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Fake Lao Tzu Quote

"A man with outward courage..."

Fake Lao Tzu quote: A man with outward courage dares to die...

This is NOT a quote from Tao Te Ching:


"A man with outward courage dares to die; a man with inner courage dares to live."






This is a strange statement. Inner courage can be understood as a psyche able to be courageous, which is the same as plainly saying courage. Where else would the courage be, if not in a person's inner conditions? But then, outward courage can be nothing but the expression of that inner capacity. So, they can hardly differ in nature.

       What might be intended is the difference between courage in deeds and courage in thought. Certainly, people who regard themselves as courageous can fail when put to the test, whereas many cowards show great bravery in times of crisis. But that would not explain how one leads to death and the other to life.

       If it's about being a daredevil, putting oneself in danger to impress others by showing courage, then it would make more sense to say that the courageous dare to die, and the cowardly dare to live. But that has less of a glorious flare about it.


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       The message of the quote could be sort of psychoanalytical. It is easier to die in a bold deed than to seek and examine one's inner flaws. That has proven to be true in many cases of abrupt self-sacrifice. Some people have willingly met their own death rather than living on with their inner torments, much less facing them.

       In any case, Lao Tzu would not divide courage into an outward and an inner form. But he did write about two expressions of courage leading to those extremes in the outcome. It is in chapter 73 of Tao Te Ching. Here is my version:


Those who have the courage to dare will perish.
Those who have the courage not to dare will live.


       Here is D. C. Lau's version from 1963 (page 135):


He who is fearless in being bold will meet with his death;
He who is fearless in being timid will stay alive.


       So, it is not about what kind of courage one has, but how it is expressed, to what action it leads or doesn't lead. Those who dare to resist challenges to their courage will survive.

       The difference between the quote discussed here and Lao Tzu's words may seem minute, but it makes a huge difference in how the words are to be understood.

       Still, there is an English version of Tao Te Ching that contains the quote in chapter 73, but with the use of "inward" instead of "inner." It is Witter Bynner's book The Way of Life According to Laotzu: An American Version from 1944 (page 71):


A man with outward courage dares to die,
A man with inward courage dares to live.


       The American poet Witter Bynner (1881-1968) also translated old Chinese poetry in a long-time collaboration with Kiang Kang-hu, a professor of Chinese. His often somewhat odd interpretation of Lao Tzu's words is the source to several misleading Lao Tzu quotes on the Internet - and in an increasing number of books. Being a poet himself, he must have allowed himself quite a dose of poetic license, which is probably the reason for the subtitle "An American Version."

       Not knowing the Chinese language, he based his version on a number of extant translations - as any translator of a classic text, whether familiar with the language or not, needs to do - and explained in the introduction (page 15): "Laotzu should, I am convinced, be brought close to people in their own idiom, as a being beyond race or age."

       It is a praiseworthy ambition, but it brings the risk of deviating so far from the original intentions of the text that it gets closer to the translator than to Lao Tzu. The best translation of this classic is such that the readers experience at least some of the ancient Chinese context and are trusted to do some translating of their own, so to speak, into "their own idiom." Lao Tzu spoke to his contemporaries. If that is removed, readers are robbed of the possibility to draw their own conclusions as to how his words can be relevant today.

       It is not like Tao Te Ching was that easy to understand at the time and place of its emergence, either. Its obscurity contributes significantly to its continued attraction.

Stefan Stenudd
September 12, 2020.



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Fake Lao Tzu Quotes - Erroneous Tao Te Ching Citations Examined. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Fake Lao Tzu Quotes

Erroneous Tao Te Ching Citations Examined. 90 of the most spread false Lao Tzu quotes, why they are false and where they are really from. Click the image to see the book at Amazon.

       More about the book here.



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