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Fake Lao Tzu Quote

"Health is the greatest possession..."

Fake Lao Tzu quote: Health is the greatest possession. Contentment is the greatest treasure...

This is NOT a quote from Tao Te Ching:


"Health is the greatest possession. Contentment is the greatest treasure. Confidence is the greatest friend. Non-being is the greatest joy."






This might pass as something Lao Tzu would have said, except for the last sentence. Not only was he rather uninterested in joy, but non-being was no ingredient in his cosmology. He did not even show the least interest in what might come after death. And the sage he spoke of in Tao Te Ching was definitely being, though far from noisy or intrusive.

       Well, Lao Tzu would also be at least ambiguous about confidence, if not specifically in Tao, the Way. Otherwise, he would praise humility more. And health was not something he discussed in Tao Te Ching.


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       This quote would be something more in line with Buddhist thought, and indeed, that is where it originated. The earliest example of this quote I have found is in the book The Dhammapada: the Path of Perfection from 1973, translated by Juan Mascaró (page 64). The only difference in the wording is "nirvana" instead of "non-being," but that is pretty much the same. It is the Buddhist term for "becoming extinct," in the meaning of exiting the cycle of rebirth, the only way to end suffering.

       Dhammapada is a collection of aphorisms on the Buddhist strife for nirvana, from around the third century BC.

       The earliest book I have found accrediting the quote to Lao Tzu is The 6 Sacred Stones from 2008, a novel by Matthew Reilly (page 257), using "nonbeing" instead of "nirvana." The change of that word indicates an adaption of the quote from a Buddhist origin to something less obviously so. Still, it does not make the quote Taoist.

       Matthew Reilly might not be the first one to claim Lao Tzu as the source of the quote. By 2008 (or 2007, when his book was first published in Australia), he could have found web pages giving him that impression. That is something I have not been able to confirm, though.

       The oldest Internet appearance of the quote ascribed to Lao Tzu I have found with an ascertained date is from November 2008 in the blog Financial Philosopher. It refers to two sources - D. C. Lau's version of Tao Te Ching from 1963 and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Eastern Philosophy from 2000, by Jay Stevenson - but the quote is in none of these books. The earliest Facebook posting of the quote ascribed to Lao ´Tzu is from April 2010, using the Chinese characters for his name. But both before and after that date there are also posts ascribing it to Buddha or Dhammapada, albeit with slightly different wordings.

       On Goodreads, the quote is also accredited to Lao Tzu, but has only four likes (August 2020), the first one from as late as 2013.

       So, it might be that Matthew Riley was the origin of the mistaken accreditation of this quote to Lao Tzu. But it would be strange if he made this error when using Dhammapada as his source. It is more likely that he mixed up sources when picking from some list of old quotes that I have not been able to find.

Stefan Stenudd
September 14, 2020.



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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.

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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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