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Fake Lao Tzu Quote

"Life is a series..."

Fake Lao Tzu quote: Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes...

This is NOT a quote from Tao Te Ching:


"Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them - that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like."






The first sentence in this quote is modern in form, but still not that strange to the Chinese mind at the time of Lao Tzu. Already back then I Ching (The Book of Change) was a classic. Its title suggests that everything changes and nothing can be expected to stay the same forever.

       Well, things change but the cosmic order by which that happens does not. Tao, the Way, was to Lao Tzu the principle behind it all, ever present and ever the same. He certainly saw this process as natural, but hardly spontaneous. To him, it was as fixed - and therefore predictable - as we regard what we call the natural laws.


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       Because Tao is simply the way things work in the world, it would be pointless to resist. Trying to change this only leads to damage and failure. Chapter 29 of Tao Te Ching states (my version):


Conquering the world and changing it,
I do not think it can succeed.
The world is a sacred vessel that cannot be changed.
He who changes it will destroy it.
He who seizes it will lose it.


       The third sentence of the quote examined here, though, is so superfluous that it becomes odd. What could reality be but reality? The quote would be better without this sentence. Lao Tzu might even wonder what it could mean, since he never discussed either reality's opposite or absence. To him, it was a given. He might instead use the concept of 'ten thousand things,' which I and many others translate to 'the world,' indicating everything in the world. And of course, the world is what it is.

       It is interesting that the last sentence of the quote suggests we should let things flow, since Lao Tzu liked to compare Tao to water. Chapter 8 of Tao Te Ching reads:


Supreme good is like water.
Water greatly benefits all things, without conflict.
It flows through places that people loathe.
Thereby it is close to the Way.


       So, the quote discussed here is close, but no cigar. That still means it might be a free paraphrasing or interpretation of something from Tao Te Ching.

       The earliest occurrence of this quote I have found in a book is already from 1967: The Mystic Path to Cosmic Power, by Vernon Howard (page 112). But the wording is a bit different:


Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them; don't wish things were different. That only creates sorrow. Go along. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like. Be like a pebble carried effortlessly along the stream of life.


       Howard makes it clear that he is not quoting, but explaining with his own words what he regards as Taoism's teaching. He mentions both Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, but makes no claim to lend the words of either.

       And it is clear that he knows the distinction. On page 80 of the same book he puts a saying within quotes and accredits it to Lao Tzu: "Perfect kindness acts without thinking of kindness."

       That quote, by the way, is discussed in the chapter Perfect kindness.

       Anyway, it is safe to say that the quote discussed here originates with Vernon Howard, though reproduced in a slightly shortened form.

       The first book after Howard's to use the quote, as far as I have found, does so with the exact shortened wording of the quote examined here, and accredits it to Lao Tzu. It is A Guide for the Advanced Soul from 1985, by Susan Hayward (page 17). This revised quote, attributed to Lao Tzu, was repeated in several books the following decades, and then on the Internet.

Stefan Stenudd
September 17, 2020.



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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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