Taoistic
TAOISM EXPLAINED

     
     


Fake Lao Tzu Quote

"He who controls others..."

Fake Lao Tzu quote: He who controls others may be powerful...

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.


Fake Lao Tzu Quotes - Erroneous Tao Te Ching Citations Examined. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Now it's a book, too!

90 of the most spread false Lao Tzu quotes, why they are false and where they are really from. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Click the image to see the book at Amazon (paid link).

       More about the book here.


       So, the wording of this quote points at later times than ancient China and another mentality than that of Lao Tzu. Still, the quote is not altogether off. There is a similar passage in Tao Te Ching.

       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:


Those who defeat others are strong,
Those who defeat themselves are mighty.


       Other translators have used words like conquer or overcome. The idea of defeating oneself being superior to defeating others is well known - for example in sports, especially the martial arts. Athletes should not strive just to be better than their opponents, but to improve themselves beyond what they perceived was their limit. So, the world record holder should try to surpass even that feat, instead of settling complacently.

       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):


He who knows much about others may be learned, but he who understands himself is more intelligent.
He who controls others may be powerful, but he who has mastered himself is mightier still.
He who receives his happiness from others may be rich, but he whose contentment is self-willed has inexhaustible wealth.
He who occupies a place provided for him by others may live a long life, but he who dwells in his own self-constituted place, even though he decays, is eternal.


       Concepts such as intelligence and happiness are strange to Lao Tzu, and the two last sentences deviate in quite an elaborate way from the original. Lao Tzu's writing may be difficult to comprehend, but it was straightforward and void of ornaments. Here is my version of chapter 33:


Those who understand others are clever,
Those who understand themselves are wise.
Those who defeat others are strong,
Those who defeat themselves are mighty.

Those who know when they have enough are rich.
Those who are unswerving have resolve.
Those who stay where they are will endure.
Those who die without being forgotten get longevity.


       This Tao Te Ching chapter is the most famous for its last line, which in some Chinese manuscripts had wordings seeming to suggest the possibility of eternal life. James Legge in 1891 translated it (page 75):


He who dies and yet does not perish, has longevity.


       This led to a Taoist movement trying to find a method by alchemy to achieve immortality. But they got it wrong. Lao Tzu spoke about reputation, and not actual personal survival. You can live on in others' memories, but that's it. This was confirmed by the Mawangdui manuscripts from around 200 BC, discovered in the 1970's.

       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:


Mastering others requires force;
Mastering the self needs strength.


       As stated above, I am not fond of the choice "mastering," which implies suppression rather than improvement, but I object even more to the expression "the self." That is a psychoanalytical concept, also used in Buddhist literature, but it would have been odd to hear from Lao Tzu.

       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.

Stefan Stenudd
April 2, 2017, revised September 9, 2020.



More Fake Lao Tzu Quotes

There are many more fake Lao Tzu quotes examined on this website. Click the header to see a list of them.



Fake interview with the author

Click the header to read a "fake" interview with Stefan Stenudd, the author of Fake Lao Tzu Quotes.


Comments

Click the header if you would like to comment this or any other fake Lao Tzu quote, or read the comments from others. You need to be logged in to your Facebook account to post a comment.



My Taoism Books:


Tao Te Ching - The Taoism of Lao Tzu Explained. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Tao Te Ching

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 (paid link).

       More about the book here.


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 (paid link).

       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 (paid link).

       More about the book here.



About Cookies


My Other Websites:


I Ching Online

The 64 hexagrams of the Chinese classic I Ching and what they mean in divination. Try it online for free.


Qi Energy Exercises

The ancient Chinese life energy qi (chi) explained, with simple instructions on how to exercise it.


Life Energy

The many ancient and modern life force beliefs all over the world explained and compared.


Taoismen på svenska


Other Books by Stefan Stenudd:


Cosmos of the Ancients. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Cosmos of the Ancients

The Greek philosophers and what they thought about cosmology, myth, and the gods. Click the image to see the book at Amazon (paid link).


QI - increase your life energy. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Qi - Increase Your Life Energy

The life energy qi (also chi or ki) explained, with exercises on how to awaken, increase and use it. Click the image to see the book at Amazon (paid link).


Aikido Principles. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Aikido Principles

Basic concepts of the peaceful martial art. Aikido principles, philosophy, and fundamental ideas. Click the image to see the book at Amazon (paid link).


Life Energy Encyclopedia. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Life Energy Encyclopedia

Qi, prana, spirit, ruach, pneuma, and many other life forces around the world explained and compared. Click the image to see the book at Amazon (paid link).


Stefan Stenudd, Swedish author of fiction and non-fiction. Stefan Stenudd


About me

I'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.

Contact