Great Throughts Treasury

This site is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Alan William Smolowe who gave birth to the creation of this database.

Stephen Mitchell

American Author, Poet, Translator, Scholar, Anthropologist educated at Amherst, the Sorbonne, and Yale, and de-educated through intensive Zen practice

"Do good; avoid evil. That is the first step in all religions."

"Education is no longer thought of as a preparation for adult life, but as a continuing process of growth and development from birth until death."

"When we consider absolute reality, there is no end, no beginning; emptiness is the same as fulfillness, just seen from a different perspective. We say that this coffee cup is empty; but empty means filled with space, filled with possibilities, ready for anything: milk, water, tea wine. Every moment of time, every point in space, is completely empty, completely open for what wants to come. That is why it can be filled."

"When does God create heaven and earth? In the beginning. And when is the beginning? At every moment. Dying to past and future, we are born into the creative Now. Beginner's mind is the mind of God."

"I am speechless: what can I answer? I put hand on my mouth. I have said too much already; now I will speak no more"

"A modern princess—of England, say, or Monaco— serves the purpose of being an adornment in the fantasy life of the public. Consequently, she receives the kind of education that one might think of giving to a particularly splendid papier-mâché angel before putting it at the top of the Christmas tree: an education whose main goal is proficiency in the arts of looking pretty and standing straight. Our century, whatever virtues it may have, is not an optimal time for princesses. Things were different in the Renaissance. Intelligence had a primary value then. At almost every level of the social order, education was meant to create true amateurs—people who were in love with quality. A gentleman or lady needed to be at least minimally skilled in many arts, because that was considered the fittest way of appreciating the good things in life and honoring the goodness itself. Nor did being well-rounded mean smoothing over your finest points and becoming like the reflection of a smile in a polished teaspoon. Intelligence walked hand in hand with individuality, although having finely sharpened points of view did not, it was felt, require you to poke other people with them. If wit was a rapier, courtesy was the button at the end of the blade."

"All streams flow to the sea because it is lower than they are. humility gives it its power. if you want to govern the people, you must place yourself below them. if you want to lead the people, you must learn how to follow them."

"But self-abasement is just inverted egoism. Anyone who acts with genuine humility will be as far from humiliation as from arrogance."

"Children understand that 'once upon a time' refers not only--not even primarily--to the past, but to the impalpable regions of the present, the deeper places inside us where princes and dragons, wizards and talking birds, impassable roads, impossible tasks, and happy endings have always existed, alive and bursting with psychic power."

"Eve bites into the fruit. Suddenly she realizes that she is naked. She begins to cry. The kindly serpent picks up a handkerchief, gives it to her. "It's all right," he says. "The first moment is always the hardest." "But I thought knowledge would be so wonderful," Eve says, sniffling. "Knowledge?!" laughs the serpent. "This fruit is from the Tree of Life.""

"He doesn't hear but sees the Voice."

"If good happens, good; if bad happens, good."

"Love softens everything except our sense of integrity."

"The change of language is a change in reality."

"The sun gives light to both wicked and good, and the rain brings nourishment to righteous and unrighteous, God's compassion embraces all people. There are no pre-conditions for it, nothing we need to do first; nothing we have to believe. When we are ready to receive it, it is already there. And the more we live in its presence, the more effortlessly if flows through us, until we find that we no longer need external rules or Bibles or Messiahs."

"There are two kinds of women: those who marry princes and those who marry frogs. The frogs never become princes, but it is an acknowledged fact that a prince may very well, in the course of an ordinary marriage, gradually, at first almost imperceptibly, turn into a frog. Happy the woman who after twenty-five years still wakes up beside the prince she fell in love with."

"What may appear to be proud ungrateful and headstrong from the outside may from the inside express an unshakable integrity of character. Pride, if it doesn't step over the line into arrogance, is simply an unprejudiced self-esteem. Ingratitude is the appropriate response to a kindness that has hooks on it. Headstrong is another word for trusting your own heart."

"What we are tempted to call a disaster is sometimes the first, painful stage of a blessing."

"Whatever thought grips the mind at the time of death is the one which will propel it and decide for it the nature of its future birth. Thus if one wants to attain god after death, one has to think of him steadfastly... This is not as simple as it sounds, for at the time of death the mind automatically flies to the thought of an object (i.e. money, love) which has possessed it during its sojourn in the world. Thus one must think of god constantly."

"Wishes are like magnifying glasses they enlarge and focus an intention that is already inside us."

"The Tao is like a bellows: it is empty yet infinitely capable. The more you use it, the more it produces; the more you talk of it, the less you understand."

"I have often been fairly literal ? as as literal as one ca be with such a subtle, kaleidoscopic book? If I haven?t always translated Lao Tzu?s words, my intention has always been to translate his mind."

"If the deepest, most fundamental levels of the analysand's pathology are to be reached, the relationship with the analyst becomes the vehicle for the establishment and articulation of bad-object relations. The analyst cannot enter the analysand's world in any form other than as a familiar (that is, "bad," or less than gratifying, object). This is true even though there often are elaborate resistances to the experience of the transference. Otherwise the analysis does not touch the analysand deeply, offers no promise, no hope for connection and transformation."

"Erotic passion destabilizes one's sense of self. When we find someone intensely arousing who makes possible unfamiliar experiences of ourselves and an otherness we find captivating, we are drawn into the disorienting loopiness of self/other. We tend to want to control these experiences and the others who inspire them. Thus emotional connection tends to degrade into strategies for false security that suffocate desire."

"From this perspective, the common experience of the fading of romance over time may have less to do with the inevitable undercutting of idealization by reality and familiarity than with the increasing danger of allowing oneself episodic, passionate idealization in a relationship that one depends on for security and predictability. Intense excitement about another is a dangerous business; it often is much safer to surrender to it with a person one cannot possibly spend much time with or will never see again. Sustaining desire for something important from someone important is the central danger of emotional life. What is so dangerous about desiring someone you have is that you can lose him or her. Desire for someone unknown and unobtainable operates as a defense against desire for someone known and obtainable, therefore capable of being lost."

"Rather than being a measure and consequence of the power of naturally occurring sexual desire, pornography is a measure of the extent to which people tend to prefer controlling desire through contrivance rather than being surprised by desire that spontaneously arises."

"Sexual dysfunction often plays a key role in risk management by couples over time. It seems crucial not to get too excited about the other, and diminished excitement serves the purposes at once of self-protection and revenge. I was once excited about you, the diminished arousal seems to be expressing, but there is not much to get excited about now. Often lovers work together to pretend they are safer (even if also a bit sadder) over time, by collapsing their expectations of each other in collusively arranged, choreographed routine. Each feels the other is less exciting because of being so familiar and predictable. And each acts towards the other in as wholly and artificially predictable a fashion as possible. But, of course, lowering expectations also empties out passion. No risk, no gain."

"The relational model provides different categories, different underlying structures into which experience can be organized. Here the establishment of strong connections to others, in reality or in fantasy, is presumed to be primary. Forms of relationship are seen as fundamental, and life is understood largely as an array of metaphors for expressing and playing out relational patterns: discovery, penetration, domination, surrender, control, longing, evasion, revelation, envelopment, merger, differentiation, and so on. The body is still centrally important. Sexuality and bodily experiences are viewed as particularly apt arenas for this activity, since sexuality is enormously multiform and plastic. The number of different body parts, the variability of interactions, the poignancy of the sensations, the immense number of combinations ? the almost infinite variety of human sexual possibilities make this an enormously fertile reservoir of metaphors for expressing different types of relationships, different configurations of connections, between self and others."

"When sexuality is operating in the service of intimacy, it is the fact that it is the particular other who is responding to the vulnerability inherent in sustaining desire that generates intensity and meaning. It is precisely the physiological intensity of the sexual response that lends the sexual encounter its dramatic interpersonal significance. This suggests that it is a mistake to regard the role of sexuality in relation to needs for relatedness and attachment as a "sexualization," which implies that sex is carrying something that can and somehow should be attended to in other ways. (Although this is sometimes the case.) The distinction between preoedipal and oedipal developmental levels often implies such an artificial and misleading separation between sexual experience and issues of attachment and connection. There is perhaps nothing better suited for experiencing and deepening the drama of search and discovery than the mutual arousal, sustaining, and quenching of sexual desire."

"Love and desire are both thoroughly human. Our problem with them is that they orient us toward very different goals. Love seeks control, stability, continuity, certainty. Desire seeks surrender, adventure, novelty, the unknown. In love we are searching for points of attachment, anchoring, something we know we can count on. In desire we are searching both for missing, disowned pieces of ourselves and for something beyond ourselves, outside the borders of self-recognition that, under ordinary circumstances, we protect so fiercely."

"One of the most profound and universal realizations of later childhood, a realization that probably is never totally integrated, is the discovery that one's parents are not necessarily representative of the human species, that one has grown up in an idiosyncratically structured family with its own peculiarities and dramas."

"In the integrated relational model presented here, sexuality and relational issues are not seen as alternative foci. Rather, sexuality is regarded as a central realm in which relational conflicts are shaped and played out."