Tao Te Ching
THE TAOISM OF LAO TZU
Fake Lao Tzu Quote
"He who controls others..."
This is NOT a quote from Tao Te Ching:
"He who controls others may be powerful, but he who has mastered himself is mightier still."
Controlling others is an expression that is out of place in the world of Lao Tzu. He talked about ruling, definitely, but that was something reserved for kings and such. Their rule would improve if they used caution and tried to follow Tao, the Way — but mastering themselves would be odd, like a ruler turned slave, albeit by his own command. It would make little sense in ancient China.
Also the idea that there is some measure to the power of the monarch was strange to Lao Tzu and his contemporaries. The emperor had his power, no matter what, and it was quite close to absolute. Lao Tzu would know, since legend has it that he worked at the imperial archives before leaving the country in disgust.
The quote is from the 1958 book Tao Teh King by Lao Tzu: Interpreted as Nature and Intelligence, by the philosophy professor Archie J. Bahm (1907-1996). It is his version of part of chapter 33. Here is the same part in my version:
Bahm's version might seem close, but his choice of the words "control" and "master" imply suppression rather than improvement. Similar objections can be made about other wordings in Bahm's rendering of this Tao Te Ching chapter. Here it is (page 36 in the 1996 edition):
To Bahm's credit he sort of hinted at the same, although with a bundle of words hard to extract from the original.
For more about Arthur J. Bahm's version of Tao Te Ching, see the chapters One who is too insistent and Respond intelligently.
A slightly different wording of the quote examined here is also widely spread on the web:
It is from the popular 1972 Tao Te Ching version by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English. For more on their version of chapter 33, see Knowing others, and their quote from Chuang Tzu is discussed in Life and death are one thread.
April 2, 2017, revised September 9, 2020.
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