Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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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 challenge, there isn't an impetus for change. 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, running from difficulties, and feeling a victim of problems. 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.

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Quotes (75)

“Badness can be got easily and in shoals; the road to her is smooth, and she lives very near us. But between us and Goodness the gods have placed the sweat of our brows”

Hesiod 846 – 777 BCE
“History’s first economist”
from Works and Days

“It is impossible to withdraw from the world and associate with birds and beasts that have no affinity with us. The disorder that prevails is what requires my efforts. If right principles ruled through the kingdom, there would be no necessity for me to change its state.”

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

“Opposites cooperate. The most beautiful harmonies come from opposition.”

Heraclitus Ἡράκλειτος 535 – 475 BCE
(of Ephesus, the "Weeping Philosopher")
A Greek Buddha

“To face calamity with an unclouded mind and quickly respond—in both a government and an individual—represents real strength.”

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

“No society can prosper if it aims at making things easier. Instead, it should aim at making people stronger.”

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

“The difficulty in speaking to a person is not that of knowing what to say but in knowing the mind of the person spoken to and fitting the best approach to it.”

Hán Fēi 韓非 280 – 233 BCE via Lin Yutang, Shan Dao
from Hanfeitse

“The spirits increase, vigor grows through a wound.”

Anonymous 1 via Friedrich Nietzsche
Freedom from the narrow boxes defined by personal history

Themes: Obstacles

“Often the prickly thorn produces tender roses.”

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

“Failure changes for the better, success for the worse.”

Seneca ˈsɛnɪkə 4 BCE – 65 CE
(Lucius Annaeus)

“A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials.”

Seneca ˈsɛnɪkə 4 BCE – 65 CE
(Lucius Annaeus)

“With man, most of his misfortunes are occasioned by man.”

Pliny 23 – 79 CE
(Pliny Gaius Plinius Secundus, Pliny the Elder)
Founding father of the encyclopedia

from Natural History

Themes: Obstacles

“If you can solve your problem, then what is the need of worrying? If you cannot solve it, then what is the use of worrying?”

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

16. Returning to the Root, Meditation

“Moral concepts practiced without understanding can be the greatest obstacles to […] uncompromising compassion.”

Ghaṇṭāpa གྷ་ཎྚཱ་པ། 1
(“The Celibate Bell-Ringer”)
Mahasiddha #52

“If you do not take the path of a miserable mind, how can you encounter the wealth of mental joy?
If you cross over the treacherous crag, you'll arrive at the flat plain.”

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

Themes: Obstacles

“We are creatures that love to blame the external, not realizing that the problem is usually internal.”

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

Themes: Obstacles

“When the bottom is filled with rubbish, just walk through the sludge.”

Hóngzhì Zhēngjué 宏智正覺 1091 – 1157 CE via Dan Leighton
from Cultivating the Emplty Field

“The path to paradise begins in hell.”

Dante 1265 – 1321 CE
(Durante degli Alighieri)
from Divine Comedy

“Read, persevere, sit up nights, inquire, exert the utmost power of your mind. If one way does not lead to understanding, take another; if obstacles arise, then still another; persist until you find clarity in what at first looked dark.”

Giovanni Boccaccio dʒoˈvanni bokˈkattʃo 1313 – 1375 CE

“Give up whatever you're attached to.”

Wangchuk Dorje 1556 – 1603 CE via Callahan​
(9th Gyalwa Karmapa)
from Mahamudra: The Ocean of Definitive Meaning

Themes: Obstacles

“Adversity best brings about virtue.”

Francis Bacon 1561 – 1626 CE via James Spedding, Shan Dao
from Essays, Civil and Moral 1625

“some make much of what matters little and little of much… Many never lose their common sense, because they have none to lose… The wise person thinks over everything, but with a difference, most profoundly where there is some profound difficulty.”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE via Joseph Jacobs, chapter #35

21. Following Empty Heart

“All Discord, Harmony, not understood;
All partial Evil, universal Good:
And, spite of Pride, in erring Reason’s spite,
One truth is clear, 'Whatever IS, is RIGHT.'”

Alexander Pope 1688 – 1744 CE
Second most quoted English writer
from An Essay on Man

Themes: Reality Obstacles

“A few years' experience will convince us that those things which at the time they happened we regarded as our greatest misfortunes have proved our greatest blessings.”

George Mason 1725 – 1792 CE
First American abolitionist, founding father, and Constitutional savior

“To a new truth, there is nothing more hurtful than an old error.”

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 1749 – 1832 CE

Themes: Obstacles

“Misfortune is a stepping stone for genius, the baptismal font of Christians, treasure for the skillful man, an abyss for the feeble.”

Balzac 1799 – 1850 CE
(Honoré de Balzac)

“Blessed be nothing. The worse things are, the better they are.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803 – 1882 CE
Champion of individualism

“Men outlive their love, but they don't outlive the consequences of their recklessness.”

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

from Middlemarch

Themes: Obstacles

“Time is a Test of Trouble
But not a Remedy
If such it prove, it prove too
There was no Malady.”

Emily Dickinson 1830 – 1886 CE

Themes: Time Obstacles

“Do not be afraid of your difficulties. Do not wish you could be in other circumstances than you are. For when you have made the best of an adversity, it becomes the stepping stone to a splendid opportunity”

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

“Out of life's school of war: What does not destroy me, makes me stronger.”

Friedrich Nietzsche 1844 – 1900 CE
from Twilight of the Idols

18. The Sick Society

“We only think when we are confronted with problems.”

John Dewey 1859 – 1952 CE
The "Second Confucius"

Themes: Obstacles

“In a day when you don't come across any problems - you can be sure that you are traveling in a wrong path”

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

“I would rather have this life of combat than moral calm and mournful stupor. God give me struggle, enemies, howling crowds, all the combat of which I am capable.”

Romain Rolland 1866 – 1944 CE
“The moral consciousness of Europe”
from Reflections, 1915-1940

“The fullness of life is in the hazards of life.”

Edith Hamilton 1867 – 1963 CE

“Peace and comfort and happiness are terribly expensive, Horace—and prices have been going up fast!”

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

from Great Possessions

Themes: Obstacles

“Happiness is beneficial for the body, but it is grief that develops the powers of the mind.”

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

18. The Sick Society

“Dogmatism is the greatest of mental obstacles to human happiness.”

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

“Dogmatism is an enemy to peace and an insuperable barrier to democracy... the greatest of the mental obstacles to human happiness.”

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

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

Winston Churchill 1874 – 1965 CE

23. Nothing and Not

“The greater the tension, the greater is the potential. Great energy springs from a correspondingly great tension of opposites.”

Carl Jung 1875 – 1961 CE
Insightful shamanistic scientist
from Paracelsus as a Spiritual Phenomenon, 1942

Themes: Obstacles

“The greatest and most important problems of life are all fundamentally insoluble… They can never be solved, but only outgrown.”

Carl Jung 1875 – 1961 CE
Insightful shamanistic scientist

Themes: Obstacles

73. Heaven’s Net

“The young intellectuals are all chanting, 'Revolution, Revolution', but I say the revolution will have to start in our homes, by achieving equal rights for women.”

Qiu Jin 秋瑾 1
"China’s Joan of Arc"

“Every means is an obstacle. Only where all means have disintegrated encounters occur.”

Martin Buber מרטין בובר‎‎ 1878 – 1965 CE
from Ich und Du, I and Thou

Themes: Obstacles

81. Journey Without Goal

“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s that I stay with problems longer.”

Albert Einstein 1879 – 1955 CE

43. No Effort, No Trace

“The greatest obstacle to enlightenment is getting past your delusion that you are not already enlightened.”

Ramana Maharshi 1879 – 1950 CE

“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”

Albert Einstein 1879 – 1955 CE

59. The Gardening of Spirit

“For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong.”

Henry Louis Mencken 1880 – 1956 CE
alt.right founding father

“To overcome every obstacle to unite our beings without loss of individual personality, there is a single force which nothing can replace and nothing destroy, a force which urges us forward and draws us upwards…”

Teilhard de Chardin 1881 – 1955 CE via Bernard Wall
from Phenomenon of Man

Themes: Obstacles

34. An Unmoored Boat

“There can be no rebirth without a dark night of the soul, a total annihilation of all that you believed in and thought that you were.”

Inayat Khan 1882 – 1927 CE

38. Fruit Over Flowers

“Trouble? Life is trouble. Only death is not. To be alive is to undo your belt and look for trouble.”

Nikos Kazantzakis 1883 – 1957 CE
from Zorba the Greek

Themes: Obstacles

“Man achieves civilization, not as a result of superior biological endowment or geographical environment, but as a response to a challenge in a situation of special difficulty which rouses him to make a hitherto unprecedented effort.”

Arnold Toynbee 1889 – 1975 CE
from A Study of History

Themes: Obstacles

“Every day we slaughter our finest impulses… the tender shoots we stifle because we lack the faith to believe in our own powers, our own criterion of truth and beauty... That is why we get a heartache.”

Henry Miller 1891 – 1980 CE

“In order to change an existing paradigm you do not struggle to try and change the problematic model. You create a new model and make the old one obsolete.”

Buckminster Fuller 1895 – 1983 CE

29. Not Doing

“religious, political, personal… symbols, ideas, beliefs… are the causes of our problems for they divide man from man in every relationship.”

Krishnamurti 1895 – 1986 CE
(Jiddu Krishnamurti)
from Core of the Teaching

67. Three Treasures

“the crucial difficulty with which we are confronted lies in the fact that the development of man’s intellectual capacities has far outstripped the development of his emotions. Man’s brain lives in the 20th century; the heart of most men lives still in the Stone Age.”

Eric Fromm 1900 – 1980 CE

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“A relationship with no combat in it is dull, and a relationship with too much combat in it is toxic. What is desirable is a relationship with a certain optimum of conflict.”

Gregory Bateson 1904 – 1980 CE
from Mind and nature: a necessary unity (1988)​

“The demon that you swallow gives you its power. The greater life’s pain, the greater life’s reply… the more challenging or threatening the situation, the greater the stature of the person who can achieve it.”

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

“Tao is not pursuing any purpose, and therefore is not meeting any difficulty.”

Alan Watts 1915 – 1973 CE
from Psychotherapy East and West

“The point is not that the problem has no solution, but that it is so meaningless that it need not be felt as a problem.”

Alan Watts 1915 – 1973 CE
from Psychotherapy East and West

“ego is the role, the 'act' [and when] it is understood that the ego is a social fiction, life ceases to be problematic”

Alan Watts 1915 – 1973 CE
from Psychotherapy East and West

“Everything's a rabbit hole.”

J. D. Salinger 1919 – 2010 CE

“When you do things, then obstacles will come and you can go through them. Obstacles are a sign of success.”

Karmapa XVI ཀརྨ་བཀའ་བརྒྱུད། 1924 – 1981 CE
(Rangjung Rigpe Dorje)
from Rangjung Rigpe Dorje

Themes: Obstacles Success

13. Honor and Disgrace

“It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed.”

Wendell Berry 1934 CE –

Themes: Obstacles

25. The Mother of All Things

“When the focus of your practice becomes like the light of the sun penetrating a magnifying glass so sharply that it makes a fire, it dissolves greed, anger, and ignorance, the three great obstacles to our original heart/mind.”

Jakusho Kwong 1935 CE –
from No Beginning, No End: The Intimate Heart of Zen

68. Joining Heaven & Earth

“No problems, no path.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE via Shanyen

“Again and again it happens… the methods become obstacles… The problem seems to be the attitude that the pain should go and then we will be happy. This is our mistaken belief. The pain never goes, and we will never be happy.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE
from Illusion's Game

19. All Methods Become Obstacles

“That big-deal quality of our perception is known as a veil that prevents us from relating with reality properly… it makes us more numb.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE via Judith Lief, editor
from The Collected Works of Chogyam Trungpa

Themes: Obstacles

63. Easy as Hard

“As soon as your born they make you feel small, by giving you no time instead of it all… A working class hero is something to be.”

John Lennon 1940 – 1980 CE

Themes: Obstacles

72. Helpful Fear

“Take these broken wings and learn to fly.”

Paul McCartney 1942 CE – via Blackbird
(Sir James Paul McCartney)

“Every obstacle is really an opportunity in disguise.”

Paulo Lugari 1944 CE – via Alan Weisman

Themes: Obstacles

59. The Gardening of Spirit

“everybody is living a totally wasted life… a sham, living in a dream … we are asleep never really using our senses”

Peter Kingsley 1953 CE –
from A Story Waiting to Pierce You

Themes: Obstacles Dream

“Disaster is the mother of opportunity.”

David Mitchell 1969 CE –
from Utopia Avenue

Themes: Obstacles

“Only when plunged into grief do we have the Proustian incentive to confront difficult truths, as we wail under the bedclothes, like branches in the autumn wind.”

Alain de Botton 1969 CE –
Philosophic link between ancient wisdom and modern challenge
from How Proust Can Change Your Life

Themes: Obstacles

“How do we hold such obvious misperceptions in place? There is only one obstacle to knowing my own essential emptiness—the mind cloud that got stuck in the fixity of embarrassment, or in attachment to roles, and the inability or unwillingness to let these clouds pass.”

Mingyur Rinpoche 1975 CE –
Modern-day Mahasiddha

from In Love With the World

Themes: Obstacles

“When Kansas and Colorado fall out over the waters in the Arkansas River, they don't go to war over it; they go to the Supreme Court of the United States, and the matter is settled in a just and honorable way. There is not a difficulty in the whole world that cannot be settled in exactly the same way in a world court.”

Harry S. Truman 1884 – 1972 CE

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