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Fake Lao Tzu Quote

"Give evil nothing to oppose..."

Fake Lao Tzu quote: Give evil nothing to oppose and it will disappear by itself.

This is NOT a quote from Tao Te Ching:


"Give evil nothing to oppose and it will disappear by itself."






Evil is a vague concept. What is evil to one may be benevolent to someone else. Really, what is evil? In Christianity it forms a polarity with its opposite good, like black and white - but among people it is mostly a question of nuances of grey in between the extremes.

       An important question arises: are there evil people, or just evil deeds? Just about every action movie is based on the concept that some people are evil to the core, living their lives trying to cause pain and mayhem, as if it were their nutrition.


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       Aristotle in Poetics, his text about the rules of tragedy, claimed that the characters in a story should be defined by the moral standard of their actions, and not some latent urge to do evil or good. Both moral and immoral choices could lead to tragic endings. Furthermore, he demanded that their actions should be forced on them by circumstances, not some free choice. They did what they had to do, or they were unaware of the consequences, and then one thing led to another and so on.

       I think that is how we mostly are and act - driven by events out of our control. It is also implied by Christian dogma. Otherwise it could not claim that everyone, no matter what, can be forgiven. In Christianity, only the devil is evil to the core - and even that can be debated. He, too, is believed to be part of God's plan.

       Tao Te Ching implies that Lao Tzu had a similar view. He did not talk about evil, but about such things as confusion, emotions, and ignorance. People - and especially their rulers - just needed to discover and follow Tao, the Way, and they would all be gentle. Chapter 32 states about the Way (my version):


If princes and kings could follow it,
All things would by themselves abide,
Heaven and Earth would unite
And sweet dew would fall.
People would by themselves find harmony,
Without being commanded.


       He was not unaware of people being good or bad, in the sense of doing good or bad things, but he regarded these circumstances as so to speak workable. None should be rejected. Chapter 62 begins:


The Way is the source of all things,
Good people's treasure and bad people's refuge.

Fine words are traded.
Noble deeds gain respect.
But people who are not good,
Why abandon them?


       So, the concept of evil as we know it was not relevant to Lao Tzu. Still, the quote discussed here is from a version of Tao Te Ching - that by Stephen Mitchell from 1988. It is his wording for the last lines of chapter 60.

       On this website I express doubts about his versions of several parts of Lao Tzu's text. Mitchell takes considerable liberties to make Lao Tzu say what he thinks the ancient thinker should. In this case he has gone so far that it makes no sense to compare just the last lines with other versions, so I will use a bigger portion of the chapter for comparison. Here is Mitchell's version (page 60):


Center your country in the Tao
and evil will have no power.
Not that it isn't there,
but you'll be able to step out of its way.

Give evil nothing to oppose
and it will disappear by itself.


       Here is my version of the same lines:


When the world is ruled according to the Way,
The ghosts lose their power.
The ghosts do not really lose their power,
But it is not used to harm people.

Not only will their power not harm people,
Nor will the sage harm people.
Since neither of them causes harm,
Unified virtue is restored.


       And here is the version by Wing-tsit Chan from 1963 (page 207):


If Tao is employed to rule the empire,
Spiritual beings will lose their supernatural power.
Not that they lose their spiritual power,
But their spiritual power can no longer harm people.
Not only will their supernatural power not harm people,
But the sage also will not harm people.
When both do not harm each other,
Virtue will be accumulated in both for the benefit (of the people).


       Probably, Mitchell wanted to avoid any talk of ghosts or spirits, but replacing it with evil as some kind of entity is quite misleading. Also, it forced him to make other changes, equally misleading. For example, how to step away from evil - isn't that simply fleeing? And he missed the interesting circumstance of the sage not causing harm - implying that in some cases, the sage could.

       The ghosts that Lao Tzu spoke of are kuei, restless spirits of deceased ancestors. When the land is ruled by Tao they have no reason to interfere, but they do not disappear. Occurrences of what we call the supernatural are extremely rare in Tao Te Ching. Lao Tzu focused on the real world and real people.

       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 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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