Am I just reading fortune cookie riddles?

Saturday, November 25th, 2017

The Tao Te Ching shows up multiple times in Tim Ferriss’s books, but most people don’t “get” it:

The Tao Te Ching does show up a lot in both books. It also didn’t click for me for decades, and even now, I often think to myself: Am I just reading fortune cookie riddles?

So, you’re not alone!

I think this book opens more internal doors, or sparks more original insights, if you’re someone whose had at least 3-5 years of deep experience with meditation, psychedelics, or slow tai chi. It seems to depend on time spent in certain altered states. This probably sounds odd, and I could be wrong, but it’s something I’ve observed in myself and across dozens of others.

My and Josh Waitzkin’s preferred translation is by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English, but this book can be confusing or seem like a dead end no matter what.

I might suggest first trying out a few other “manuals for life” that also pop up a lot across the 130+ people in Tribe of Mentors, etc. like Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, Letters from a Stoic by Seneca, or even Zorba The Greek. Dune is also a common recommendation by incredible leaders who think certain characters exemplify excellent leadership.

Hope that helps!



  1. Faze says:

    Read this as a teenager and it clicked immediately. It settled a lot of philosophical and religious hash and inoculated me against some the nonsense my peers fell for in subsequent years. Thinking back on it, I realize the ground for my receptiveness was prepared by reading lots of Kerouac and and bit of pop zen.

    Like the other “manuals of life” mentioned in the post, including Montaigne, Pascal’s “Pensees”, the book of Ecclesiastes, the Tao does indeed have more than a few slips of fortune cookie filling.

  2. Albion says:

    The one thing I learned from the I Ching (having learned of it from reading The Man In The High Castle) was that wisdom doesn’t come the way you think it does.

    Both the Tao Te Ching and the I Ching can tell you things that can surprise because they don’t use symbols or approaches or even offer insights in the way a western mind is accustomed to receiving. There is no “If I were you I’d do this (or that)” but more the idea that everything at all sorts of levels follows well-worn tracks, and they always have done. The trick for westerners is to see that these tracks aren’t going to be changed or influenced by desire, ambition or status, and so it really helps to learn to accept the essentials that underlie everything we have.

  3. Rollory says:

    Dune is massively overrated by third-rate minds. If you want to understand leadership, read Watership Down.

  4. Isegoria says:

    Indeed, I’ve mentioned Hazel’s leadership style before. It is surprisingly deep for a book about rabbits. Richard Adams passed away last year, by the way. The book is definitely a classic.

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