Monday Morning Greetings 2022 #24 – A Personal Commentary on Chinese and Brooklyn Proverbs

June 13th, 2022

A Personal Commentary on Chinese and Brooklyn Proverbs[1]


April 16, 2018

By chance, I came across a book of Chinese proverbs.[2] Out of curiosity, I began thumbing through the pages and wound up reading the whole thing. I’m glad I did. A quote by Francis Bacon in the introduction says it all:


“The genius, wit, and spirit of a nation are discovering proverbs.”


Here are a few of my favorites, with short personal comments on each:


Chinese Proverbs


Only one who can swallow an insult is a man.

A real man is one who has the strength of humility to control the false ego, which especially gets stirred when one is insulted.


Do everything at the right time and one day will seem like three.

To do everything at the right time means to be thoughtfully regulated in one’s activities. Making appointments with oneself helps to inoculate one from the intrusion of other less essential demands made by our minds and by others. So much can be accomplished when one does this. For example, if one wants to maintain or increase one’s chanting, then one should chant every day at a prescribed time. Every three rounds will seem like one.


Patience in one minute of anger can prevent one hundred days of sorrow.

Too much of life is wasted in dealing with problems that one has brought upon oneself by reacting impulsively. In other words, too much of what we are dealing with is self-created and could be avoided if we had more self-discipline and thoughtfulness.


There are two kinds of perfect people—those who are dead, and those who have not been born yet.

The only way not to make mistakes is to do nothing. If we sincerely endeavor to improve ourselves, even if we sometimes falter, there is no reason to feel guilty.[3]


Men will despise you only if you despise yourself.

Unfortunately, low self-esteem projects weakness and attracts scorn from those who are weak and envious. In contrast, those who feel self-worth as pure, humble servants of God attract affection from all. Srinivasa Acarya describes this about the Six Gosvamis of Vrindavan:


“They are just like the ocean of love of God, and they are popular both with the gentle and with the ruffians, because they are not envious of anyone.” (Ṣaḍ-gosvāmy-aṣṭaka 1)


To be fond of learning is to be near knowledge.

Our present knowledge is limited by our present frame of reference. There is so much more to know than what we can presently understand just by our perception. Therefore, in terms of nearing knowledge, without eagerness to learn from a teacher—an authoritative source—one is doomed either to be stuck where one is or to learn very slowly.


Only by learning do we discover how ignorant we are.

Only by learning a subject can we understand the subject’s depth—especially spiritual subjects. For example, God is infinite. Thus, the more we learn and realize about the expanse of God’s glories, the more we discover how much more there is to know.


Better to argue with a wise man than prattle with a fool.

Next time you engage with or even just follow a Facebook thread, keep this advice in mind.


To know another person is not to know the person’s face, but to know the person’s heart.

The most substantial part of any person, which is one’s nature as a friend, parent, or lover, is revealed to a person only by those who love him or her. It can never be seen by perception or analysis alone. Similarly, God can be known only when He becomes inspired to give Himself in reciprocation with one’s devotion. Sri Krishna describes this principle in the Bhagavad-gītā: “To those who are constantly devoted and worship Me with love, I give the understanding by which they can come to Me.” (Gītā 10.10)


Learning is like rowing upstream: to not advance is to fall back.

If one is not steady in one’s commitments in spiritual life, one will not gain the strength to move forward. Enthusiasm wanes for any endeavor in which one does not feel progress.


Only distance tests the strength of horses; only time reveals the hearts of man.

Many people at the beginning of their spiritual life practice at a level beyond their qualification due to their initial fervor, but as their motive is not yet pure, they often become slack in their practices. The real test of one’s devotion is when one steadily executes their service for many years despite the challenges that come over time. We should very much respect those devotees who, after decades of facing life’s natural “ups and downs,” are still steadily engaged in humble service.


I was angered, for I had no shoes; then I met a man who had no feet.

One should be content with one’s immediate needs of life. Accruing more than that will only increase one’s level of attachment, leaving one with the same level of dissatisfaction as before. According to the Yoga Sutras, the result of perfecting the niyama of contentment, this satisfaction with what one has, is the attainment of the highest happiness.


To know the road ahead, ask those coming back.

One of the six qualities that enhance bhakti is sadhu-vṛtti—to follow in the footsteps of previous acharyas. It is described that the footsteps of a sadhu are like so many lighthouses that help one cross an infinite ocean


A smile will gain you ten more years of life.

Many studies show that the single most important factor for physical health is not exercise or even diet, although they are certainly important. The single most important element necessary for a long life is the quality and amount of the good relationships one has. It is the key because it is the foundation of happiness and “a smile will gain you ten more years of life.”[4]


A book holds a house of gold.

The most valuable things we possess are life realizations, for only by seeing the truth everywhere can one become happy. Realizations come by applying what we have heard from books of knowledge. A book of true knowledge thus contains the greatest treasure.[5]


The beautiful bird is the one that is caged.

Opulence, whether it is beauty, wealth, fame, intelligence, or something else, can be used either to serve others or to control them. Unfortunately, because our desire to enjoy is so strong, we often see and use our “good karma” to control others, entangling us in the ropes of karma.


When drinking water, remember its source.

There are some things written on the subject of devotion that I don’t read even though they seem intellectually and aesthetically stimulating, because I doubt the character of the source. Whatever a person shares with conviction carries his or her heart. If a person’s convictions are jaded by an agenda, those misconceptions and feelings are subtly transferred into his or her writing.


Don’t believe you will ever reach the destination without leaving the shore.

When I begin writing Monday Morning Greetings each week, I can’t imagine that a finished article will be produced, but I realize that if I don’t start, I will never produce anything. Many talented people don’t write very much, because producing a written piece is daunting and they never start. If one leaves the shore of paralysis by simply vowing to write even a sentence or two a day, one will soon reach the destination of a completed piece.


I don’t have time to comment on all my favorites, so I will list the last few:


Listening well is as powerful as speaking well, and it is also essential to true conversation.

Disease enters through the mouth; disaster leaves from it.

Useless as a youth, useless as a man.

Learning that does not daily increase will daily decrease.

He who teaches for a day is my father for life.

Life is but a journey; death is returning home.


Brooklyn Proverbs

I have to admit, I put this in the title to make the article more attractive to read. But now I am forced to come up with at least one “Brooklyn Proverb.” I can think of only one, but it’s quite revealing about the culture I grew up in.


Nice guys finish last.

This was about as famous a quotation as there was when I was growing up in New York. It is credited to Leo “The Lip” Durocher, then the manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers professional baseball team.



[1] This article has obviously been reposted. I spent all last week writing an article for The Journal of Vaisnava Studies so I did not have the time to write a Monday Morning Greeting entry this week. I am, therefore, instead posting an article from four years ago. A reader recently commented to me that it must be an austerity for me to write a quality article every week. It certainly sometimes is, but I have to say, however, it’s not as much of an austerity now. I have become better and more efficient as a writer. Also If for reason there is some challenge to complete an article one week, I have the option go back almost up to seven years to find a relevant article to that many of my readers either haven’t seen before, or if they have, don’t remember. I hope you enjoy this one.


[2] Emil William Chynn, Chinese Proverbs for Today’s World.


[3] “Having awakened faith in the narrations of My glories, being disgusted with all material activities, knowing that all sense gratification leads to misery, but still being unable to renounce all sense enjoyment, My devotee should remain happy and worship Me with great faith and conviction. Even though he is sometimes engaged in sense enjoyment, My devotee knows that all sense gratification leads to a miserable result, and he sincerely repents such activities.” (Bhāgavatam 11.20.27–28)


[4] Robert Waldinger, What Makes a Life Good: Lessons from the Longest Study on Happiness.


[5] See “Be a Sage Page by Page” available on Apple App Store and Google Play.



Comments are closed.