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Fake Lao Tzu Quote

"From wonder into wonder..."

Fake Lao Tzu quote: From wonder into wonder existence opens.

This is NOT a quote from Tao Te Ching:


"From wonder into wonder existence opens."






Existence would be a strange word in the mouth of Lao Tzu. He used an ancient expression, the ten thousand things, which meant the whole world and everything in it. Existence implies the opposite of non-existence, and what would that be? Lao Tzu had no interest in something illusionary. He talked about reality as he saw it, and the conditions to which it was bound.

       Wonder, on the other hand, is an expression he could relate to. He found so much in the workings of the world amazing, especially what he saw as everything's root: Tao, the Way. He frequently praised it in Tao Te Ching, calling it "the origin of all things" and yet it modestly "becomes one with the dust" (chapter 4, my version).


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       In spite of the above, the quote examined here is actually from an interpretation of Tao Te Ching: the book The Way of Life According to Laotzu from 1944, by Witter Bynner. He called it "An American Version." The quote is from the end of chapter 1, but Bynner's version is quite distant from other translations.

       In these lines, the relation between what Bynner calls the core and the surface is explained (page 25):


The core and the surface
Are essentially the same,
Words making them seem different
Only to express appearance.
If name be needed, wonder names them both:
From wonder into wonder
Existence opens.


       Bynner's choice of "core" and "surface" is an interesting alternative to the usual translations. The former refers to Tao, the Way, and the latter to how it is expressed in the world. The chapter explains that you need to be free of desires to observe the former and full of desire to observe the latter.

       I used "mystery" and "manifestations" for those two aspects of reality (earlier in the chapter). Here is my version of the same last lines:


These two have the same origin but differ in name.
That is the secret,
The secret of secrets,
The gate to all mysteries.


       Arthur Waley in 1934 used "Secret Essences" and "Outcomes," ending the chapter (page 141):


These two things issued from the same mould, but nevertheless are different in name.
This 'same mould' we can but call the Mystery,
Or rather the 'Darker than any Mystery',
The Doorway whence issued all Secret Essences.


       D. C. Lau in 1963 used "its secrets" and "its manifestations," where "it" is Tao. His ending of the chapter reads (page 57):


Being the same they are called mysteries,
Mystery upon mystery -
The gateway of the manifold secrets.


       The complication with Bynner's version is the word "existence," especially since that was the term he used for Tao throughout his translation. It is a strange choice. According to Lao Tzu, Tao is the cause and ruler of existence, but not the same as it. How could something cause and rule itself?

       What mystery or secret the gate opens to is indeed something unclear also after reading the following 80 chapters of Tao Te Ching. It might even be the essence of Tao - but it is not Tao itself, or Lao Tzu would just have used that word again, as he did three times in the opening line of that chapter, which is a play of words that Bynner's solution can't catch. Tao can be both a noun and a verb, so the line says: "The Tao that can be 'Taoed' is not the eternal Tao." In my version:


The Way that can be walked is not the eternal Way.


       James Legge in 1891 stayed with not translating Tao, but was still able to point out the pun (page 47):


The To that can be trodden is not the enduring and unchanging To.


       Bynner's beginning of the chapter misses that little joke. It reads:


Existence is beyond the power of words to define.


       He should have been more careful with choosing his own words.

     For more about Witter Bynner and his version of Tao Te Ching, see the chapter A man with outward courage.

Stefan Stenudd
September 14, 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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