Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Middle Way

Quotes (76)

“He who neither rejoices, nor hates, nor sorrows, nor desires and who has renounced good and evil is thus fit to become one with Brahman.”

Vyasa व्यास c. 3000 BCE via Bhagavad Gita (tr: Swami Parananda)
Hindu immortals, Vishnu avatar, 5th incarnation of Brahma
from Mahābhārata महाभारतम्

“Nothing in excess.”

Solon 638 – 558 BCE
Founder of Athenian democracy

“An honest mediocrity is the happiest state a man can wish for.”

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

Themes: Middle Way

“Avoiding extremes, the wise gain the experience of the Middle Path which produces insight, calms, and leads to higher knowledge, enlightenment.”

Buddha गौतम बुद्ध 563 – 483 BCE via Shan Dao
(Siddhartha Shakyamuni Gautama)
Awakened Truth
from The Surmon at Benares

“A superior man in dealing with the world is not for anything or against anything.”

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

Themes: Middle Way

73. Heaven’s Net

“Maintain perfect balance in each and every set of circumstances and thus keep to steadfast principle at all times.”

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

“Completion of the self is true goodness…the Way that unites external and internal.”

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

“Not too little, not too much: there safety lies.”

Euripides 480 – 406 BCE
Ancient humanitarian influence continuing today

Themes: Middle Way

24. Unnecessary Baggage
77. Stringing a Bow

“Remember that there is nothing stable in human affairs, therefore avoid undue elation in prosperity or undue depression in adversity.”

Isocrates Ἰσοκράτης 436 – 338 BCE

“We sit around in our shops denouncing the present order but we perceive that even badly constituted democracies are responsible for fewer disasters than oligarchies. But Athens ruined itself by carrying to excess the principles of liberty and equality, by training the citizens in such fashion that they looked upon insolence as democracy, lawlessness as liberty, impudence of speech as equality, and license to do what they pleased as happiness.”

Isocrates Ἰσοκράτης 436 – 338 BCE via H.H. Wells, Shan Dao, et alia
from Areopagiticus

“The wise do not rejoice when they succeed or lament when they fail because they know that conditions aren’t constant”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 369 – 286 BCE via Lin Yutang, Shan Dao

from Zhuangzi

“Birth and death, profit and loss, success and failure, health and sickness – the Master maintains his balance... he lets things go through their changes and stays focused on what is real.”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 369 – 286 BCE via Stephen Mitchell

from Zhuangzi

Themes: Middle Way Health

“The master uses his skill to harmonize with both sides which makes all things equal. This is called 'walking on two paths at once.'”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 369 – 286 BCE via Stephen Mitchell

from Zhuangzi

“Sages do not let their desires disturb harmony… when they are happy, they do not rejoice too much, and when they are sad, they do not grieve too much.”

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

77. Stringing a Bow

“Balance is the beginning of the Way. Emptiness is the heart of the way.”

Liú Ān 劉安 c. 179–122 BCE

2. The Wordless Teachings
4. The Father of All Things

“All forms of one-sidedness are deformities of mind and lead to indulgencies of folly.”

Anonymous -800 to present
Freedom from the narrow boxes defined by personal history

Themes: Middle Way

“Who so cultivates the golden mean avoids the poverty of a hovel and the envy of a palace.”

Horace 65 – 8 BCE
from Odes

Themes: Middle Way

“You will go most safely by the middle way.”

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

from Metamorphoses, 8 CE

Themes: Middle Way

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

Plutarch 46 – 120 CE
(Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus)

53. Shameless Thieves

“Your own purpose should seek harmony with nature itself for this is the true road to freedom... Understand that nature as a whole is ordered according to reason, but that not everything in nature is reasonable.”

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

Themes: Middle Way Reason

“If we hold exclusively to Emptiness, we deny the entire causal world;
All is then attributed to chance, with no ruling principle, inviting evil to prevail.
The same error occurs when one holds exclusively to the manifested, denying the Emptiness;
That would be like throwing oneself into the flames in order to avoid being drowned in the water.”

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

Themes: Middle Way

“When you aren't either attached to or detached from, you enjoy perfect unobstructed freedom, the seat of enlightenment.”

Huangbo Xiyun 黄檗希运 ? - 850 CE
(Huangbo Xiyun, Huángbò Xīyùn, Obaku)

“The sage institutes education as a way to enable people to transform themselves, arrive at the Middle Way, and rest there.”

Zhou Dunyi 周敦頤 1017 – 1073 CE via Shan Dao
(Chou Tun-i)
from Penetrating the Book of Changes

“Yin and yang take turns. The four seasons come and go. The moon waxes and wanes. All things have their time. They don’t have to be summoned to come.”

Wang Anshi 王安石 1021 – 1086 CE

Themes: Middle Way Moon

73. Heaven’s Net

“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

“Everyone knows about daring to act but not about daring not to act. Those who dare to act walk on the edge of a knife Those who dare not to act walk down the middle of a path.”

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

Themes: Middle Way

73. Heaven’s Net

“If you follow regulations, keeping the rules, you tie yourself without rope but if you act any which way without inhibition you're a heretical demon.”

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

Themes: Middle Way

38. Fruit Over Flowers

“That both of these are vices is well seen—
To trust all men or all men disbelieve;
But no vice enters in the golden mean.”

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

Themes: Middle Way

“The wise always hope for the best but always expect the worst.”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE via Joseph Jacobs, chapter #194
from Art of Worldly Wisdom

Themes: Middle Way

“The alternation of contraries beautifies and sustains the world... by joining extremes, the more effective middle way is found.”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE via Joseph Jacobs, chapter #108
from Art of Worldly Wisdom

Themes: Middle Way

“Never go to extremes or drain anything to the dregs. If you push too hard for what’s right, it becomes wrong; if you milk a cow too much, you draw blood instead of milk.”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE via Joseph Jacobs, Shan Dao chapter #82
from Art of Worldly Wisdom

Themes: Middle Way

“Custom is the tyrant from which nothing frees us... But being compelled to live under its foolish laws, the wise man is never the first to follow nor the last to keep”

Blaise Pascal 1623 – 1662 CE
One of the greatest French writers of all time
from Pensées (1669)

“Too much and too little wine. Give him none, he cannot find truth; give him too much, the same.”

Blaise Pascal 1623 – 1662 CE
One of the greatest French writers of all time

Themes: Middle Way

“The means of obtaining as much variety as possible, but with the greatest possible order...is the means of obtaining as much perfection as possible.”

Leibniz 1646 – 1716 CE
(Gottfried Wilhelm (von) Leibniz)

“Alike fantastic, if too new, or old;
Be not the first by whom the new are try'd,
Not yet the last to lay the old aside.”

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

Themes: Middle Way

“the sprouts of living potential grow when the energies of yin and yang commune.”

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: Middle Way

42. Children of the Way

“True yin and true yang naturally form a couple and from striving enter into nonstriving, from effort arrive at spontaneity completely realizing essence and arriving at the true meaning of life.”

Liu Yiming 刘一明 1734 – 1821 CE via Thomas Cleary, Shan Dao, #53 Gradual Progress
(Liu I-ming)
from Taoist I Ching, , Zhouyi chanzhen 周易闡真

“Moderation in temper is always a virtue, but moderation in principle is always a vice.”

Thomas Paine 1737 – 1809 CE
from The Rights of Man, 1792

“Opinion is like a pendulum and obeys the same law. If it goes past the center of gravity on one side, it must go a like distance on the other; and it is only after a certain time that it finds the sure point at which it can remain at rest.”

Arthur Schopenhauer 1788 – 1860 CE via T. Bailey Saunders
from Parerga and Paralipomena, "Appendices" and "Omissions"

Themes: Middle Way

“Life and death are balanced as it were on the edge of a razor.”

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

Themes: Middle Way

“Wisdom requires moderation in knowledge as in other things.”

Friedrich Nietzsche 1844 – 1900 CE
from Twilight of the Idols

“Everything in moderation, including moderation.”

Oscar Wilde 1854 – 1900 CE

“The line between failure and success is so fine. . . that we are often on the line and do not know it.”

Elbert Hubbard 1856 – 1915 CE

2. The Wordless Teachings

“Think like a man of action, act like a man of thought.”

Henri-Louis Bergson 1859 – 1941 CE
from Creative Mind: An Introduction to Metaphysics

Themes: Middle Way

57. Wu Wei

“The center cannot hold, The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

W.B. (William Butler) Yeats 1865 – 1939 CE

Themes: Middle Way

“The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way.”

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

Themes: Middle Way

“Every community is faced with two dangers, anarchy and despotism... This led Locke to the doctrine of division of powers, and of checks and balances.”

Bertrand Russell 1872 – 1970 CE
“20th century Voltaire”
from History of Western Philosophy

Themes: Middle Way

“opposites always balance on the scales – a sign of high culture. One-sidedness, though it lends momentum, is a mark of barbarism.”

Carl Jung 1875 – 1961 CE
Insightful shamanistic scientist
from Secret of the Golden Flower 太乙金華宗旨; Tàiyǐ Jīnhuá Zōngzhǐ

2. The Wordless Teachings

“The daimon of creativity has ruthlessly had its way with me... When the daimon is at work, one is always too close and too far. Only when it is silent can one achieve moderation.”

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

“An optimist is a person who sees a green light everywhere, while a pessimist sees only the red stoplight... the truly wise person is colorblind.”

Albert Schweitzer 1875 – 1965 CE

Themes: Wisdom Middle Way

“Harmony of mind and body—that was the Greeks' supreme ideal. Hypertrophy of one to the detriment of the other they considered barbaric. When Greece began to decline, the athlete's body began at the same to to hypertrophy and to kill his mind.”

Nikos Kazantzakis 1883 – 1957 CE via P. A. Bien
from Report to Greco

Themes: Middle Way

“I am a mariner of Odysseus with heart of fire but with mind ruthless and clear”

Nikos Kazantzakis 1883 – 1957 CE
from Toda Raba

Themes: Middle Way

“all things move within your being in constant half embrace, the desired and the dreaded, the repugnant and the cherished”

Kahlil Gibran 1883 – 1931 CE
from The Prophet

Themes: Middle Way

“Civilization, like life, destroys what it has perfected... alternation between centralized and decentralized power is one of the cyclical rhythms of history”

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

Themes: Middle Way

“Excess in some form or another is probably inseparable from the highest human achievements. But this fact takes away nothing from the value of the Golden Mean... Moderation and common sense are humble, homely virtues; but they are the highest to which most of us can aspire.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE
from Erewhon, Introduction

Themes: Middle Way

“When I look inside and see that I am nothing, that’s wisdom. When I look outside and see that I am everything, that’s love. Between these two my life turns.”

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

Themes: Middle Way

“if time did not intervene, the polar forces facing each other on the same axis would balance each other so completely that all movement, and with it all development or change, would cease.”

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

from Inner Structure of the I Ching

“The conservative who resists change is as valuable as the radical who proposes it.”

Ariel Durant 1898 – 1981 CE
(Chaya Kaufman)

“Our people would be quite shocked by having to declare that one policy was completely right and another completely wrong.”

James Hilton 1900 – 1954 CE
from Lost Horizon

Themes: Middle Way

64. Ordinary Mind

“If I could put it into a very few words, I should say that our prevalent belief is in moderation. We inculcate the virtue of avoiding excesses of all kinds—even including, if you will pardon the paradox, excess of virtue itself.”

James Hilton 1900 – 1954 CE
from Lost Horizon

77. Stringing a Bow

“For all objects and experiences there is a quantity that has an optimum value. Above that quantity, the variable becomes toxic. To fall below that value is to be deprived.”

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

“For all objects and experiences, there is a quantity that has optimum value. Above that quantity, the variable becomes toxic. To fall below that value is to be deprived.”

Gregory Bateson 1904 – 1980 CE

Themes: Middle Way

“Poor Icarus fell into the water—but Daedalus, who flew the middle way, succeeded in getting to the other shore… When you follow the path of your desire and enthusiasm and emotion; keep your mind in control and don’t let it pull you compulsively into disaster”

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

“Man thrives where angels die of ecstasy and pigs die of disgust.”

Kenneth Rexroth 1905 – 1982 CE
"Father of the Beats”

Themes: Middle Way

“Freedom is only part of the story and half the truth.... That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplanted by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.”

Viktor Frankl 1905 – 1997 CE
Brave and insightful concentration camp survivor

Themes: Middle Way

“no matter how highly developed modern civilized life is, it can never compare with the perfection of a life in harmony with nature.”

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

Themes: Middle Way

“Blessed are the hearts that can bend; they shall never be broken.”

Albert Camus 1913 – 1960 CE

Themes: Middle Way Love

“Wisdom lies neither in fixity nor in change, but in the dialectic between the two.”

Octavio Paz 1914 – 1998 CE
Persuasive poet and convincing social commentator

“He who is aware of the Male but keeps to the Female... has the Eternal power which never fails.”

Jack Kerouac 1922 – 1969 CE
from Some of the Dharma

“I’d always rather err on the side of openness. But there’s a difference between optimum and maximum openness, and fixing that boundary is a judgment call.”

Warren Bennis 1925 – 2014 CE
Authentic Leadership pioneering thought leader

“The Buddha advocated a 'middle way' yet this was only after a preliminary course of extremes... As to the way of escaping delusion, there is no division of opinion: Go to extremes. That is the first necessity.”

Colin Wilson 1931 – 2013 CE
from Outsider

“We deserve our birthright, which is the middle way, an open state of mind that can relax with paradox and ambiguity.”

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

40. Returning

“In this world there is no absolute good, no absolute evil. Good and evil are not fixed, stable entities but are continually trading places. A good may be transformed into an evil in the next second. And vice versa… The most important thing is to maintain the balance between the constantly moving good and evil… Indeed, balance itself is the good.”

Haruki Murakami 1949 CE – via Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel
from 1Q84

Themes: Evil Middle Way

49. No Set Mind

“The most interesting aspect to me is the other Shangri-La alluded to in Lost Horizon, a state of mind, one of moderation and acceptance.”

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

“The most attractive are not those who allow us to kiss them at once [we soon feel ungrateful] or those who never allow us to kiss them [we soon forget them], but those who coyly lead us between the two extremes.”

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

Themes: Forget Middle Way

“Keats is not content to give either of these competing drives a simple victory. He does not say that beauty is defeated by the inevitability of death, or that death is an illusion that beauty’s radiance can dispel. Instead, the poems are a series of sustained balances... To be defeated by sorrow, in this poem, is to triumph over it. The poet’s reward is no longer to collect a trophy from posterity but to become a trophy himself—as though his suffering and his pleasure were an offering to the gods.”

Adam Kirsch 1976 CE –
from The New Yorker

Themes: Middle Way


Doctrine of the Mean, Maintaining Perfect Balance, Zhongyong 中庸

by Zisi

Confucius' grandson and early influence on Neo-Confucianism

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