Tao Te Ching
THE TAOISM OF LAO TZU
Fake Lao Tzu Quote
"Every human being's essential nature..."
This is NOT a quote from Tao Te Ching:
"Every human being's essential nature is perfect and faultless, but after years of immersion in the world we easily forget our roots and take on a counterfeit nature."
This long quote is far from the style of Lao Tzu. Its content also deviates considerably from what is expressed in Tao Te Ching. Still, it is not impossible to see connections to Taoist philosophy in it.
It is doubtful that Lao Tzu would call every human being's essential nature perfect, but he was certain that nature itself was. To him, everything in the world was governed by the same faultless principle of Tao, the Way. So, we would all do fine if we just conform to it. The impression Lao Tzu gave is that only humans are able to deviate from Tao — and it is not to our advantage.
Forgetting our roots can be interpreted as another expression of what Lao Tzu stated frequently in his text: so many of us have lost connection to Tao and that leads us far astray. If what we thereby have is a counterfeit nature, though, makes less sense. How can it be counterfeit if it is from ignorance? What we have forgotten leads us astray, but that cannot be a conscious effort. The problem is ignorance, maybe even folly, but not pretense.
I have not found the quote in any version of Tao Te Ching, not even in Dyer's previous books on the Taoism theme, where he went through all the 81 chapters and commented them: Change Your Thoughts — Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao from 2007, and the 2008 version called Living the Wisdom of the Tao: The Complete Tao Te Ching and Affirmations.
Dyer readily admitted to being inspired by Tao Te Ching, quoting and commenting it frequently in several of his books. In Excuses Begone! he started the introduction (page xi): "I spent the year 2006 immersed in the ancient teachings of Lao-tzu, studying his monumental tome, the Tao Te Ching."
His many quotes from Lao Tzu's text were his own interpretations, often getting quite far from the original. In Change Your Thoughts — Change Your Life he explained acquiring ten versions of Tao Te Ching, listed in the acknowledgments: "From those ten translations I'd gone over, I pieced together the 81 passages in Change Your Thoughts — Change Your Life, based on how they resonated with me" (page xii). In Living the Wisdom of the Tao, published the following year, that had grown to "pieced together after reviewing hundreds of translations" (page 1). Still, his acknowledgements contain only the same ten books (page 167).
He used some of the translations more than others. In 2010, Stephen Mitchell filed a lawsuit against him for copyright infringement of 200 lines from Mitchell's version. It was settled out of court the following year.
I have noticed that many of Dyer's Tao Te Ching wordings are identical with those of Mitchell. That can happen when translating a text of this kind, since it contains only about 5,000 words and uses a limited set of concepts repeatedly. Still, I have found it surprisingly rare in other books. And Mitchell's case is different, since he often deviated considerably from the standard translations. In those cases, Dyer's use of the same words was particularly compromising.
It was also kind of alarming that Dyer did not mention his particular dependence on Mitchell's version, since he was happy to do that courtesy with another source in Living the Wisdom of the Tao (page 3): "Some versions of the Tao I relied upon more than others, and I would like to especially mention that the version provided by Jonathan Star (in Tao Te Ching: the Definitive Edition) was the one I quoted most extensively and the one that most resonated with my vision and interpretation of the Tao."
Both Mitchell's and Star's book are mentioned in his list of ten Tao Te Ching versions mentioned above. The list is significant in lacking any of the prominent old translations, such as those of James Legge from 1891, Arthur Waley from 1934, and D. C. Lau from 1963. The only exception might be that of the French Jesuit and sinologist Léon Wieger from 1913, but it is an English 1999 translation by Derek Bryce of the French original.
Anyway, as far as I have found — searching Google as well as Facebook — Dyer is the origin of the quote examined here, and it seems that he allowed himself to find his own wording for what he regarded as Lao Tzu's message. But then he should not really have put the wording between quotation marks.
September 14, 2020.
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About meI'm a Swedish author and aikido instructor. In addition to fiction, I've written books about Taoism and other East Asian traditions. I'm also an historian of ideas, researching ancient thought and mythology. Click the image to get to my personal website.