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Fake Lao Tzu Quote

"At the center of your being..."

Fake Lao Tzu quote: At the center of your being...

This is NOT a quote from Tao Te Ching:


"At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want."






This fake Lao Tzu quote is not only questionable with its use of the semi-colon. I see nothing in it relating to the ideas of Lao Tzu.

       He would reject the whole idea of what you want, focusing instead on what you need. You are likely to find out what you want when you get it, and not before, but Lao Tzu would probably suggest that you are most likely to get what you need if you ignore what you want.

       The center of your being is also something alien to Lao Tzu, as is contemplating who you are. That's all Tao, the inner workings of the world and everything in it. Lao Tzu expressed one fundamental cure for mankind: returning to the Way, the natural state of things. He did not see it as some kind of soul-searching.


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       The quote is part of a full poem, appearing in the 1994 book A Grateful Heart: Daily Blessings for the Evening Meal from Buddha to the Beatles, by M.J. Ryan. Here it is in its entirety (pages 248-249):


Always we hope
someone else has the answer.
Some other place will be better,
some other time
it will turn out.

This is it.
No one else has the answer.
No other place will be better,
and it has already turned out.

At the center of your being, you have the answer;
you know who you are and you know what you want.

There is no need
to run outside
for better seeing.

Nor to peer from a window.

Rather abide at
the center of your being;
for the more you leave it
the less you learn.

Search your heart
and see
the way to do
is to be.


       M. J. Ryan claims that it is Lao Tzu, but with "translator unknown." In the copyright acknowledgements she mentions two Tao Te Ching translations (page 264), but it is from neither. Part of the quote can be found in the version by Witter Bynner: The Way of Life according to Laotzu from 1944. The second part of the poem, starting "There is no need," is his rather free version of chapter 47, though missing his next to last line: "If he is wise who takes each turn:" Also, Bynner used fewer line breaks. Ryan must have wanted to accentuate the poetic flair of the quote, but by those line breaks she hid the fact that Bynner's version is rhymed (page 55):


There is no need to run outside
For better seeing,
Nor to peer from a window. Rather abide
At the center of your being;
For the more you leave it, the less you learn.
Search your heart and see
If he is wise who takes each turn:
The way to do is to be.


       Here is my version of that Tao Te Ching chapter:


Without stepping out the door,
You can know the world.
Without looking through the window,
You can see Heaven's Way.
The longer you travel, the less you know.

Therefore:
The sage knows without traveling,
Perceives without looking,
Completes without acting.


       The first part of the poem in M. J. Ryan's book, though, is not to be found at all in Witter Bynner's version, or in any other Tao Te Ching version, as far as I have seen. I have not been able to find any older source to it than M. J. Ryan's book. Maybe it is of her invention?

       That would be odd, since she used the quote again in The Happiness Makeover from 2005, accrediting it to Lao Tzu, but this time she quoted only the first part, which belongs to neither Lao Tzu nor Bynner (page 170). Would she really do that if it were of her own invention?

       The accreditation confusion increases. The Fatigue Prescription from 2010, by Linda Hawes Clever, uses the complete form of the quote, ascribing it all to Lao Tzu with Witter Bynner as translator (pages 21-22). She has probably picked that up from the Internet, since Ryan never specified the translator.

       On the copyright page accreditations Witter Bynner's book is specified as the source to the whole quote, but a 1986 edition instead of the original from 1944. I checked that edition without finding more than the lines in chapter 47 quoted above. In the bibliography she actually lists the Bynner book as from 1994 (page 177), which is just a reprint of the 1986 edition.

       I don't think that Clever would miss checking the book to which she referred, so she might have gotten it from the web instead. Although she misses the same line from Bynner as Ryan does, it is not likely that she found the quote there, since no book by Ryan is in her bibliography.

       On a section in the book for Internet resources, she lists nine quotation websites. Among them is thetao.info (page 176). Unfortunately that website does not exist anymore, but an Internet Archive search shows that it never contained chapter 47 of Tao Te Ching. There are several other web pages ascribing the full quote to Bynner, though of course none of them precedes Ryan's book from 1994.

       I assume that the quote from Ryan entered the Internet and somewhere along the way was connected to Bynner as a whole, because of the part from his text. For more about Witter Bynner and his version of Tao Te Ching, see the chapter A man with outward courage.

       In my searches I found two books that may have inspired M. J. Ryan to the lines that are not from Bynner. One is in the same genre as hers: The Wisdom of the Self from 1992, by Paul Ferrini. He wrote (page 32):


No one else has the answer. No one else is more together. No one else has knowledge that you do not have.


       He goes on to state: "Whatever is in Lao Tzu, or Buddha, or Jesus is in you." It is pure speculation, but this may have connected the lines to Lao Tzu in Ryan's mind. Ferrini also wrote a lyrical book inspired by Tao Te Ching in form and content: Virtues of the Way from 1990. It does not contain the quote examined here, or any parts of it. Nor is Ferrini mentioned in Ryan's book.

       The other book that might have inspired Ryan is quite different from Ferrini's and Ryan's, if not to say their antidote: Coping with Cults from 1990, by Maryann Miller. This is how she ends the chapter on how not to get in a cult, which is also the last chapter of the book (page 127):


It is so important to remember that no one else has the answer to your problems. All of us have to find our own answers, and it is not as impossible as it seems. The key is to take and keep control of your own life. Don't give it away to anyone.


       Well, Miller is also not mentioned in Ryan's book, but like Ferrini's book it was published just a few years before. Of course, what is stated in these three books is nothing exceptional to come out of human minds. It is hardly necessary to link it to Lao Tzu. In short, the message is: Nobody but you can get you what you want. Lao Tzu would not subscribe to it.

Stefan Stenudd
April 2, 2017, revised September 9, 2020.



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