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Fake Lao Tzu Quote

"If there is to be peace in the world..."

Fake Lao Tzu quote: If there is to be peace in the world, there must be peace in the nations...

This is NOT a quote from Tao Te Ching:


"If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.
If there is to be peace in the nations,
There must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbors.
If there is to be peace between neighbors,
There must be peace in the home.
If there is to be peace in the home,
There must be peace in the heart."






This long quote ascribed to Lao Tzu is not to be found in Tao Te Ching. But there is something at least similar in form, in chapter 54 (my version):


Cultivate virtue in yourself,
And it will be true.
Cultivate virtue in the family,
And it will be overflowing.
Cultivate virtue in the town,
And it will be lasting.
Cultivate virtue in the country,
And it will be abundant.
Cultivate virtue in the world,
And it will be universal.

Therefore:
See others as yourself.
See families as your family.
See towns as your town.
See countries as your country.
See worlds as your world.


       Peace is not synonymous with virtue, but the Chinese term te, which I translate as virtue, is a diffuse one. Other versions choose other words for it, though "virtue" is by far the most common translation. Arthur Waley in 1934 called it "power" and James Legge in 1891 translated it "attributes (of the Tao)." But peace would not really be adequate for the word.


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       The virtue implied is the one of following Tao, the Way. That leads to peace, Lao Tzu definitely claimed, but it is far from all. Although unlikely, there could be peace without both Tao and te. It would be a fragile peace, probably based on oppression by mighty forces. Peace can be very costly and even tormenting. The virtue Lao Tzu spoke of leads to a peace that pleases everyone.

       The quote examined here would fit better with the philosophy of Confucius, who insisted on the necessity of the people being loyal to their families all the way up to the ruler. But he, too, is not the source to this quote.

       The earliest example of this exact quote I have found is in Lifeskills from 1997, by Virginia and Redford Williams (page xix), accrediting it to Lao Tzu with the reservation that it might be from Mo Tzu. No source to this is given.

       Mo Tzu is a probable alternative source to the quote, but where Lao Tzu's focus was virtue, Mo Tzu's was love - not peace per se. Still, it would lead to peace.

       The below quote is from Book 4 of Mo Tzu's work, the last paragraph of the chapter called "Universal Love III," translated by Y. P. Mei in The Ethical and Political Works of Motse from 1929 (page 97):


Therefore, universal love is really the way of the sage-kings. It is what gives peace to the rulers and sustenance to the people. The gentleman would do well to understand and practise universal love; then he would be gracious as a ruler, loyal as a minister, affectionate as a father, filial as a son, courteous as an elder brother, and respectful as a younger brother.


       By "gentleman" Mo Tzu meant someone with a quality quite near to what Lao Tzu described as virtue. It is also very similar to what he called "the sage."

       Still, neither Lao Tzu nor Mo Tzu is the source to the exact quote examined here, or for that matter anything close enough to it. I have not found its origin, but it is likely to be either a very free paraphrasing of chapter 54 in Tao Te Ching, or the words of someone else that were later assumed to be Lao Tzu.

Stefan Stenudd
September 16, 2020.



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