Favorite Quotes

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On Art

“[A]rt is a generosity; i.e., you tell somebody something not to show off but because you want to share it with them.”—Brenda Ueland, from If You Want to Write

“As the poets and painters of centuries have tried to tell us, art is not about the expression of talent or the making of pretty things. It is the preservation and containment of soul.”—Thomas Moore

“The quest for transcendence, it’s something we all live for. When the artist achieves a great creation, all of this is part of the same drive of life to see itself renewed. It is the height of individual existence, of uniqueness.”—Yehudi Menuhin, from Conversations with Menuhin

“I feel that beauty and femininity are ageless and can’t be contrived, and glamor—although the manufacturers won’t like this—cannot be manufactured. Not real glamor, it’s based on femininity. I think that sexuality is only attractive when it’s natural and spontaneous…. We are all born sexual creatures, thank God, but it’s a pity so many people despise and crush this natural gift. Art, real art, comes from it—everything.”—Marilyn Monroe

“Curving back within myself, I create again and again.”—Krishna, from the Bhagavad-Gita

On Writing
“Writing practice is kicking ass.”—Natalie Goldberg, from “Wild Mind: An Interview with Natalie Goldberg”

“I’m not as talented as many writers, but I worked harder than most. I hate to sound like a Republican, because I’m not, but there’s no substitute for hard work. There’s nobody lazier than writers. A lot of writers spend a lot of time talking about writing.”—Sherman Alexie, from “Not Just Blowing Smoke”

“If one looks at the first drafts of even the greatest writers, like Tolstoi and Dostoevski, one sees that literary art does not come flying like Athena, fully formed, from Zeus’ head. Indeed, the first-draft stupidity of great writers is a shocking and comforting thing to see.”—John Gardner, from “What Writers Do”

“I don’t believe the writer should know too much where he’s going. If he does, he runs into old man blueprint—old man propaganda.”—James Thurber

“When I’m really working, really writing, I have the feeling it’s coming from outside of me, through me. An absolute submission, absolute surrender.”—William Goyen

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“(The novelist) must learn to step outside of himself, see and feel things from every human—and inhuman—point of view. He must be able to report, with convincing precision, how the world looks to a child, a young woman, an elderly murderer, or the governor of Utah. He must learn, by staring intently into the dream he dreams over the typewriter, to distinguish the subtlest difference between the speech and feeling of his various characters, himself as impartial and detached as God, giving all human beings their due and acknowledging their frailties. Insofar as he pretends not to private vision but to omniscience, he cannot, as a rule, love some of his characters and despise others.”—John Gardner, from On Becoming a Novelist

“Finally, the true novelist is the one who doesn’t quit. Novel-writing is not so much a profession as a yoga, or ‘way,’ an alternative to ordinary life-in-the-world. Its benefits are quasi-religious—a changed quality of mind and heart, satisfactions no non-novelist can understand—and its rigors generally bring no profit except to the spirit. For those who are authentically called to the profession, spiritual profits are enough.”—John Gardner, from On Becoming a Novelist

“There is no mystery in the art of writing, but the miracle by which a living emotion is captured without dying in the process is a mystery unless one accepts that to translate a living emotion into words, the emotion must be strong enough to survive the transplantation, and this means strong roots in the base of our emotional nature. Only then is writing effective and contagious.”—Anaïs Nin, from The Novel of the Future

“Every day we slaughter our finest impulses. That is why we get a heartache when we read those lines written by the hand of a master and recognize them as our own, as the tender shoots which we stifled because we lacked the faith to believe in our own powers, our own criterion of truth and beauty. Every man, when he gets quiet, when he becomes desperately honest with himself, is capable of uttering profound truths. We all derive from the same source. There is no mystery about the origin of things. We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open up, only to discover what is already there.”—Henry Miller

“Ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple ‘I must,’ then build your life in accordance with this necessity.”—Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, trans. Stephen Mitchell

“Many poets are not poets for the same reason that many religious men are not saints: they never succeed in being themselves. They never get around to being the particular poet or the particular monk they are intended to be by God. They never become the man or the artist who is called for by all the circumstances of their individual lives.”—Thomas Merton, from New Seeds of Contemplation

“I never thought of myself as talented—no one ever told me I had any talent, and any time I went to a palm reader I was told I should be an accountant. It was my own effort, really, that made new lines in my palm.”—Natalie Goldberg, from “Interview: Writing as Spiritual Practice”

“The real writer is one
who really writes. Talent
is an invention like phlogiston
after the fact of fire.
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.”
—Marge Piercy, from “For the young who want to” in The Moon Is Always Female

On Love
“Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”—Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, trans. Stephen Mitchell

“Love—whether between life-mates, parents and children, or friends—affirms the loved one for who he or she is. Our love relationships are not about changing another person to fit the ideal of ‘love’ our ego constructs, nor are they about rejecting other persons because, over time, they change, like everything else in life. Love is being truly present with the loyalty, caring, and commitment that confirm the interconnectedness of all beings.”—Jean Smith, from Now!

“The near-enemy of love is attachment. Attachment masquerades as love. It says, ‘I will love you if you will love me back.’ It is a kind of ‘businessman’s’ love. So we think, ‘I will love this person as long as he doesn’t change. I will love that thing if it will be the way I want it.’ But this isn’t love at all—it is attachment. There is a big difference between love, which allows and honors and appreciates, and attachment, which grasps and demands and aims to possess. When attachment becomes confused with love, it actually separates us from another person. We feel we need this other person in order to be happy. This quality of attachment also leads us to offer love only toward certain people, excluding others.”—Joseph Goldstein, from Seeking the Heart of Wisdom

On War—& Peace
“You have to want to lose your appetite for violence or aggression. And to do that, you have to lose your self-righteousness.”—Pema Chödrön

“We can never obtain peace in the world if we neglect the inner world and don’t make peace with ourselves. World peace must develop out of inner peace. Without inner peace it is impossible to achieve world peace, external peace. Weapons themselves do not act. They have not come out of the blue. Man has made them. But even given those weapons, those terrible weapons, they cannot act by themselves. As long as they are left alone in storage they cannot do any harm. A human being must use them. Someone must push the button. Satan, the evil powers, cannot push that button. Human beings must do it.”—Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, from The Dalai Lama: A Policy of Kindness

“I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.”—John Adams

“What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?”—Mahatma Gandhi, from “Non-Violence in Peace and War”

“All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.”
—W.H. Auden, from “September 1, 1939”

On Ego
“Anyone who can feel sorry for himself in a world where there’s so much injustice is either an egotist or a fool.”—Lorin Maazel

“Sitting astride the senses is a shadowy, phantomlike figure with insatiable desires and a lust for dominance. His name? Ego, Ego the Magician, and the deadly tricks he carries up his sleeve are delusive thinking, greed, and anger. Where he came from no one knows, but he has surely been around as long as the human mind. This wily and slippery conjurer deludes us into believing that we can only enjoy the delights of the senses without pain by delivering ourselves into his hands. Of the many devices employed by Ego to keep us in his power, none is more effective than language. The English language is so structured that it demands the repeated use of the personal pronoun ‘I’ for grammatical nicety and presumed clarity…. All this plays into the hands of Ego, strengthening our servitude and enlarging our sufferings, for the more we postulate this I the more we are exposed to Ego’s never-ending demands.”—Philip Kapleau, from Thich Nhat Hanh’s Zen Keys

“You might think that if you let go of your ego world, you become passive and defenseless like some kind of crash dummy and people will take advantage of you. Or that you might wander around aimlessly in the street without an agenda. If this were the case, as one contemporary Buddhist master pointed out, it would be necessary to have enlightenment wards in hospitals to take care of bruised or socially inoperative buddhas. But this is not the case. Rather than being inmate types, people who have become enlightened to any degree are builders of hospitals for other people. Their intelligence and compassion are relatively unobstructed, and they tend to become quite active and effective citizens.”—Samuel Bercholz, from Entering the Stream

“In Buddhist systems, more especially those of Tibet, the meditation Buddhas appear in two aspects, one peaceful and the other wrathful. If you are clinging fiercely to your ego and its little temporal world of sorrows and joys, hanging on for dear life, it will be the wrathful aspect of the deity that appears. It will seem terrifying. But the moment your ego yields and gives up, that same meditation Buddha is experienced as a bestower of bliss.”—Joseph Campbell

“I once heard a story about a visit to heaven and hell. In both places the visitor saw many people seated at a table on which many delicious foods were laid out. In both places chopsticks over a meter long were tied to their right hands, while their left hands were tied to their chairs.
“In hell, however much they stretched out their arms, the chopsticks were too long for them to get food into their mouths. They grew impatient and got their hands and chopsticks tangled with one another’s. The delicacies were scattered here and there.
“In heaven, on the other hand, people happily used the long chopsticks to pick out someone else’s favorite food and feed it to him, and in turn they were being fed by others. They all enjoyed their meal in harmony.”
—Shundo Aoyama, from Zen Seeds

On Science
“All progress is heresy. My early work in chemistry was just as unconventional as my recent work in molecular medicine. Always, I have tried to stick close to nature, stick close to the facts, but not be constrained by conventional ideas.”—Linus Pauling, quoted in Science Digest

“As I saw it, a scientific truth was a hypothesis which might be adequate for the moment but was not to be preserved as an article of faith for all time.”—Carl Jung, from Memories, Dreams, Reflections

“If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change. In my view, science and Buddhism share a search for the truth and for understanding reality. By learning from science about aspects of reality where its understanding may be more advanced, I believe that Buddhism enriches its own worldview.”—Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, from “Our Faith in Science”

On Life
“What is the meaning of human life, or of organic life altogether? To answer this question at all implies a religion. Is there any sense then, you ask, in putting it? I answer, the man who regards his own life and that of his fellow-creatures as meaningless is not merely unfortunate but almost disqualified for life.”—Albert Einstein, from The World As I See It

“Who knows for certain? Who shall here declare it?
Whence was it born, whence came creation?
The gods are later than this world’s formation;
Who then can know the origins of the world?
None knows whence creation arose;
And whether he has or has not made it;
He who surveys it from the lofty skies,
Only he knows—or perhaps he knows not.”
Rig Veda

“He who thinks he knows, doesn’t know. He who knows that he doesn’t know, knows.”—Joseph Campbell, from The Power of Myth

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day.—‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’—Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson, from “Self-Reliance”

“Do I contradict myself?
Very well then, I contradict myself;
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)”
—Walt Whitman, from “Song of Myself”

“If you’re bored, then it is you who are boring because you’ve set yourself a certain narrow frame and you wallow in it.”—Yo Yo Ma

“Self-confidence is not to be confused with pride. Pride is thinking highly of oneself without good reason. Self-confidence is knowing that one has the ability to do something properly and being determined not to give up.”—Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, from A Flash of Lightning in the Dark of Night

“Stubbornness is just another word for confidence in your ability to get results.”—Japanese baseball legend Sadaharu Oh

“Friend, hope for the truth while
you are alive. Jump into experience while
you are alive! What you call ‘salvation’
belongs to the time before death. If you
don’t break your ropes while you are alive,
do you think ghosts will do it after?”
—Kabir

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