Wisdom

Wisdom from the Natural, Secular Chaplains

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“The mountains are fountains of humanity as well as of rivers, of glaciers, of fertile soil.  The great poets, philosophers, prophets, able people whose thoughts and deeds have moved the world, have come down from the mountains–mountain-dwellers who have grown strong there with the forest trees in Nature’s workshops.”

John Muir, Alaska Journal, June-July, 1890

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“Nature is a free domain, and the profound conceptions and enjoyments she awakens within us can only be vividly delineated by thought clothed in exalted forms of speech, worthy of bearing witness to the majesty and greatness of the creation.”

Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), Cosmos, 1858

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“Everything was part of this ‘never-ending activity of the animated forces’, Humboldt wrote.  Nature was a ‘living whole’ where organisms were bound together in a ‘net-like intricate fabric.”

Andrea Wulf, The Invention of Nature:  Alexander von Humboldt’s New World

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“There is a pleasure in the pathless woods; There is a rapture on the lonely shore; There is society where none intrudes; By the deep sea, and music in its roar; I love not man the less, but Nature more.”

Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage

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“To let no day pass without discussing goodness [and other subjects] and examining both myself and others is really the very best thing a person can do, and that life without this sort of examination is not worth living. . . .”

Socrates, Apology, 399 B.C.E.

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“So one ought not to return a wrong or an injury to any person, whatever the provocation is.”

Socrates, Crito, 399 B.C.E.

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“Many people through the ages have attributed to God the beauty and complexity of nature that in their time seemed to have no scientific explanation [but] the multiverse concept can explain the fine-tuning of physical law without the need for a benevolent creator who made the universe for our benefit.”

Stephen Hawking, The Grand Design

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“But for all its benefits in offering moral guidance and meaning in life, in today’s secular world religion alone is no longer adequate as a basis for ethics. One reason for this is that many people in the world no longer follow any particular religion. Another reason is that, as the peoples of the world become ever more closely interconnected in an age of globalization and in multicultural societies, ethics based in any one religion would only appeal to some of us; it would not be meaningful for all. In the past, when peoples lived in relative isolation from one another — as we Tibetans lived quite happily for many centuries behind our wall of mountains — the fact that groups pursued their own religiously based approaches to ethics posed no difficulties. Today, however, any religion-based answer to the problem of our neglect of inner values can never be universal, and so will be inadequate. What we need today is an approach to ethics which makes no recourse to religion and can be equally acceptable to those with faith and those without: a secular ethics.

This statement may seem strange coming from someone who from a very early age has lived as a monk in robes. Yet I see no contradiction here. My faith enjoins me to strive for the welfare and benefit of all sentient beings, and reaching out beyond my own tradition, to those of other religions and those of none, is entirely in keeping with this.

I am confident that it is both possible and worthwhile to attempt a new secular approach to universal ethics. My confidence comes from my conviction that all of us, all human beings, are basically inclined or disposed toward what we perceive to be good. Whatever we do, we do because we think it will be of some benefit. At the same time, we all appreciate the kindness of others. We are all, by nature, oriented toward the basic human values of love and compassion.”

The Dalai Lama, Beyond Religion

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“In all things there is a portion of everything.”

Anaxagoras, Greek Heretic, born c. 500 B.C.E.

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“The reason white people can go from continent to continent destroying everything is because they believe they’re going to heaven and it doesn’t matter.  But we know this is paradise.”

Ramona Bennett, Puyallup Tribe, Pacific Northwest, in Messengers of the Wind

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“The greatest religion is to be true to your own nature. Have faith in yourselves.”

Swami Vivekananda

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“Suppose a person who sees things so far differently than the mass of ordinary healthy people is thereby classified as of defective vision, as of diseased brain.  Thus I have not a doubt I was born with a defect of the eye, with a defect of the brain.”

~Frederick Law Olmsted, Letter to Charles Brace, December, 1873

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“To see a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.”

William Blake, Auguries of Innocence

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“If we do not go to church so much as did our [parents], we go to the woods much more, and are much more inclined to make a temple of them than they were.”

John Burroughs, “The Gospel of Nature,” in Time and Change (1912)

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“The conservation of our natural resources and their proper use constitute the fundamental problem which underlies almost every other problem in our National life.”

Theodore Roosevelt, Speech before the National Editorial Association, Jamestown, VA, June 10, 1907

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“… with the smell of the woods and the wind in the trees. They will forget the rush and the strain of all the other long weeks of the year, and for a short time at least, the days will be good for their bodies and good for their souls.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt, opening Shenandoah National Park (1936, 75 years ago)

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“Anyone who looks at nature, which is the same as looking into oneself, long and deeply enough, will. . .be cured of all despair.”

Anne Frank, Tales from the Secret Annex

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“The true Bible is the book of nature, the wisest teacher is the one who most plainly expounds it, the best priest our own conscience, and the most orthodox church a hall of science.”

Frances Wright, Reason, Religion, and Morals

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“There are books in which the footnotes, or the comments scrawled by some reader’s hand in the margin, are more interesting than the text.  The world is one of those books.”

George Santayana (1863-1952)

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“In times like this humanity rises above all college curriculums and recognizes Nature as the greatest of all teachers. . .”

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Solitude of Self

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“The richness I achieve comes from Nature, the source of my inspiration.”

Claude Monet (unsure of the source)

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“Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind cannot bear very much reality.”

T.S. Eliot, Burnt Norton, Four Quartets

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“One drop of water is as wonderful as all the seas; one leaf, as all the forests; and one grain of sand, as all the stars.”

Robert Green Ingersoll, “The Gods” (1872)

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“The great book of Nature contains many passages which are hard to read, and at times conscientious students may well draw up different interpretations of the obscurer and least known texts.”

Theodore Roosevelt, Trail and Camp-fire (1897), quoted in Douglas Brinkley, The Wilderness Warrior (2009)

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“Lying out at night under the giant sequoias had been like lying in a temple built by no hand of man, a temple grander than any human architect could by any possibility build, and I hope for the preservation of the groves of giant trees simply because it would be a shame to our civilization to let them disappear.”

Theodore Roosevelt, speech in Sacramento, California, 1903

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“Emerson used to quote Francis Bacon as saying that humans were the ministers and interpreters of nature; Roosevelt wanted to add a modern point: and protectors.

Douglas Brinkley, The Wilderness Warrior (2009)

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“Most people don’t know what they’re doing, and a lot of them are really good at it.”

George Carlin, Napalm and Silly Putty

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“Ignorance of nature’s ways led people in ancient times to invent gods to lord it over every aspect of human life.”

Stephen Hawking, The Grand Design

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“Pass then through this little space of time conformably to nature, and end your journey in content, just as an olive falls off when it is ripe, blessing nature who produced it, and thanking the tree on which it grew.”

Marcus Aurelius (d. 180 C.E.), Meditations

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“Then I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. . .  And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father.”

Black Elk (Lakota Elder), Black Elk Speaks

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“An idea is a greater monument than a cathedral.”

Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy as Clarence Darrow), “Inherit the Wind” (1960)

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“Nature’s sources never fail.  Like a generous host, she offers here brimming cups in endless variety, served in a grand hall, the sky its ceiling, the mountains its walls, decorated with glorious paintings and enlivened with bands of music ever playing.”

John Muir, Our National Parks, 1901

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“The known universe has one complete lover and that is the greatest poet. . . .  The sea is not surer of the shore or the shore of the sea than the poet is of the fruition of his or her love and all perfection and beauty.”

Walt Whitman, Preface to Leaves of Grass, 1855

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“It is the greatest of all advantages to enjoy no advantage at all.  I find it invariably true, the poorer I am, the richer I am.  What you consider my disadvantage, I consider my advantage.  While you are pleased to get knowledge and culture in many ways, I am delighted to think that I am getting rid of them.  I have never got over my surprise that I should have been born into the most estimable place in all the world, and in the very nick of time, too.”

Henry Thoreau, Journals, December 5, 1856

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“This linking of wildness with sacredness led [John] Muir to contrast wild places with civilized and domesticated spaces, viewing humans and their domesticated animals as agents of desecration.  He evocatively expressed a deep sense of belonging, connection, and loyalty to nature (even at times intimating a greater loyalty to nature than to human society).”

Bron Taylor, Dark Green Religion

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“Living a worthwhile life means we shouldn’t spend it in idle speculation.  The world is so full of fascinating, wonderful things, with our knowledge increasing all the time, that it makes no sense to sit in a dark room thinking up imaginary explanations for things, when out there in the meadows and the woods and skies the sun is shining–the galaxies spinning, the birds are singing, and the moles are running underfoot!”

Harold Wood, “On the Duty Against Speculation.”  Universal Pantheist Society

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“A religion, old or new, that stressed that magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.”

Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot

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“In its encounter with Nature, science invariably elicits a sense of reverence and awe.  The very act of understanding is a celebration of joining, merging, even if on a very modest scale, with the magnificence of the Cosmos. . .

‘Spirit’ comes from the Latin word ‘to breathe.’  What we breathe is air, which is certainly matter, however thin.  Despite usage to the contrary, there is no necessary implication in the word ‘spiritual’ that we are talking of anything other than matter. . .or anything outside the realm of science.  On occasion, I will feel free to use the word.  Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.  When we recognize our place in an immensity of light-years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty, and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual. . . .  The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive does a disservice to both.”

Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World

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“We all need to be ambassadors for our community, and for the earth.”

Greg Epstein, Good Without God

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“The people of America have been too busy felling forests, ploughing fields, and building houses, to cultivate to the highest degree, the aesthetic side of their nature.”

“The universe is all the God there is.”

Robert Green Ingersoll, The Best of Robert Ingersoll

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“Natural disasters like the tragedy in Haiti are tests, but they are not tests of religious faith; they are tests of our humanity.  The universe will not intervene for our benefit, just as it did not intentionally cause our suffering.  If lives are to be saved, we people must save them; cities are only rebuilt by human effort.  We respond to human needs with the power of human deeds.”

Rabbi Adam Chalom, International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism

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“I am a man who has spent a great deal of his life on his knees, though not in prayer. . . I am a naturalist and a fossil hunter, and I have crawled most of the way through life.”

Loren Eiseley, The Star Thrower

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“All [people] were made by the same Great Spirit Chief.  They are all brothers.  The Earth is the mother of all people, and all people should have equal rights upon it.”

Chief Joseph, Nez Perce (Washington D.C., 1879)

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“Do we want to know what God is?  Search not the book called the Scripture, which any human hand might make,  but the Scripture called the creation.”

Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason

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“I draw my idea of the form of government from a principle in nature. . .that the more simple any thing is, the less liable it is to be disordered.”

Thomas Paine, Common Sense

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My country is the world, and my religion is to do good.”

Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man, Part II

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“I suppose that what in others is religion is in me love of nature.”

Henry Thoreau, Journals

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“Nature is a greater and more perfect art, the art of God.”

Henry Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers

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“More and more, in a place like this, we feel ourselves a part of wild Nature, kin to everything.”

John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra

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“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.”

John Muir, The Yosemite

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“[I see] the whole circle of persons and things. . .as one vast picture which God paints on the instant eternity for the contemplation of the soul.”

Waldo Emerson, Nature

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“What this hesitation arose from, I know not; perhaps it was a feeling of my unworthiness to enter this temple which nature has erected to its God.”

Margaret Fuller, Summer on the Lakes

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“We two, how long we were fool’d,

Now transmuted, we swiftly escape as Nature escapes,

We are Nature, long have we been absent, but now we return,

We become plants, trunks, foliage, roots, bark,

We are bedded in the ground, we are rocks,

We are oaks, we grow in the openings side by side. . .

We have circled and circled till we have arrived home again. . .”

Walt Whitman, “We Two, How Long We Were Fool’d”

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“Spontaneous me, Nature,

The loving day, the mounting sun, the friend I am happy with. . .

the real poems.”

Walt Whitman, “Spontaneous Me”

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“When we call the power back of all ‘God,’ it smells of creeds and systems of superstition, intolerance, persecution; but when we call it Nature, it smells of spring and summer, of green fields and blooming groves, of birds and flowers and sky and stars. I admit that it smells of tornadoes and earthquakes, of jungles and wildernesses, of disease and death, too, but these things make it all the more real to us.”

John Burroughs, Accepting the Universe

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“Are we to look upon the universe as half natural and half supernatural? Must it not be entirely one or the other to be a universe?”

John Burroughs, Under the Apple Trees

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“And this, our life,

exempt from public haunt,

finds tongues in trees,

books in the running brooks,

sermons in stones,

and good in everything.”

William Shakespeare, As You Like It

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“Religion becomes sinful when it begins to advocate the segregation of God, to forget that the true sanctuary has no walls.”

Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man

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“When in these fresh mornings I go into my garden before anyone is awake, I go for the time being into perfect happiness. In this hour divinely fresh and still, the fair face of every flower salutes me with a silent joy that fills me with infinite content.”

Celia Laighton Thaxter, An Island Garden

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“God was as real to me then [as a child] as the wind that rustled through the trees in our garden. God somehow cared for a magical world, full of fascinating animals and people who were mostly friendly and kind. It was an enchanted world for me, full of joy and wonder, and I felt very much a part of it.”

Jane Goodall, Reason for Hope

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“There is grandeur in this view of life. . .Whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species

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“Lamp of Earth!  where’er thou movest

Its dim shapes are clad with brightness,

And the souls of whom thou lovest

Walk upon the winds with lightness

Till they fail, as I am failing,

Dizzy, lost, yet unbewailing!”

Percy Blythe Shelley, “Hymn to the Spirit of Nature”

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“What would the world be, once bereft

Of wet and of wildness?  Let them be left,

O let them be left, wildness and wet;

Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.”

Gerard Manley Hopkins, “Inversnaid”

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“I thank Thee, Author of this opening day!

Thou, whose bright sun now gilds yon orient skies!

Riches denied, Thy boon was purer joys,

What wealth could never give nor take away!”

Robert Burns, Sonnet (1793)

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“Plunge into matter…Plunge into God.  By means of all created things, without exception, the divine assails us, penetrates us, and molds us. We imagined it as distant and inaccessible, whereas in fact we live steeped in its burning layers.”

Teilhard de Chardin, The Divine Milieu

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“It is not by considering what you are doing elsewhere that I shall become what you wish me to. It is by accepting your presence in everything. . .What folly not to breathe the air, walk with unfaltering step in the open country, find water in a flood; not to discover God, not to perceive God’s bounty in all things!”

Jean-Pierre De Caussade, The Sacrament of the Present Moment

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“I believe in the cosmos.  All of us are linked to the cosmos.  So nature is my god.  To me, nature is sacred. Trees are my temples and forests are my cathedrals.”

Mikhael Gorbachev, From the Universal Pantheist Movement website

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“Meanwhile the great Canyon endures. It was here before humankind was even a twig on the evolutionary tree of life and it will be here when we are gone. . .A humbling thought?  Not necessarily. The grandeur of the Canyon confers dignity on every form of life that touches it. Through our love. . .we share in its beauty, power, glory, and sublimity. It is an honor to be a visitor. . .as it is an honor and a privilege to be alive, however briefly, on this rare, sweet, delicate, one and one only planet we call Earth.”

Edward Abbey, One Life at a Time, Please

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“I say these things because few others will; it is the writer’s duty to speak for the voiceless, especially the defenseless.  Humanity has four billion desperate advocates, but how many has the mountain lion, the snail darter, the eagle, the bighorn, the ibex, the Siberian tiger, the eland and the elephant?  Human needs do not take precedence over all others.  We must share this planet with all.”

Edward Abbey, Confessions of a Barbarian

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“And I have felt a presence that disturbs me

with the joy of elevated thoughts;

a sense sublime of something far more deeply interfused,

Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,

and the round ocean and the living air,

and the blue sky, and in the mind of [humanity]:

a motion and a spirit, that impels all thinking things,

all objects of all thought, and rolls through all things.”

William Wordsworth, “On Revisiting the Banks of the Wye, 1798″

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“[W]e eat by the grace of nature, not industry, and what we’re eating is never anything more than the body of the world.”

Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma

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“Hence without parent by spontaneous birth

Rise the first specks of animated earth;

From Nature’s womb the plant or insect swims,

And buds or breathes, with microscopic limbs.

IN earth, sea, air, around, below, above,

Life’s subtle woof in Nature’s loom is wove.”

Erasmus Darwin (Charles’ grandfather), The Temple of Nature (1803)

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“To Thee, whose Temple is all Space,

Whose Altar, Earth, Sea, Skies:

One Chorus let all Being raise!

All Nature’s Incense rise!”

Alexander Pope, The Universal Prayer  (1738)

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“I beseech you, my brothers [and sisters], remain faithful to the earth, and do not believe those who speak to you of otherworldly hopes.”

Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

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Never before have I lived through a storm like the one this night… The sea has a look of indescribable grandeur, especially when the sun falls on it.  One feels as if one is  dissolved and merged into Nature.  Even more than usual, one feels the insignificance of the individual, and it makes one happy.”

Albert Einstein, Albert Einstein:  The Human Side, December 10, 1931

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“. . .the refreshing fragrance of the morning air, and the glorious beams of the rising sun, which, from a tabernacle of purple and golden clouds, were darted full of such a scene of natural romance and beauty as had never before greeted my eyes. . .[Humanity] alone seemed to be placed in a state of inferiority, in a scene where all the ordinary features of nature were raised and exalted.”

Sir Walter Scott, Rob Roy (1817)

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“Mountains are giant, restful, absorbent.  You can heave your spirit into a mountain and the mountain will keep it, folded, and not throw it back as some creeks will.  The creeks are the world with all its stimulus and beauty;  I live there.  But the mountains are home.”

Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

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“The art of art, the glory of expression and the sunshine of the light of letters is simplicity. . . .  But to speak in literature with the perfect rectitude and insouciance of the movements of animals and the unimpeachableness of the sentiment of trees in the woods and grass by the roadside is the flawless triumph of art.”

Walt Whitman, Preface to Leaves of Grass, 1855

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“The existence of painter-butterfly would have for its field of action one of the innumerable heavenly bodies, which would perhaps be no more inaccessible to us, after death, than the black dots which symbolize towns and villages on geographical maps are in our terrestrial existence.

Science–scientific reasoning–seems to me an instrument that will lag far, far behind. For look here: the earth has been thought to be flat. It was true, so it still is today, for instance between Paris and Asnieres. Which, however, doesn’t prevent science from proving that the earth is principally round. Which no one contradicts nowadays.

But notwithstanding this they persist nowadays in believing that life is flat and runs from birth to death. However, life too is probably round, and very superior in expanse and capacity to the hemisphere we know at present.”

Vincent Van Gogh, letter to Emile Bernard (June, 1888)

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“Is the whole of life visible to us, or isn’t it rather that this side of death we see only one hemisphere?”

Vincent Van Gogh, letter to Theo (1888)

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“The woods sang aloud, and gave largely of their healthful breath. . . Gladness seemed to inhabit these upper zones, and we had left indifference behind us in the valley. … There are days in a life when thus to climb out of the lowlands seems like scaling heaven.”

Robert Louis Stevenson (comment on St. Helena, above Napa Valley)

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“Science [is] an imitation of nature.”

Friedrich Nietzsche, Human All Too Human (136)

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“There is not enough love and kindness in the world to permit us to give any of it away to imaginary beings.”

Friedrich Nietzsche, Human All Too Human (129)

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“If there is nothing that can so hide the face of our fellow humans as morality can, religion can hide from us as nothing else can the face of God.”

Martin Buber, Between Man and Man

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“This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”

Dalai Lama

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