiences: as when your room trembles when a carriage goes past.”

Friedrich Nietzsche 1844 – 1900 CE

81. Journey Without Goal

“Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.”

Oscar Wilde 1854 – 1900 CE

“To define is to limit.”

Oscar Wilde 1854 – 1900 CE
from Picture of Dorian Gray

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

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

“instinct transcends knowledge”

Nikola Tesla Никола Тесла 1856 – 1943 CE
from My Inventions

“I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw”

Black Elk 1863 – 1950 CE
(Heȟáka Sápa)

“Do not believe a thing because another man has said it was true. Do not believe in words because they are hallowed by tradition. Find out the truth for yourself.”

Swami Vivekananda ʃami bibekanɔnd̪o 1863 – 1902 CE
"The maker of modern India"

“Who knows the flower best? – the one who reads about it in a book, or the one who finds it wild on the mountainside?”

Alexandra David-Néel 1868 – 1969 CE

“Most of us have collections of sayings we live by... Whenever words fly up at me from the printed page as I read, I intercept them instantly, knowing they are for me. I turn them over carefully in my mind and cling to them hard.”

David Grayson 1870 – 1946 CE
(Ray Stannard Baker)
One of the most insightful journalists, historians, and biographers of his time

“It is not enough to intellectually understand the nature of mind. We have to get rid of the veils that obscure it.”

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

“When we discover the true lives of other people, the real world beneath the world of appearance, we get as many surprises as on visiting a house of plain exterior which inside is full of hidden treasures, torture-chambers, or skeletons”

Marcel Proust 1871 – 1922 CE
Apostle of Ordinary Mind
from In Search of Lost Time

“The distinction between words and what they designate is one which it is difficult always to remember... [the confused believe that ] Sentences have subjects and predicates, therefore the world consists of substances with attributes.”

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

“Every statement about the transcendental ought to be avoided because it is invariably a laughable presumption on the part of the human mind, unconscious of its limitations.”

Carl Jung 1875 – 1961 CE
Insightful shamanistic scientist

1. The Unnamed

“The God of words is cold and dead and shines from afar like the moon, mysteriously and inaccessibly”

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

“Words butter no parsnips; nevertheless, this futile procedure is repeated ad infinitum... the reality of life is covered up by so-called clear concepts. Experience is striped of its substance, and instead mere names are substituted, which are henceforth put in the place of reality.”

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

“If one does not take the verses of the New Testament as being commandments, but as expressions of an extraordinary awareness of the secrets of our soul, then the wisest word ever spoken is: 'Love thy neighbor as thyself.’”

Hermann Hesse 1877 – 1962 CE

63. Easy as Hard

“The standpoint of the man who relies on religious experience for capturing Reality must always remain individual and incommunicable.”

Muhammad Iqbal محمد اقبال 1877 – 1938 CE

“Words do not express thoughts very well. They always become a little different immediately after they are expressed, a little distorted, a little foolish.”

Hermann Hesse 1877 – 1962 CE

56. One with the Dust

“To understand the true sense of scripture, it’s necessary to remove the palimpsest—the commentaries, interpretations, and understandings accumulated through the centuries that may have been helpful at the time but obscure the true meaning in a different age.”

Martin Buber מרטין בובר‎‎ 1878 – 1965 CE via Shan Dao

“Information is not knowledge. The only source of knowledge is experience.”

Albert Einstein 1879 – 1955 CE

47. Effortless Success

“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”

Albert Einstein 1879 – 1955 CE

48. Unlearning

“Let us leave theories there and return to here's hear.”

James Joyce 1882 – 1941 CE
from Finnegan's Wake

“But to go deeper, beneath what people say—and their judgements, how superficial, how fragmentary they are!—what did it mean to her, this thing she called life?”

Virginia Woolf 1882 – 1941 CE
from Mrs. Dalloway

“Shut your eyes and see.”

James Joyce 1882 – 1941 CE
from Ulysses

1. The Unnamed

“Thought is a bird of space that in a cage of words cannot fly”

Kahlil Gibran 1883 – 1931 CE
from The Prophet

“Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assault of thoughts on the unthinking…. Ideas shape the course of history.”

John Maynard Keynes 1883 – 1946 CE
Revolutionary economist credited with saving capitalism

“All those who actually live the mysteries of life haven't the time to write, and all those who have the time don't live them!”

Nikos Kazantzakis 1883 – 1957 CE
from Zorba the Greek

56. One with the Dust

“What is word knowledge but a shadow of wordless knowledge?”

Kahlil Gibran 1883 – 1931 CE
from The Prophet

“Every word is an adamantine shell which encloses a great explosive force. To discover its meaning you must let it burst inside you like a bomb and in this way liberate the soul which it imprisons.”

Nikos Kazantzakis 1883 – 1957 CE
from Report to Greco

64. Ordinary Mind

“Our words are but crumbs that fall down from the feast of the mind.”

Kahlil Gibran 1883 – 1931 CE
from Sand & Foam​

“Half of what I say is meaningless, but I say it so that the other half may reach you.”

Kahlil Gibran 1883 – 1931 CE

48. Unlearning

“We had the experience but missed the meaning. And approach to the meaning restores the experience in a different form.”

T. S. Eliot 1888 – 1965 CE

70. Inscrutable

“For last year's words belong to last year's language. And next year's words await another voice.”

T. S. Eliot 1888 – 1965 CE
from Four Quartets

38. Fruit Over Flowers

“When language-games change, then there is a change in concepts, and with the concepts the meanings of words change... what men and women consider reasonable alters. At certain periods, men and women find reasonable what at other periods they found unreasonable. And vice versa.”

Ludwig Wittgenstein 1889 – 1951 CE
One of the world's most famous philosophers

“Never have so many capable writers warned mankind against the dangers of wrong speech—and never have words been used more recklessly by politicians or taken more seriously by the public.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE

66. Go Low

“That which, in the language of religion, is called ‘this world’ is the universe of reduced awareness, expressed, and, as it were, petrified by language.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE

3. Weak Wishes, Strong Bones

“No amount of theorizing can tell us as much about divine Reality as can be directly apprehended by a mind in a state of detachment, charity and humility.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE
from Perennial Philosophy

“To suppose that people can be saved by studying and giving assent to formulae is like supposing that one can get to Timbuctoo by poring over a map of Africa.

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE
from Perennial Philosophy

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“The organized Christian churches have persisted in the fatal habit of mistaking means for ends… that souls are saved if assent is given to what is locally regard as the correct formula, lost if it is withheld… The over-valuation of words and formulae so fatally characteristic of historic Christianity.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE
from Perennial Philosophy

“Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly—they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE
from Brave New World

“Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly—they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE
from Brave New World

“Astrology is a Language. If you understand this language, the Sky Speaks to You.”

Dane Rudhyar 1895 – 1985 CE
( Daniel Chennevière)
Agent of cultural evolution

“All ideologies are idiotic, whether religious or political, for it is conceptual thinking… which has so unfortunately divided humanity.”

Krishnamurti 1895 – 1986 CE
(Jiddu Krishnamurti)

“Daisy began to sing... bringing out a meaning in each word that it had never had before and would never have again.”

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

“What at one time are most effective expressions gradually become so worn with use that they cease to carry a definite meaning. The underlying ideas may be as valid as ever, but the words, even when they refer to problems that are still with us, no longer convey the same conviction.”

Friedrich Hayek 1899 – 1992 CE

“The original is unfaithful to the translation.”

Jorge Luis Borges 1899 – 1986 CE
Literary Explorer of Labyrinthian Dreams, Mirrors, and Mythologies

“He had taken seriously words which were without importance, and it made him very unhappy.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry 1900 – 1944 CE

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“In those days, I didn't understand anything. I should have judged her according to her actions, not her words. She perfumed my planet and lit up my life. I should never have run away! … But I was too young to know how to love her.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry 1900 – 1944 CE

63. Easy as Hard

“Words are the source of misunderstandings.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry 1900 – 1944 CE

81. Journey Without Goal

“Thinking at a global level is a useful and exciting intellectual activity, but no substitute for the work needed to solve practical problems at home.”

René Dubos 1901 – 1982 CE via Think Globally, But Act Locally
Influential scientific environmentalist

from Celebrations of life (1981)

“Definitions are dogmas; only the conclusions drawn from them can afford us any new insight.”

Karl Popper 1902 – 1994 CE
Major Philosopher of Science

“If people cannot write well, they cannot think well. And if they cannot think well, others will do their thinking for them.”

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

“The major problems in the world are the result of the difference between how nature works and the way people think.”

Gregory Bateson 1904 – 1980 CE

“If I give you an answer, you’ll think you understand.”

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi 1904 – 1971 CE

21. Following Empty Heart

“Every religion is true one way or another. It is true when understood metaphorically. But when it gets stuck to its own metaphors, interpreting them as facts, then you are in trouble.”

Joseph Campbell 1904 – 1987 CE
Great translator of ancient myth into modern symbols
from Power of Myth

“We're flooding people with information and we need to feed it through a processor… A human must turn information into intelligence.”

Grace Hopper 1906 – 1992 CE
(Grace Brewster Murray Hopper )

“Was it not precisely the discovery of a discrepancy between words, the medium in which we think, and the world of appearances, the medium in which we live, that let to philosophy and metaphysics in the first place?”

Hannah Arendt 1906 – 1975 CE
Fearless researcher into the darker reaches of the human psyche
from The New Yorker

“Lifelong dissent has more than acclimated me cheerfully to defeat. It has made me suspicious of victory. I feel uneasy at the very idea of a Movement. I see every insight degenerating into a dogma, and fresh thoughts freezing into lifeless party line. (1969)”

I. F. Stone 1907 – 1989 CE
One of the greatest 20th century reporters
from I.F. Stone's Weekly

“All words, in every language, are metaphors.”

Marshall McLuhan 1911 – 1980 CE

56. One with the Dust

“Human knowledge prevents one from knowing the essence of things; it serves only to cloud and cause us to lose sight of the spirit of things.”

Masanobu Fukuoka 福岡 正信 1913 – 2008 CE via Metreaud
from Road Back to Nature

“language is alive, like an organism... Words are the cells of language, moving the great body, on legs. Language grows and evolves, leaving fossils behind. The individual words are like different species of animals.”

Lewis Thomas 1913 – 1993 CE
Gestaltist of science and art
from Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher

“Music and pure mathematics are closer to life than are languages which point to meanings beyond themselves. Ordinary language refers to life, but music is living.”

Alan Watts 1915 – 1973 CE
from Psychotherapy East and West

“Confucius may have had access to the manifest aspects of the Tao ‘that can be named,’ but the basis of all Chuang Tzu’s critique of Ju philosophy is that it never comes near to the Tao ‘that can not be named,’ and indeed takes no account of it.”

Thomas Merton 1915 – 1968 CE

56. One with the Dust

“Chuang Tzu is not concerned with words and formulas about reality, but with the direct existential grasp of reality in itself. Such a grasp is necessarily obscure and does not lend itself to abstract analysis.”

Thomas Merton 1915 – 1968 CE

48. Unlearning

“God has to speak to each person in their own language, in their own idioms. Take Spanish, Chinese. You can express the same thought, but to different people you have to use a different language. Its the same in religion.”

Huston Smith 1919 – 2016 CE

“A postcard of a beautiful lake is not a beautiful lake, and Sufis may be defined as those who dance in the lake.”

Huston Smith 1919 – 2016 CE

“You never even hear any hints dropped on a campus that wisdom is supposed to be the goal of knowledge... knowledge should lead to wisdom, and if it doesn't, it's just a disgusting waste of time!”

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

“Some events are in the area of the soul where words cannot penetrate.”

Neal Cassady 1926 – 1968 CE

“To really be with the raw stuff of this moment doesn't need identification or labeling.”

Toni Packer 1927 – 2013 CE
A Zen teacher minus the 'Zen' and minus the 'teacher.’
from Light of Discovery

1. The Unnamed

“words, words, words—at best evocations, conjurations, incantations, emanations, shimmering, iridescent flares n the sky of darkness”

R. D. Laing 1927 – 1989 CE
from Politics of Experience

“How it is we have so much information, but know so little?”

Noam Chomsky 1928 CE –

21. Following Empty Heart

“The doctrinal differences between Hinduism and Buddhism and Taoism are not anywhere near as important as doctrinal differences among Christianity and Islam and Judaism. Holy wars are not fought over them because verbalized statements about reality are never presumed to be reality itself.”

Robert M. Pirsig 1928 – 2017 CE
from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

“Language alone protects us from the scariness of things with no names. Language alone is meditation.”

Toni Morrison 1931 – 2019 CE
(Chloe Ardelia Wofford)
Story-telling voice of American wisdom
from Nobel Prize Lecture (1993)

“what people call beautiful is really just decay… How much greater is the beauty that is underneath the surface.”

Gesshin Myoko Roshi 1931 – 1999 CE
Moon heart miraculous light

61. Lying Low

“The real issue is not whether two and two make four or whether two and two make five, but whether life advances by men who love words or men who love living.”

Colin Wilson 1931 – 2013 CE
from Outsider

“At its root all language has the character of metaphor, because no matter what it intends to be about it remains language, and remains absolutely unlike whatever it is about.”

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

“Every kind of ignorance in the world all results from not realizing that our perceptions are gambles. We believe what we see and then we believe our interpretation of it, we don't even know we are making an interpretation most of the time. We think this is reality.”

Robert Anton Wilson 1932 – 2007 CE
from Real Reality

49. No Set Mind

“These are the limits of the scientific method and of logic itself… words can become obstacles.”

Hubert Reeves 1932 CE –

“Although almost all our attention goes toward the surface, the form of government; the deep importance and influence has much less to do with the description, the name - much more to with integrity of the people involved.”

Shan Dao 山道 1933 CE –
from Tao Te Ching — The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words

58. Goals Without Means

“The more we believe the words, the less we understand the sense”

Shan Dao 山道 1933 CE –

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“It's a Barnum and Baily world, just as phony as it can be. But it wouldn't be make-believe if you believed in me.”

Billy Rose and Yip Harburg 1933 CE –
It's Only a Paper Moon
from It's Only a Paper Moon

49. No Set Mind

“If we think of ‘teaching’ as imparting knowledge, knowledge and skill-sets are necessary but teaching stays on the level of only understanding the words. If by ‘teaching’ we mean, transmitting the true sense of the words, words aren’t even necessary. Realized wisdom communicates with every gesture and expression.”

Shan Dao 山道 1933 CE –

“Insights become proverbs, proverbs become slogans, slogans become truisms, truisms become clichés, clichés become words, words become dogmas, and dogmas become prisons.”

Shan Dao 山道 1933 CE –

“Better than any argument is to rise at dawn and pick dew-wet red berries in a cup.”

Wendell Berry 1934 CE –

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“We have two alternatives: either we question our beliefs - or we don't. Either we accept our fixed versions of reality- or we begin to challenge them. In Buddha's opinion, to train in staying open and curious - to train in dissolving our assumptions and beliefs - is the best use of our human lives.”

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

17. True Leaders

“It can happen that a phrase intended to indicate a state beyond concepts just becomes another concept in itself, in the same way that if you ask a person their name and they reply that they have no name, you will then perhaps mistakenly call them ‘No name’.”

Namkhai Norbu ཆོས་རྒྱལ་ནམ་མཁའི་ནོར་བུ་ 1938 – 2018 CE via John Shane
Dzogchen Master
from Dzogchen: The Self-Perfected State

“Either you look and see beyond language – as first perception – or you see the world through the filter of your thoughts.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE

3. Weak Wishes, Strong Bones

“But all my words come back to me in shades of mediocrity, like emptiness in harmony...”

Paul Simon 1941 CE –
Prolific planter of musical, cultural wisdom seeds
from Homeward Bound

“The things we distinguish as real change while their names do not.”

Red Pine 1943 CE –
( Bill Porter)
Exceptional translator, cultural diplomat
from Lao-Tzu's Taoteching

1. The Unnamed

“Names, once they are in common use, quickly become mere sounds, their etymology being buried, like so many of the earth's marvels, beneath the dust of habit.”

Salman Rushdie 1947 CE –
Fearless antagonist of Islamic fundamentalism

“‘If you listen carefully, you can hear these things. If you look carefully, you’ll see what you’re after.’
‘Words of wisdom?’
‘No, just words — a way of life in words.’”

Haruki Murakami 1949 CE – via Alfred Birnbaum
from Dance, Dance, Dance

36. The Small, Dark Light

“Religions are, by definition, metaphors, after all… places to stand and look and act, vantage points from which to view the world. Never a word of it is literally true.”

Neil Gaiman 1960 CE –
Myth-transmitting creative maelstrom
from American Gods

“You’re squeezing a size -eighteen reality into a size-eleven supposition.”

David Mitchell 1969 CE –
from Cloud Atlas

“The difference between reading a love poem and being in love.”

David Mitchell 1969 CE –
from Bone Clocks

5. Christmas Trees

“the more things we do that amplify the abstraction, the harder it becomes to see each other as human... We no longer see each other as people; we are now customers, shareholders, employees, avatars, online profiles, screen names, email addresses and expenses to be tracked.”

Simon Sinek 1973 CE –
from Leaders Eat Last

“When I think of the mystery of existence, I prefer to use other words, so as to avoid confusion. And unlike the God of the Islamic State and the Crusades – who cares a lot about names and above all about His most holy name – the mystery of existence doesn’t care an iota what names we apes give it.

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

from 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (2018)


Comments (1)

  1. Shan Dao
    Shan Dao 6 years ago
    On the other hand, in almost praise of the cliché, we have Dostoevsky saying, "Pathetic phrases should be forgiven. They comfort the heart. Without them, sorrow would be too heavy for men to bear."