A collection of wisdom

Bodhidharma Bodhidharma was one such wise guy

Over the course of my reading, work and meandering experience I have found that many thinkers — both great and superficial, self-conscious and sober, celebrated and interesting — have left profound wisdom for future generations to imbibe.

Here I curate some excerpts from the Fiction section of the complete unabridged edition of the Collected Works of the Homo Sapiens of Terra for the benefit of those who seek it, or more likely, have just wandered here having nothing better to do.



A House for Mr Biswas

The rum was the same, but the prices and labels were different: Indian Maiden’, The White Cock’, Parakeet’. Each brand had its adherents, and to Mr Biswas this was a subsidiary revenge which gave a small but continuous pleasure.

- V S Naipaul, A House for Mr Biswas


Evil, complete and enthusiastic, true

The Prague Cemetery

People are never so completely and enthusiastically evil as when they act out of religious conviction.

- Umberto Eco, The Prague Cemetery

Later, with time, I learned that although all men are capable of good and evil, the worst among them are those who, when they commit evil, do so by shielding themselves in the authority of others, in their subordination, or in the excuse of following orders.

And even worse are those who believe they are justified by their God…I learned that there is nothing more despicable or more dangerous than the malevolent individual who goes to sleep every night with a clear conscience. That is true evil. Especially when paired with ignorance, superstition, stupidity, or power, all of which often travel together.

Purity of Blood

And worst of all is the person who acts as exegete of The Word—whether it be from the Talmud, the Bible, the Koran, or any other book already written or yet to come. I am not fond of giving advice—no one can pound opinions into another’s head—but here is a piece that costs you nothing: Never trust a man who reads only one book.

- Arturo Pérez-Reverte, The Adventures of Captain Alatriste: Purity of Blood


Fact, An obvious

Sherlock Holmes

There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact. (Sherlock Holmes)

- Arthur Conan Doyle, The Boscombe Valley Mystery (in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes)


Italo Calvino

Once the process of falsification is set in motion, it won’t stop. We’re in a country where everything that can be falsified has been falsified: paintings in museums, gold ingots, bus tickets. The counterrevolution and the revolution fight with salvos of falsification: the result is that nobody can be sure what is true and what is false, the political police simulate revolutionary actions and the revolutionaries disguise themselves as policemen”

- Italo Calvino, If on a winter’s night a traveler


Moderation, The virtue of :

James Hilton

If I could put it into a very few words, dear sir, 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…we have found that the principle makes for a considerable degree of happiness. We rule with moderate strictness, and in return we are satisfied with moderate obedience. And I think I can claim that our people are moderately sober, moderately chaste, and moderately honest… I can only add that our community has various faiths and usages, but we are most of us moderately heretical about them.

- James Hilton, Lost Horizon


Privacy, The importance of:

Milan Kundera

But one day in 1970 or 1971, with the intent to discredit Prochazka, the police began to broadcast these conversations [with Professor Vaclav Cerny, with whom he liked to drink and talk] as a radio serial. For the police it was an audacious, unprecedented act. And, surprisingly: it nearly succeeded; instantly Prochazka was discredited: because in private, a person says all sorts of things, slurs friends, uses coarse language, acts silly, tells dirty jokes, repeats himself, makes a companion laugh by shocking him with outrageous talk, floats heretical ideas he’d never admit in public, and so forth.

Of course, we all act like Prochazka, in private we bad-mouth our friends and use coarse language; that we act different in private than in public is everyone’s most conspicuous experience, it is the very ground of the life of the individual; curiously, this obvious fact remains unconscious, unacknowledged, forever obscured by lyrical dreams of the transparent glass house, it is rarely understood to be the value one must defend beyond all others.

Thus only gradually did people realize (though their rage was all the greater) that the real scandal was not Prochazka’s daring talk but the rape of his life; they realized (as if by electric shock) that private and public are two essentially different worlds and that respect for that difference is the indispensable condition, the sine qua non, for a man to live free; that the curtain separating these two worlds is not to be tampered with, and that curtain-rippers are criminals. And because the curtain-rippers were serving a hated regime, they were unanimously held to be particularly contemptible criminals.

- Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Proportion, A sense of:

The Total Perspective Vortex (TPR) is the most savage psychic torture a sentient being can undergo.

I get a sense of being in a TPR whenever I am in a library or bookstore. There is so much in those shelves that you cannot possibly read in a lifetime. And there are so many more shelves. So if you feel too proud of yourself, just got to a library.

When you are put into the Vortex you are given just one momentary glimpse of the entire unimaginable infinity of creation, and somewhere in it a tiny little marker, a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot, which says You are here

The man who invented the Total Perspective Vortex did so basically in order to annoy his wife. Trin Tragula — for that was his name — was a dreamer, a thinker, a speculative philosopher or, as his wife would have it, an idiot. She would nag him incessantly about the utterly inordinate amount of time he spent staring out into space, or mulling over the mechanics of safety pins, or doing spectrographic analyses of pieces of fairy cake.

Have some sense of proportion!” she would say, sometimes as often as thirty-eight times in a single day.

And so he built the Total Perspective Vortex, just to show her.


Into one end he plugged the whole of reality as extrapolated from a piece of fairy cake, and into the other end he plugged his wife: so that when he turned it on she saw in one instant the whole infinity of creation and herself in relation to it.

To Trin Tragula’s horror, the shock completely annihilated her brain; but to his satisfaction he realized that he had proved conclusively that if life is going to exist in a Universe of this size, then the one thing it cannot have is a sense of proportion.

- Douglas Adams, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy


Weapon, the most terrible


The most destructive of weapons is not the spear or the siege cannon, which can wound a body and demolish a wall. The most terrible of all weapons is the word, which can ruin a life without leaving a trace of blood, and whose wounds never heal.

Let us, then, be masters of our tongue and not slaves of our words. Even if words are used against us, let us not enter a battle that cannot be won. The moment we place ourselves on the same level as some vile adversary, we will be fighting in the dark, and the only winner will be the Lord of Darkness

- Paulo Coelho. Manuscript Found in Accra.

Obviously, there is more. The abiding constraint is time. When this contraint coincides with the unfairly maligned human virtue of laziness, things take longer to happen than they ought to. Even when the one deciding what ought to is the same person as the one doing it. Therefore cultivate patience. If you do, tell me how.

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