Emptiness Is Not What You Expect

William S. Cobb in Reflections on the Game of Go: The Empty Board:

Emptiness refers to the absence of something that, for some reason, one expects to find—as when we say a glass, normally used to hold liquids, is empty even though it is full of air. The point is not that there is nothing there at all, but rather that what is there differs from your expectations.

Many Kisses, Few Miracles

Warren Buffet writes in Berkshire Hathaway’s 1981 Annual Report,

Many managers were apparently overexposed in impressionable childhood years to the story in which the imprisoned, handsome prince is released from the toad’s body by a kiss from the beautiful princess. They are certain that the managerial kiss will do wonders for the profitability of the target company…why else should the shareholders of company A want to buy an interest in company B at a takeover cost that is two times the market price they’d pay if they made direct purchases on their own? … We’ve observed many kisses, but very few miracles.

The Power of Acceptance

Pema Chodron in When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times:

In practicing meditation, we’re not trying to live up to some kind of ideal—quite the opposite. We’re just being with our experience, whatever it is. If our experience is that sometimes we have some sort of perspective, and sometimes we have none, then that’s our experience. If sometimes we can approach what scares us, and sometimes we absolutely can’t, then that’s our experience. “This very moment is the perfect teacher, and it’s always with us” is really a most profound instruction. Just seeing what’s going on—that’s the teaching right there. We can be with what’s happening and not dissociate. Awakeness is found in our pleasure and our pain, our confusion, and our wisdom, available in each moment of our weird, unfathomable, ordinary everyday lives.

Aristophanes Rarely Philosophizes

Scottish writer, playwright and translator Kenneth McLeish writes in The Theatre of Aristophanes,

Like Aeschylus, Aristophanes rarely philosophizes, rarely explains: philosophy and explanation vibrate in the actions and words themselves. In both artists, the polished intellectuality and elegant pattern-making of Sophocles or Euripides are replaced by rawness, illogicality, feeling itself. Our interest focuses not so much on the forces at work on man as on man himself: protean, creative, unpredictable.

Price Matters

Seth Klarman’s extraordinary and mysterious book Margin of Safety, Risk Averse Investing Strategies for the Thoughtful Investor has sold for $700 for used varieties with newer copies going for $2,500 to $4,000. His foremost investing premise is risk mitigation. He writes,

Since transacting at the right price is critical, trading is central to value-investment success. This does not mean that trading in and of itself is important; trading for its own sake is at best a distraction and at worst a costly digression from an intelligent and disciplined investment program. Investors must recognize that while over the long run investing is generally a positive-sum activity, on a day-to-day basis most transactions have zero-sum consequences. If a buyer receives a bargain, it is because the seller sold for too low a price. If a buyer overpays for a security, the beneficiary is the seller, who received a price greater than underlying business value.

The best investment opportunities arise when other investors act unwisely thereby creating rewards for those who act intelligently.

Jonathan Swift on the Genius of Alexander Pope

Alexander Pope was the archetypal writer of the neoclassical period in Europe. In his amazing career, Pope set the paradigm for poetry and the moral and philosophical reasoning that defined his age.

From Jonathan Swift’s Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift,

In Pope I cannot read a line,
But with a sigh I wish it mine;
When he can in one couplet fix
More sense than I can do in six,
It gives me such a jealous fit,
I cry, ‘Pox take him and his wit!’

All through his life, Pope tolerated lingering headaches, asthma, and other symptoms that conjured, in his expressions, “this long disease, my life.”

Don’t Take Experts at Their Word

Robert Cialdini’s Influence provides a particularly enlightening example of the human tendency to hang on to the words of the experts:

There’s a funny story about a doctor who ordered ear drops to be administered in the right ear of a patient who was suffering from an ear infection. Doctors are notorious for poor handwriting skills and using shorthand notations. In this case, instead of completely writing out “right ear” on the prescription pad, the doctor abbreviated and instead wrote “R ear.” The nurse on duty received the prescription with the instructions from the doctor and promptly put the ear drops on the patient’s anus. She knew it was an ear infection so putting the ear drops on the patient’s rear end made absolutely no sense, but she never questioned the instructions because they came from a doctor. The patient went right along as well. No one bothered to question the misinterpreted instructions because they came from someone in a position of influence.

Suffering Can Herald Loving Relationships

From Pema Chodron’s Taking the Leap:

When things fall apart and we can’t get the pieces back together, when we lose something dear to us, when the whole thing is just not working and we don’t know what to do, this is the time when the natural warmth of tenderness, the warmth of empathy and kindness, are just waiting to be uncovered, just waiting to be embraced. This is our chance to come out of our self-protecting bubble and to realize that we are never alone. This is our chance to finally understand that wherever we go, everyone we meet is essentially just like us. Our own suffering, if we turn toward it, can open us to a loving relationship with the world.

We Suffer Because of Our Ignorance

Melvin McLeod writes in his introduction to The Best Buddhist Writing 2007:

According to Buddhism, our fundamental problem is not sin or some moral failing. We suffer because of our ignorance; because we do not understand the actual nature of reality…

The medicine that heals this illness of ignorance is insight or wisdom, which we can develop through the practice of meditation. Meditation means working with our mind, the source of all we experience and do. Through the practice of meditation we become familiar with all that goes on in our mind, both its confusion and inherent wakefulness. We tame the unpheavals, conflicting emotions, and mistaken views that cause so much suffering for ourselves and others, and come to know the mind’s true nature, which is enlightenment. While many religions practice some form of meditation or contemplation, what’s unique about Buddhist meditation is that it doesn’t involve doing, changing, or creating anything. It’s about stopping and resting – about relaxing at least for a moment our endless struggles and cogitations. The basic Buddhist view is that we are fine – perfect even – just the way we are. The practice is simply letting go – of all the ways we feel we have to improve or solidify ourselves. It’s so simple, yet so profound and so difficult.

Warren Buffett Praises Charlie Munger

From Berkshire Hathaway’s 50th annual shareholder letter:

If you’ve attended our annual meetings, you know Charlie has a wide-ranging brilliance, a prodigious memory, and some firm opinions. I’m not exactly wishy-washy myself, and we sometimes don’t agree. In 56 years, however, we’ve never had an argument. When we differ, Charlie usually ends the conversation by saying: “Warren, think it over and you’ll agree with me because you’re smart and I’m right.


From my perspective, though, Charlie’s most important architectural feat was the design of today’s Berkshire. The blueprint he gave me was simple: Forget what you know about buying fair businesses at wonderful prices; instead, buy wonderful businesses at fair prices.

Buffett also offers “Advice on the Choice of a Partner” in the preface to the outstanding Poor Charlie’s Almanack: The Wit and Wisdom of Charles T. Munger:

Look first for someone both smarter and wiser than you are. After locating him (or her), ask him not to flaunt his superiority so that you may enjoy acclaim for the many accomplishments that sprang from his thoughts and advice. Seek a partner who will never second-guess you nor sulk when you make expensive mistakes.

Look also for a generous soul who will put up his own money and work for peanuts. Finally, join with someone who will constantly add to the fun as you travel a long road together. All of the above is splendid advice. (I’ve never scored less than an A in self-graded exams.) In fact, it’s so splendid that I set out in 1959 to follow it slavishly. And there was only one partner who fit my bill of particulars in every way-Charlie.