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Fake Lao Tzu Quote

“If you realize that all things change..."

Fake Lao Tzu quote.

This is not a quote from the Tao Te Ching:



“If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to. If you are not afraid of dying, there is nothing you cannot achieve.”





       This fake Lao Tzu quote is easily found on the Internet, sometimes just the first sentence.

       All things changing, that’s really a Buddhist concept. Even more so is the idea of not holding on. Especially in Zen, letting go is praised as a way to emptiness of the mind. Lao Tzu would describe it differently.

       Lao Tzu does speak about the fear of dying, for example when saying that people without that fear is hard to rule. But overcoming that fear is not something he discusses, and certainly not for the intent of achieving things.

       He preaches wu-wei, non-action, which is pretty much the opposite to boldly start doing stuff.

       Therefore, it is disappointing to see that the quote is indeed from a version of the Tao Te Ching. It's in chapter 74 of Stephen Mitchell's popular book Tao Te Ching: A New English Version from 1988.

       Mitchell has allowed himself considerable freedom in his interpretations of Lao Tzu, frequently leading far away from the mind of the Ancient Chinese thinker.

       Here is my version of the same lines:


If people are not afraid of dying,

Why threaten them with death?

If people live in constant fear of death,

And if breaking the law is punished by death,

Then who would dare?


       Quite different. Every scholarly translation I have come across shows the same distance to Mitchell's version.

       Here, Lao Tzu discusses politics in a manner not so very far from that of Machiavelli. A ruler who wants to keep his subjects in check should consider what threats might work.

       That's not very compassionate. But in Lao Tzu's time the authority of the rulers was not to be questioned – even Lao Tzu insisted on it, though himself often critical.

       By the way, I have to object to Lao Tzu's conclusion here. Already in his day it must have been obvious that the capital punishment was no guarantee against crime.

       The next half of the chapter makes a much more interesting observation. Here is my rendering of it:


There is one appointed supreme executioner.

Truly, trying to take the place of the supreme executioner

Is like trying to carve wood like a master carpenter.

Of those who try to carve wood like a master carpenter,

There are few who do not injure their hands.


       This is much easier to agree with. Lao Tzu points out that no executioner can compare to the very master: nature, the fact that we will all die, whatever we do.

       So, a society should hesitate to play with death. It can backfire in so many ways. Indeed, history has proven it again and again.

       Instead of execution, Mitchell's version speaks of “trying to control the future.” Don't ask me where he got that from. Maybe he wanted to avoid the grim subject, and Lao Tzu's mixed treatment of it.

Stefan Stenudd
April 2, 2017



Fake Lao Tzu Quotes

Here are some fake Lao Tzu quotes I have found, in alphabetical order. Click the quote to get to the webpage where I comment it. I plan to add more false quotes in the future, so do come back.

       I have chosen quotes that exist in meme form (images with text), because they tend to spread the most all over the web, especially in social media.

       Click the quote to get to the webpage about it.


“At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want.”


“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”


“He who controls others may be powerful, but he who has mastered himself is mightier still.”


“If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the moment.”


“If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to. If you are not afraid of dying, there is nothing you cannot achieve.”


“If you want to awaken all of humanity, then awaken all of yourself. If you want to eliminate the suffering in the world, then eliminate all that is dark and negative in yourself. Truly, the greatest gift you have to give is that of your own self-transformation.”


“Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.”


“Life and death are one thread, the same line viewed from different sides.”


“Man's enemies are not demons, but human beings like himself.”


“New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.”


“Respond intelligently even to unintelligent treatment.”


“The soul has no secret that the behavior does not reveal.”


“There are many paths to enlightenment. Be sure to take the one with a heart.”


“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”


“When you are content to be simply yourself and don't compare or compete, everyone will respect you.”







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.

       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.

       More about the book here.



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


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


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Creation Myths

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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.


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.


Aikido Principles. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Aikido Principles

Basic Concepts of the Peaceful Martial Art
Aikido principles, philosophy, and basic ideas. Click the image to see the book at Amazon.


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.


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.

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