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.
When there are too many policemen, there can be no liberty. When there are too many soldiers, there can be no peace. When there are too many lawyers, there can be no justice.
If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live.
I like to think of criticism as the highest intellectual effort that mankind is capable of, and above all, I like to think of self-criticism as the most difficult attainment of an educated man.
"The Function of Criticism at the Present Time", in The China Critic, Vol. III, no. 4 (23 January 1930), p. 81
I am here to speak on freedom of speech. It is a great topic, and I am going to make my speech as free as possible. But you know that this cannot be done, for when anyone announces that he is going to speak his mind freely, everyone is frightened. This shows that there is no such thing as true freedom of speech. No one can afford to let his neighbors know what he is thinking about them. Society can exist only on the basis that there is some amount of polished lying and that no one says exactly what he thinks.
All women's dresses, in every age and country, are merely variations on the eternal struggle between the admitted desire to dress and the unadmitted desire to undress.
In Vogue, as quoted by The Reader's Digest, Vols. 30–31 (1937), p. 69
Human history is not the product of the wise direction of human reason, but is shaped by the forces of emotion—our dreams, our pride, our greed, our fears, and our desire for revenge.
Confucius Saw Nancy and Essays about Nothing (1936), p. 95
No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.
"A Trip to Anhwei", in With Love And Irony (1940), p. 145
The Chinese believe that when there are too many policemen, there can be no individual liberty, when there are too many lawyers, there can be no justice, and when there are too many soldiers, there can be no peace.
Between Tears And Laughter (1943), p. 71. Variant: "When there are too many policemen, there can be no liberty. When there are too many soldiers, there can be no peace. When there are too many lawyers, there can be no justice.", as quoted in The World's Funniest Laws (2005) by James Alexander, ISBN 1905102100, p. 6.
If compelled to indicate my religion on an immigration blank, I might be tempted to put down the word "Taoist," to the amazement of the customs officer who probably never heard of it.
Our task is not so much discovery as re-discovery. What one needs is not so much thinking as remembering. Sometimes it suffices to sit quietly and listen well, when venerable men have thought before us. Constant forgettings of truths once perceived are the very charm of the human mind; the history of human thought is nothing more than the story of these forgettings and rememberings and forgettings again.
On the Wisdom of America (1950), p. xiv
If life is all subjective, why not be subjectively happy rather than subjectively sad?
On the Wisdom of America (1950), p. 155
There are two kinds of animals on earth. One kind minds his own business, the other minds other people's business. The former are vegetarians, like cows, sheep and thinking men. The latter are carnivorous, like hawks, tigers and men of action.
As quoted by Tai-yi Lin (Lin Yutang's daughter) in her Foreword (26 March 1950) to The Importance of Living, p. x
As quoted in Remarks of Famous People (1965) by Jacob Morton Braude, p. 23
These influences of my young childhood were greatest: 1, the mountain landscape, 2, my father the impossible idealist, and 3, the upringing of a closely-knit Christian home.
Memoirs of an Octogenarian (1975), pp. 8–9
Besides the nobleart of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.
As quoted in Pearls of Wisdom: A Harvest of Quotations From All Ages (1987) by Jerome Agel and Walter D. Glanze, p. 46. From The Importance of Living: "besides the noble art of getting things done, there is a nobler art of leaving things undone" (p. 162), "the wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials" (p. 10).
When small men begin to cast big shadows, it means that the sun is about to set.
As quoted in Hard-to-Solve Cryptograms (2001) by Derrick Niederman, p. 96
To the West, it seems hardly imaginable that the relationship between man and man (which is morality) could be maintained without reference to a Supreme Being, while to the Chinese it is equally amazing that men should not, or could not, behave toward one another as decent beings without thinking of their indirect relationship through a third party.
I like spring, but it is too young. I like summer, but it is too proud. So I like best of all autumn, because its leaves are a little yellow, its tone mellower, its colours richer, and it is tinged a little with sorrow and a premonition of death. Its golden richness speaks not of the innocence of spring, nor of the power of summer, but of the mellowness and kindlywisdom of approaching age. It knows the limitations of life and is content. From a knowledge of those limitations and its richness of experience emerges a symphony of colours, richer than all, its green speaking of life and strength, its orange speaking of golden content and its purple of resignation and death.
This is a personal testimony, a testimony of my own experience of thought and life. It is not intended to be objective and makes no claim to establish eternal truths. In fact I rather despise claims to objectivity in philosophy; the point of view is the thing. I should have liked to call it "A Lyrical Philosophy," using the word "lyrical" in the sense of being a highly personal and individual outlook...
It is not when he is working in the office but when he is lying idly on the sand that his soul utters, "Life is beautiful."
Ch. I : The Awakening, p. 2
While in the West, the insane are so many that they are put in an asylum, in China the insane are so unusual that we worship them, as anybody who has a knowledge of Chinese literature will testify.
Ch. I : The Awakening, p. 3
A vague uncritical idealism always lends itself to ridicule and too much of it might be a danger to mankind, leading it round in a futile wild-goose chase for imaginary ideals.
Ch. I : The Awakening, p. 4
It is important that man dreams, but it is perhaps equally important that he can laugh at his own dreams.
Ch. I : The Awakening, pp. 4–5
I distrust all dead and mechanical formulas for expressing anything connected with human affairs and human personalities. Putting human affairs in exact formulas shows in itself a lack of the sense of humor and therefore a lack of wisdom.
Ch. I : The Awakening, p. 5
It is not so much what you believe in that matters, as the way in which you believe it and proceed to translate that belief into action.
Ch. I : The Awakening, p. 8
My faith in humandignity consists in the belief that man is the greatest scamp on earth. Human dignity must be associated with the idea of a scamp and not with that of an obedient, disciplined and regimented soldier.
Ch. I : The Awakening, p. 12
I am doing my best to glorify the scamp or vagabond. I hope I shall succeed. For things are not so simple as they sometimes seem. In this present age of threats to democracy and individual liberty, probably only the scamp and the spirit of the scamp alone will save us from being lost in serially numbered units in the masses of disciplined, obedient, regimented and uniformed coolies. The scamp will be the last and most formidable enemy of dictatorships. He will be the champion of humandignity and individualfreedom, and will be the last to be conquered. All modern civilization depends entirely upon him.
Ch. I : The Awakening, p. 12
I do not think that any civilization can be called complete until it has progressed from sophistication to unsophistication, and made a conscious return to simplicity of thinking and living, and I call no man wise until he has made the progress from the wisdom of knowledge to the wisdom of foolishness, and become a laughing philosopher, feeling first life's tragedy and then life's comedy. For we must weep before we can laugh. Out of sadness comes the awakening, and out of the awakening comes the laughter of the philosopher, with kindliness and tolerance to boot.
Ch. I : The Awakening, p. 13
The world I believe is far too serious, and being far too serious, is it has need of a wise and merry philosophy.
Ch. I : The Awakening, p. 13
To me personally, the only function of philosophy is to teach us to take life more lightly and gayly than the average businessman does, for no businessman who does not retire at fifty, if he can, is in my eyes a philosopher.
Ch. I : The Awakening, p. 13
All men and women have passions, natural desires and noble ambitions, and also a conscience; they have sex, hunger, fear, anger, and are subject to sickness, pain, suffering and death. Culture consists in bringing about the expression of these passions and desires in harmony.
A reasonable naturalist then settles down to this life with a sort of animal satisfaction. As Chinese illiterate women put it, "Others gave birth to us and we give birth to others. What else are we to do?".... Life becomes a biological procession and the very question of immortality is sidetracked. For that is the exact feeling of a Chinese grandfather holding his grandchild by the hand and going to the shops to buy some candy, with the thought that in five or ten years he will be returning to his grave or to his ancestors. The best that we can hope for in this life is that we shall not have sons and grandsons of whom we need to be ashamed.
One can learn such a lot and enjoy such a lot in seventy years, and three generations is a long, long time to see human follies and acquire human wisdom. Anyone who is wise and has lived long enough to witness the changes of fashion and morals and politics through the rise and fall of three generations should be perfectly satisfied to rise from his seat and go away saying, "It was a good show," when the curtain falls.
Human life can be lived like a poem.
Instead of holding on to the Biblical view that we are made in the image of God, we come to realize that we are made in the image of the monkey.
A man may own a thousand acres of land, and yet he still sleeps upon a bed of five feet.
p. 38 (Chinese saying)
He who perceives death perceives a sense of the human comedy, and quickly becomes a poet.
What is patriotism but love of the good things we ate in our childhood? I have said elsewhere that the loyalty to Uncle Sam is the loyalty to doughnuts and ham and sweet potatoes and the loyalty to the German Vaterland is the loyalty to Pfannkuchen and Christmas Stollen. As for international understanding, I feel that macaroni has done more for our appreciation of Italy than Mussolini... in food, as in death, we feel the essential brotherhood of mankind.
Ch. IV : On Having A Stomach, p. 46
How many of us are able to distinguish between the odors of noon and midnight, or of winter and summer, or of a windy spell and a still one? If man is so generally less happy in the cities than in the country, it is because all these variations and nuances of sight and smell and sound are less clearly marked and lost in the general monotony of gray walls and cement pavements.
Those who are wise won't be busy, and those who are too busy can't be wise.
On the whole, the enjoyment of leisure is something which decidedly costs less than the enjoyment of luxury. All it requires is an artistic temperament which is bent on seeking a perfectly useless afternoon spent in a perfectly useless manner.
p. 153. Often quoted as: "If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live."
No, the enjoyment of an idle life doesn't cost any money. The capacity for true enjoyment of idleness is lost in the moneyed class and can be found only among people who have a supreme contempt for wealth. It must come from an inner richness of the soul in a man who loves the simple ways of life and who is somewhat impatient with the business of making money.
The three great American vices seem to be efficiency, punctuality, and the desire for achievement and success. They are the things that make the Americans so unhappy and so nervous.
A man who has to be punctually at a certain place at five o'clock has the whole afternoon from one to five ruined for him already.
If the early Chinese people had any chivalry, it was manifested not toward women and children, but toward old people. That feeling of chivalry found clear expression in Mencius in some such saying as, "The people with gray hair should not be seen carrying burdens on the street," which was expressed as the final goal of good government.
Life after all is made up of eating and sleeping, of meeting and saying good-by to friends, of reunions and farewell parties, of tears and laughter, of having a haircut once in two weeks, of watering a potted flower and watching one’s neighbor fall off his roof.
There is something in the nature of tea that leads us into a world of quiet contemplation of life.
The greatest ideal that man can aspire to is not to be a show-case of virtue, but just to be a genial, likable and reasonable human being.
The Chinese do not draw any distinction between food and medicine.
Ch. IX : The Enjoyment of Living, p. 249
By association with nature's enormities, a man's heart may truly grow big also. There is a way of looking upon a landscape as a moving picture and being satisfied with nothing less big as a moving picture, a way of looking upon tropic clouds over the horizon as the backdrop of a stage and being satisfied with nothing less big as a backdrop, a way of looking upon the mountain forests as a private garden and being satisfied with nothing less as a private garden, a way of listening to the roaring waves as a concert and being satisfied with nothing less as a concert, and a way of looking upon the mountain breeze as an air-cooling system and being satisfied with nothing less as an air-cooling system. So do we become big, even as the earth and firmaments are big. Like the "Big Man" described by Yuan Tsi (A.D. 210-263), one of China's first romanticists, we "live in heaven and earth as our house."
When the mirror meets with an ugly woman, when a rare ink-stone finds a vulgar owner, and when a goodsword is in the hands of a common general, there is utterly nothing to be done about it.
A good traveler is one who does not know where he is going to, and a perfect traveler does not know where he came from.
The wise man reads both books and life itself.
Such religion as there can be in modern life, every individual will have to salvage from the churches for himself.
I feel, like all modern Americans, no consciousness of sin and simply do not believe in it. All I know is that if Godloves me only half as much as my mother does, he will not send me to Hell. That is a final fact of my inner consciousness, and for no religion could I deny its truth.
[My Country and My People] is, I think, the truest, the most profound, the most complete, the most important book yet written about China. And, best of all, it is written by a Chinese, a modern, whose roots are firmly in the past, but whose rich flowering is in the present.
Pearl S. Buck, Introduction to Lin Yutang's My Country and My People (1935), p. xii