Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Cause and Effect

The understanding of cause and effect, karma, may be one of the strongest links connecting Buddhism and science. The Buddhist teachings say, “Even the Buddha cannot change the law of karma.” This undermines superstitious views and creates a fertile ground for the scientific method. Going beyond the scientific, physical dimension, the scope of karmic consequence includes the psychological, social, political, ethical, and religious realms. The foundational attitude beneath most crime, selfish action, and cruelty seems to be a belief that we can get away with something, create harm externally without suffering any consequences. Although the Tao Te Ching seems to be mainly about freedom, letting go of all concepts and social restraints; a major theme is understanding consequences, karma. The sum of all karmic consequences—genetic and environmental, personal and cultural—create the present moment as well as a strong momentum pushing us in a particular direction. We can become aware of these influences and consciously shift this direction but that only creates more imprisoning, habitual momentum. Awareness deeply influences this momentum as well but without the imprisoning aftereffects.

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Quotes (103)

“No one who does good work will ever come to a bad end, either here or in the world to come.”

Vyasa व्यास c. 3000 BCE via Bhagavad Gita
Hindu immortals, Vishnu avatar, 5th incarnation of Brahma
from Mahābhārata महाभारतम्

“Who is the wise man? He who sees what’s going to be born.”

King David 1000 – 920 BCE
"The baffled king composing Hallelujah!"
from Book of Psalms

“Justice, even if slow, is sure.”

Solon 638 – 558 BCE via Plutarch
Founder of Athenian democracy

“You may blame Aphrodite soft as she is, she has almost killed me with love for that boy”

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

“The vanity of success only brings to harvest a crop of calamities.”

Lao Tzu 老子 604 BCE - via Shan Dao
(Lǎozǐ)
from Tao Te Ching 道德经 Dàodéjīng

“What you are is what you have been. What you'll be is what you do now.”

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

64. Ordinary Mind

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought… if we speak or act with a pure thought, happiness follows like a shadow that never leaves.”

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

“Pain is certain, suffering is optional.”

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

2. The Wordless Teachings

“When anger rises, think of the consequences.”

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

“But dwelling with the glorious gods in ease
A tearless life they pass,
Whose joy on earth it was
To keep their plighted word.”

Pindar Πίνδαρος 522 – 443 BCE
Archetype of poetry

“Cultivating shoots of goodness gives form to truthfulness that then burns bright influencing and transforming the people.”

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

“The man who is wronged suffers injury in body or in external things, while the man who does wrong injures his own soul.”

Socrates 469 – 399 BCE via Mortimer J. Adler
One of the most powerful influences on Western Civilization

“With anything young and tender, the most important time is the beginning because that is the time when character is formed.”

Plato Πλάτων 428 – 348 BCE

52. Cultivating the Changeless

“That which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it, everybody is more inclined to neglect the duty which he expects another to fulfill.”

Aristotle Ἀριστοτέλης 382 – 322 BCE
from Politics

“Do not let finely meshed nets be cast in ponds and lakes and the fish and turtles will be more than can be consumed; let axes enter the mountain groves only at the appropriate time and the timber will be more than can be used.”

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

“We are born alone and die alone; experience the good and bad consequences of our karma alone; and we go alone to hell or the supreme abode”

Chandragupta Maurya 340 – 297 BCE
Ashoka’s grandfather, founder of the Maurya Empire

“To solve a problem, you need to remove the cause, not the symptom.”

Lie Yukou 列圄寇/列禦寇/列子 4th C. BCE via Eva Wong
(Liè Yǔkòu, Liezi)
from Liezi "True Classic of Simplicity and Perfect Emptiness”

“The Tao gives birth to the beginning. One gives birth to yin and yang. Yin and yang give birth to the breath between them,the mixture of clear and turbid. These three breaths divide themselves into Heaven, Earth, and Humankind and together give birth to the ten thousand things.”

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

42. Children of the Way

“If you seek what you don’t have, what you do have will be lost. If you cultivate what you already have, then what you want comes about.”

Liú Ān 劉安 c. 179–122 BCE via Thomas Cleary
(Huainanzi)
from Huainanzi

75. Greed

“Good luck changes into bad and bad luck changes into good. The workings of events are beyond comprehension.”

Liú Ān 劉安 c. 179–122 BCE via Lin Yutang
(Huainanzi)
from Huainanzi

“I have examined the deeds and events of the past and investigated the principles behind their success and failure, their rise and decay. I wished to examine into all that concerns heaven and man, to penetrate the changes of the past and present, completing all as the work of one family.”

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

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

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

“Violence and injury enclose in their net all that do such things, and generally return upon him who began.”

Lucretius 99 – 55 BCE
(Titus Carus)
from De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things)

“what is created gives rise to it’s own function… Sight does not exist before the birth of the eyes, nor speech before the creation of the tongue.”

Lucretius 99 – 55 BCE via Dryden
(Titus Carus)
from De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things)

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

Seneca ˈsɛnɪkə 4 BCE – 65 CE
(Lucius Annaeus)

“Return your sword to its place, for all who will take up the sword, will die by the sword.”

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

“Purify your own hearts, and the world will become pure.”

Jesus 3 BCE – 30 CE via Didymos Thomas
from Gospel According to Thomas

28. Turning Back

“A man reaps what he sows.”

Jesus 3 BCE – 30 CE via Galatians 6:7 (tr: Saint Paul)
from New Testament Διαθήκη

“If you live with a lame man, you will learn to limp.”

Plutarch 46 – 120 CE
(Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus)

38. Fruit Over Flowers

“I knew that good like bad becomes a routine, that the temporary tends to endure, that what is external permeates to the inside, and that the mask, given time, comes to be the face itself.”

Hadrian 76 – 180 CE

“Every disorder in the soul is its own punishment.”

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

“Before enlightenment, chopping wood and carrying water. After enlightenment, chopping wood and carrying water.”

Jianzhi Sengcan 鑑智僧璨 529 – 606 CE
(Jiànzhì Sēngcàn)

80. A Golden Age

“When fools are in charge, wise men make no predictions.”

Hilda of Whitby 614 – 680 CE

“To live in nothingness is to ignore cause and effect; this chaos leads only to disaster.”

Yòngjiā Xuānjué 永嘉玄覺 665 – 713 CE
(Yung-chia Ta-shih; Yōka Genkaku; "The Overnight Guest")
from Song of Enlightenment 证道歌

“Those desiring to escape suffering hasten right toward it. With the very desire for happiness, out of delusion they destroy their own happiness as if it were an enemy.”

Shantideva ཞི་བ་ལྷ།།། 685 – 763 CE via Alan Wallace
(Bhusuku, Śāntideva)

“Following the meandering course of a thought can lead to madness; resist and karma is restrained.”

Udhilipa ཨུ་དྷི་ལི་པ། (9th century CE) via Keith Dowman
The Bird-Man
from Masters of Enchantment

“No one who does good work will ever come to a bad end, either here or in the world to come”

Su Shi 苏轼 1037 – 1101 CE
(Dongpo, Su Tungpo)
"pre-eminent personality of 11th century China"

“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

“If those above take too much, those below will be impoverished. If those above use too much force, those below will rebel.”

Li Xizhai 12th century CE via Red Pine
(Li Hsi-Chai)
from Tao-te-chen-ching yi-chieh

75. Greed

“The deeds you do may be the only sermon some people will ever hear.”

Francis of Assisi 1181 – 1226 CE

70. Inscrutable

“The wise carefully contemplate before taking action; fools quickly act before thinking.”

Sakya Pandita ས་སྐྱ་པཎྜ་ཏ་ཀུན་དགའ་རྒྱལ་མཚན། 1182 – 1251 CE via John T. Davenport, Shan Dao #27
(Kunga Gyeltsen)
from Ordinary Wisdom, Sakya Legshe (Jewel Treasury of Good Advice)

“Remember tonight... for it is the beginning of always.”

Dante 1265 – 1321 CE
(Durante degli Alighieri)

“Kissed lips don’t lose their fortune; but, on the contrary, like the moon, quickly renew themselves.”

Giovanni Boccaccio dʒoˈvanni bokˈkattʃo 1313 – 1375 CE via Shan Dao

“Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past. Human events always resemble those of earlier times because human nature doesn't change, people are always animated by the same passions and so produce the same results.”

Machiavelli 1469 – 1527 CE via Will Durant, Shan Dao
(Niccolò Machiavelli)
from The Prince

“Intemperance is naturally punished with disease, injustice with the violence of enemies, cowardice with oppression”

Thomas Hobbes 1588 – 1679 CE

“Leave your luck while still winning. A fine retreat is as good as a gallant attack…The higher the heap of luck, the greater the risk of a slip…Fortune pays you sometimes for the intensity of her favors by the shortness of their duration.”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE

9. Know When to Stop

“Better to sleep on things beforehand than lie awake about worrying them afterwards. Most think less of consequences than of excuses.”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE via Joseph Jacobs, Han Shan, chapter #151

“Careless handling of one item might bring harm to the whole world, a moment's carelessness damage all future generations.”

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

“As long as people believe in absurdities, they will continue to commit atrocities.”

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

“Whatever is begun in anger ends in shame.”

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

“I never doubted… that all crime will be punished, and virtue rewarded, either here or hereafter. These I esteem’d the essentials of every religion.”

Benjamin Franklin 1706 – 1790 CE
from Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

54. Planting Well

“The same motives always produce the same actions; the same events follow from the same causes”

David Hume 1711 – 1776 CE
"One of the most important philosophers"
from An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748)

“From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step.”

Diderot 1713 – 1784 CE
from Encyclopédie

“There is absolutely not a single unavoidable reason why somebody else's action or some circumstance should produce a negative emotion in me. It is only my weakness.”

Diderot 1713 – 1784 CE

“The first step toward wisdom is to question everything - and the last is to accept everything.”

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg 1742 – 1799 CE via Shan Dao
One of history’s best aphorists

“If you treat someone as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.”

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 1749 – 1832 CE

17. True Leaders

“The mystery of existence is the connection between our faults and our misfortunes.”

Madame de Staël 1766 – 1817 CE
(Anne Louise Germaine de Staël-Holstein)
"The greatest woman of her time"

“I have called this principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved, by the term of Natural Selection.”

Charles Darwin 1809 – 1882 CE

“The actions of individuals are greatly affected by their moral feelings and passions; but these being antagonistic to the passions and feelings of other individuals, are balanced by them, so that their effect is, in the great average of human affairs, nowhere to be seen, and the total actions of mankind, considered as a whole, are left to be regulated by the total knowledge of which mankind is possessed.”

Henry Thomas Buckle 1821 – 1862 CE
from History of Civilization

“The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”

Mark Twain 1835 – 1910 CE
(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)

“A man is the resultant and exponent of all the forces that have been brought to bear upon him, whether before his birth or afterwards... as he is by nature, and as he has been acted on, and is now acted on from without, so will he do, as certainly and regularly as though he were a machine.”

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

“The winds of grace are always blowing, but you have to raise the sail.”

Ramakrishna 1836 – 1886 CE

“It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it.”

Oscar Wilde 1854 – 1900 CE

“Words have a magical power capable of arousing the strongest emotions and prompting all men's actions. They can bring either the greatest happiness or deepest despair.”

Sigmund Freud 1856 – 1939 CE

“We are what we are because we have been what we have been.”

Sigmund Freud 1856 – 1939 CE

“All wrong recoils upon the doer, and the man who makes wrong statements about others is himself to be pitied, not the man he vilifies.”

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

“The present contains nothing more than the past, and what is found in the effect was already in the cause.”

Henri-Louis Bergson 1859 – 1941 CE

“In its entirety, probably, it follows us at every instant; all that we have felt, thought and willed from our earliest infancy is there, leaning over the present which is about to join it, pressing against the portals of consciousness that would fain leave it outside.”

Henri-Louis Bergson 1859 – 1941 CE

“There are no rewards or punishments - only consequences.”

Dean Inge 1860 – 1954 CE
Christian mystic and philosopher

“Suffering raises up truly great souls; it is only small souls that it makes mean-spirited.”

Alexandra David-Néel 1868 – 1969 CE

“We tend to believe the premises because we can see that their consequences are true, instead of believing the consequences because we know the premises to be true.”

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

“as in the past, so in the future, the wrong we have done, thought, or intended will wreak its vengeance on our souls.”

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

“I began to think of reincarnation as a manifestation of stability amidst flux, of continuity in tradition, of intellectual life, of individual life that transcends time”

Hermann Hesse 1877 – 1962 CE

“You always know what results will come from one or another of your actions; but in a strange way you want to do one thing and get the result that could only come from another”

Ouspensky Пётр Демья́нович Успе́нский 1878 – 1947 CE
(Pyotr Demianovich Ouspenskii)

“In each of us, the entire history of the world is reflected. And however autonomous our soul, it is indebted to an inheritance worked upon it from all sides—before it came into being—by the totality of the earth's energies.”

Teilhard de Chardin 1881 – 1955 CE via Bernard Wall, Shan Dao
from Divine Milieu

“If the other person injures you, you may forget the injury; but if you injure him you will always remember.”

Kahlil Gibran 1883 – 1931 CE

74. The Great Executioner

“In the end, nothing is lost. Every event, for good or evil, has effects forever.”

Will (and Ariel) Durant 1885 – 1981 CE

80. A Golden Age

“If a man have not order within him, he can not spread order about him”

Ezra Pound 1885 – 1972 CE
from Cantos

“In some existing tribes and probably in the earliest human groups, the physiological role of the male in reproduction appears to have escaped notice quite as completely as among animals who rut and mate and breed with happy unconsciousness of cause and effect.”

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

“To break sharply with the past is to court the madness that may follow the shock... the sanity of a group lies in the continuity of its traditions”

Will (and Ariel) Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
from Lessons of History

“You are looking for a cure while I am concerned with prevention. As long as their are causes, there must also be results... If you want peace and harmony in the world, you must first have peace and harmony in your hearts and minds.”

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

“The stages of developing awareness begin with blaming and then expand to a discovery that the transgressions were only a response to what others have done”

Gregory Bateson 1904 – 1980 CE

“How do you build up your bank account? By putting something in it everyday.Your health account is no different. What I do today, I am wearing tomorrow. If I put inferior foods in my body today, I'm going to be inferior tomorrow, it's that simple.”

Jack LaLanne 1914 – 2011 CE

“The test of liberation is not whether it issues in good works; the test of good works is whether they issue in liberation.”

Alan Watts 1915 – 1973 CE
from Psychotherapy East and West

“...the only thing that continues is the consequences of our action.”

Huston Smith 1919 – 2016 CE

“When people don't understand that the government doesn't have their interests in mind, they're more susceptible to go to war.”

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

“My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand.”

Thích Nhất Hạnh tʰǐk ɲɜ̌t hɐ̂ʔɲ 1926 CE –

“We can only control the end by making a choice at each step—obscure admixtures, blends with no proper tool by which to untangle the components—… and we cannot do it all at once; it is a sequence, an unfolding process.”

Philip K. Dick 1928 – 1982 CE
Legendary consciousness provocateur
from Man in the High Castle,

“‘common sense’ is nothing more than the voices of thousands and thousands of ghosts from the past.”

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

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Maya Angelou 1928 – 2014 CE

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”

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

“Did slavery in the world end because of people’s sense of injustice or only because it stopped being economically profitable? As technology evolves, unskilled labor becomes both less necessary and less valuable. As physical slavery organically ended in the world, mental slavery, true-believership, and wage slavery are rapidly ending now.”

Shan Dao 山道 1933 CE –

“The greatest danger to our future is apathy.”

Jane Goodall 1934 CE –

“If you live on the railroad tracks the train's going to hit you.”

Jim Harrison 1937 – 2016 CE
"untrammeled renegade genius”

“We can't expect a golden age... if we have a long period of time without a war, everyone will be effected by a depression; if we have a long period of economic high, everyone will just abuse themselves completely.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE
from A Buddhist Approach to Politics

“And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make...”

Paul McCartney 1942 CE – via The End
(Sir James Paul McCartney)
from Abbey Road

“There is nothing more unstable than clinging to stability”

Paulo Lugari 1944 CE – via Alan Weisman

“Probably the most visible example of unintended consequences, is what happens every time humans try to change the natural ecology of a place.”

Meg Wheatley 1944 CE –
Bringing ancient wisdom into the modern world.

“Saving fish from drowning... saving people for their own good... killing them as an unfortunate consequence of saving them... like Vietnam, Bosnia... you can't have intentions without consequences. The question is, who pays the consequences”

Amy Tan 1952 CE –
Rock and roll singer, bartender, and insightfully talented author
from Saving Fish From Drowning

“Humans had made wolves more human, and thus dogs, and in that same time period wolves had made humans more wolfish, by teaching them pack behaviors.”

Kim Stanley Robinson 1952 CE –

“You don't have to be stupid to marry the wrong man... Isn't that what love is—losing your mind? You don't see your beloved's faults... [but] when the anesthesia of love wears off, there is always the pain of consequences.”

Amy Tan 1952 CE –
Rock and roll singer, bartender, and insightfully talented author
from Saving Fish From Drowning

“serial monogamy, de facto polygyny… the sort of country we already live in… is, in an important sense, the worst of all worlds… inequality among males is more socially destructive than inequality among women.”

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

“Everyone returns us to a different sense of ourselves, for we become a little of who they think we are.”

Alain de Botton 1969 CE –
Philosophic link between ancient wisdom and modern challenge
from On Love

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