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Fake Lao Tzu Quote

"Care about what other people think..."

Fake Lao Tzu quote: Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner.

This is NOT a quote from Tao Te Ching:


"Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner."






These are not Lao Tzu's words, but he would not be completely opposed to them. Not that he would ever consider adapting to what other people might expect of him, or change his views to conform to theirs, but he was saddened by the alienation he felt from just about everyone else.

       His solace was his conviction that he understood something they did not, and it was the most important of all - the Way that ruled the world.


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       Chapter 20 of Tao Te Ching differs from the other 80 in its personal tone and melancholy sentiment. He described his isolation from others, who did not understand him, with words approaching anguish. But at the end, he rejoiced at exactly what set him apart - the insight he was given by being aware of Tao, which he here called "the great mother." Here is the end of that chapter (my version), giving a rare glimpse of the man behind the text:


The common people see clearly,
I alone am held in the dark.
The common people are sharp,
Only I am clumsy,
Like drifting on the waves of the sea,
Without direction.

Other people are occupied,
I alone am unwilling, like the outcast.
I alone am different from the others,
Because I am nourished by the great mother.


       As for the fake Lao Tzu quote discussed in this chapter, the earliest example of it I have found is in the book A Million Little Pieces from 2003, by James Frey (page 180). The book is about his struggle with addiction. He found Lao Tzu's text uplifting and eye-opening.

       It is clear in the text that Frey allowed himself to paraphrase, and he did so to make the reader follow his thought process and revelations. We get to experience what he did upon reading the Tao Te Ching. And he even mentioned what chapters he referred to, as he went through them. That is far too often ignored in books quoting Lao Tzu. In the second edition, published the following year in Oprah's Book Club, he added this text in the beginning of the book:


The author is particularly grateful to the Chinese classic Tao Te Ching by Lao-Tzu, who is believed to have lived in the 6th century BC. I have read many translations of this ancient text, but Stephen Mitchell's, published by HarperCollins in 1988, is by far the best. I have made a few minor changes in the passages I've quoted with Stephen Mitchell's permission.


       I would not agree with his choice, but there it is.

       The quote discussed here, Frey relates to chapter 9 of Tao Te Ching. In Stephen Mitchell's version, it reads:


Care about people's approval
and you will be their prisoner.


       As so often with Mitchell, the wording is a bit odd or even off, compared to other translations. Here is mine:


Displaying riches and titles with pride
Brings about one's downfall.


       Wing-tsit Chan in 1963 expressed it (page 115):


To be proud with honor and wealth
Is to cause one's own downfall.


       Philip J. Ivanhoe in 2002 wrote (page 9):


To be haughty when wealth and honor come your way is to bring disaster upon yourself.


       I really don't understand how Mitchell came up with his version, omitting the reference to wealth. Was he reluctant to talk ill of the rich and mighty? Furthermore, the thing with being prisoner has no basis in the chapter. Mitchell seems to have replaced the lines with something he preferred to state, regardless of Lao Tzu.

       As for the rest of chapter 9, Mitchell's version stays rather close to the original. For more about Stephen Mitchell and his version of Tao Te Ching, see the chapter A good traveler has no fixed plans.

Stefan Stenudd
September 13, 2020.



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The Taoism of Lao Tzu Explained. The great Taoist philosophy classic by Lao Tzu translated, and each of the 81 chapters extensively commented. Click the image to see the book at Amazon.

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Tao Quotes - the Ancient Wisdom of the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Tao Quotes

The Ancient Wisdom of the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu. 389 quotes from the foremost Taoist classic, divided into 51 prominent topics. Click the image to see the book at Amazon.

       More about the book here.


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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