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Thoughts on simplicity.

Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated. Confucius

Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials. Lin Yutang

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. Leonardo DaVinci

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. Albert Einstein

Simplicity is indeed often the sign of truth and a criterion of beauty. Mahlon Hoagland (Toward the Habit of Truth)

Purity and simplicity are the two wings with which man soars above the earth and all temporary nature. Thomas a Kempis

Simplicity is the nature of great souls. Papa Ramadas

Never again will I make the simple into the complex. Something of true value does not become more valuable because it becomes complicated. Experience and conditions come and go; complications arise and fall away, but the simple action of God is eternal in the universe. Donald Curtis, 7/97 Science of Mind Magazine, p. 53

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius-- and a lot of courage-- to move in the opposite direction. E. F. Schumacker

Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that's creativity. Charles Mingus

The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak. Hans Hofmann, (Introduction to the Bootstrap, 1993)

The sculptor produces the beautiful statue by chipping away such parts of the marble block as are not needed - it is a process of elimination. Elbert Hubbard


I sometimes get people responding to these pages, deriding them as being too simple, or only for beginners. They are quite mistaken, as the quotes above suggest. The concepts are described simply, but to be able to express complex esoteric ideas in simple, ordinary language takes a touch of genius. The work of integrating the insights into your personal reality and attaining the goal of enlightenment, self-realization is perhaps the hardest thing you will ever do. Simple, does not necessarily mean easy.

Yet, when you do attain, you will laugh at yourself for not seeing the Truth of it, sooner. The elegant, obvious simplicity.

I look for elegant simplicity as a mark of truth. Generally speaking, people like to make simple things complicated, to get a sense of accomplishment and feed the ego. I refer to this tendency as "macrame projects": taking something simple and tying it into elaborate knots, and giving the knots fancy names and showing it off, patting themselves on the back saying "look at me! I am so clever!" because they have made some kind of ugly macarame owl to hang on the wall.

Of course, the ego who takes pride in its mastery of macrame will not understand the elegance and superiority of simplicity. Nor will it understand that all the pride in complexity it has attained must eventually be surrendered, to attain the elegant simplicity of self-realization. The more the ego is fed with un-neccesarily complicated esoteric knowledge, the longer the road to realization becomes.

One of my students had a remarkable experience, following her tummo initiation, and it was so startling, she wrote to me asking for feedback:

About a week or so after we did the Tummo initiation my husband and I got into a huge fight. Some place in the middle of that fight all of a sudden I -knew- that everything was a lie or not true. Everything. Everything I had ever seen, learned heard or encountered was not true. All of my beliefs were baloney. It really blew my mind. Threw me off balance. For a few weeks after I would see or hear or think of something and I would think and know -that's not true. I felt very unbalanced. What do I believe now? How do I live? Where do I go with this? If everything I have believed in isn't true what now?

What she discovered, is the most profound and basic truth... and the answer to her question, is to just BE. It is ego, that manufactures all these ideas of purpose, belief, destiny and it is ego that has the questions. The Self, simply KNOWS, without needing to think.. and it knows that intellectual knowing is of no importance.

A Zen Master has a silent mind, and acts in perfection, without thought. "Know nothing, be everything. Be nothing, know everything." Within that contradiction, is the experience of self realization. To attain it, all illusions of knowing must fall away.

Zen koans seek to deliberately cause confusion, because only when there is confusion of old ideas, is there room for new information. When people think they know something, they stop thinking, stop listening. They say, "Don't tell me, I already know all about that." I have encountered people who assumed themselves enlightened because they had read all the ancient manuscripts and could quote the sutras and name the masters... but there was no light shining behind their eyes, no experience of the knowing that is beyond words and scriptures.

The Japanese master Nan-in gave audience to a professor of philosophy. Serving tea, Nan-in filled his visitor's cup, and kept pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he could restrain himself no longer: "Stop! The cup is over full, no more will go in." Nan-in said: "Like this cup, you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup." ~ Osho

Take a Zen koan, like the classic riddle "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" It is not logical, it makes no sense. There is no answer, and there are infinite answers. I could tell you the answer is "there is only one hand", or "Om" but it would not make sense to you unless you have experienced the "answer" for yourself, through your own practice... and if you have, then there is no need to discuss what is the answer. "The Tao that can be defined, is not the Tao." It is beyond all logical, intellectual knowing. The intellect must be confused into silence, for the emptiness to be heard.

Some of my past students have gone on to become teachers, and I am glad of their success, but also surprised because some of them have taken the elegant simplicity of my teachings and turned them into elaborate macrame projects, often adding things that are not true as well as making too much complexity of what is true. Sometimes, for the sake of the marketplace... an image of being the keeper of grand, complex and mysterious secrets sells better.

It is OK if they want to do that. I am pretty prolific myself, and in some ways consider all of my web sites to be kind of macrame projects. People want explanations and guidance, and I like to be creative and write things, but I do not lose sight of this basic truth: Nobody needs me to do this. Thou art God, on a soul level you already know everything there is to be known, and need nothing.

The most powerful Magician in China Mastered his Art, and made it to the top of the ranks thru years of hard work and study. When he was at the peak of his power, he sent his acolyte with a challenge to the Monk who was famous as the most Enlightened Master in all of China.

The messenger came with a flourish of trumpets, and gave his rehearsed speech extolling the power and might of his Master, the Magician, telling of how he could make lightening and control the winds, all of his Master's most amazing exploits. At the end of it the messenger drew himself up and said "My Master issues this challenge: What can you do?"

The most Enlightened Master in all of China looked at him for a long moment, then responded slowly: "Tell your Master: I eat when I'm hungry, I sleep when I'm tired, and I shit when I need to".

There are a lot of mystery schools that are all macrame projects... partly, because people expect the mysteries to be complicated. Because people like the ego boost of saying they are a master of this and that, that they were the keeper of the temple in Atlantis (translation: janitor) and know all the names of all the devas, ascended Masters and all the hierarchies of the angels. I am OK with it, everybody needs a hobby... but if self-realization is the goal, then they are embarking on a long detour.

Truth is simple, straight forward, lovely and elegant.


More quotes on simplicity.

Simplicity, clarity, singleness: these are the attributes that give our lives power and vividness and joy. Richard Halloway

As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness. Henry David Thoreau

The ordinary arts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest. Thomas More

The aspects of things that are most important to us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity. Prof. Ludwig Wittgenstein

I believe that a simple and unassuming manner of life is best for everyone, best both for the body and the mind. Albert Einstein

A little simplification would be the first step toward rational living, I think. Eleanor Roosevelt (My Days)

Simplicity of character is no hindrance to the subtlety of intellect. John Morley, 19th-century British statesman

The happiest heart that ever beat Was in some quiet breast That found the common daylight sweet, And left to Heaven the rest. John V. Cheney

Reduce the complexity of life by eliminating the needless wants of life, and the labors of life reduce themselves. Edwin Way Teale ("February 4" Circle of the Seasons)

The best things in life are nearest: Breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of right just before you. Then do not grasp at the stars, but do life's plain, common work as it comes, certain that daily duties and daily bread are the sweetest things in life. Robert Louis Stevenson

A man must be able to cut a knot, for everything cannot be untied; he must know how to disengage what is essential from the detail in which it is enwrapped, for everything cannot be equally considered; in a word, he must be able to simplify his duties, his business and his life. Henri Frederic Amiel

To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter ... to be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird's nest or a wildflower in spring—these are some of the rewards of the simple life. John Burroughs

Our life is frittered away by detail... Simplify, simplify, simplify! ... Simplicity of life and elevation of purpose. Henry David Thoreau ("Where I Lived and What I Lived For")

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This document was last modified: 25th January, 2008 , 06:18

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