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Fake Lao Tzu Quote

"Loss is not as bad..."

Fake Lao Tzu quote: Loss is not as bad as wanting more.

This is NOT a quote from Tao Te Ching:


"Loss is not as bad as wanting more."






This is a confusing statement. A loss is followed by wanting it back, or it is no loss to mention. So, does the quote mean that it is bad to want more than what one just lost? Maybe what is intended is the curse of the notorious gambler - desperately betting more to regain what was lost, and then some. That fever has ruined many.

       In business the principle is pretty much the reverse. You need to accept losses in order to make profit. Focusing too much on diminishing costs will not increase income.


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       On the other hand, there is the Buddhist principle of doing away with cravings to end suffering, and the Christian tradition of greed being one of the seven deadly sins. Jesus explained to the rich young man, wanting to know how to assure eternal life (Mark 10:21-22, King James Version):


One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.


       Lao Tzu also rejected greed very firmly. He found it particularly deplorable in rulers. Chapter 53 of Tao Te Ching states (my version):


When the palace is magnificent,
The fields are filled with weeds,
And the granaries are empty.
Some have lavish garments,
Carry sharp swords,
And feast on food and drink.
They possess more than they can spend.
This is called the vanity of robbers.
It is certainly not the Way.


       His warning against greed applied not only to the mighty, but to everyone. Those who want more are never satisfied, so it is better to have modest needs. Chapter 46 says:


There is no greater crime than desire.
There is no greater disaster than discontent.
There is no greater misfortune than greed.
Therefore:
To have enough of enough is always enough.


       This part of chapter 46 is actually where the quote examined here is from, in a 2009 book called Soft Like Water: Wisdom of the Tao Te Ching, by Dale A. Johnson. The book presentation reads: "This is a modified translation of the Tao Te Ching with special regard to the reasons Christians and others should read this literature of wisdom."

       Christians and others - doesn't that mean everyone? Anyway, here is his wording of the above quoted part of chapter 46 (page 60):


Natural disasters are not as bad as not knowing what is enough.
Loss is not as bad as wanting more.
Therefore the sufficiency that comes from knowing what is enough is an eternal sufficiency.


       He seems to have missed the line about desire, and there is a lot to be said about how he interpreted the lines he included. Here is D. C. Lau's version from 1963 (page 107):


There is no crime greater than having too many desires;
There is no disaster greater than not being content;
There is no misfortune greater than being covetous.
Hence in being content, one will always have enough.


       The main problem with the quote examined here is that the concept of loss is not discussed in this chapter of Tao Te Ching. For that perspective, chapter 44 is more relevant (my version):


Greed is costly.
Assembled fortunes are lost.
Those who are content suffer no disgrace.


       One thing that confused me about Johnson's book is that on Goodreads, the quote discussed here got its first like on October 11, 2008, the year before the book was published. Amazon specifies its publication as September 30, 2009, by which time the quote had already gotten eight likes on Goodreads. Either Johnson had posted his book, or parts of it, on the web beforehand, or he got the quote from a previous source.

       On a website containing multiple translations of Tao Te Ching I found that of Charles Muller, where the wording of the whole chapter 46 is the same as Johnson's, except that the latter changed "Tao" to "the Way" (not in the part quoted here). I have checked here and there in the texts, and it seems Johnson has copied Muller all through, with only the "Tao" replacement done.

       The webpage with the Muller version is not dated, but it has not been changed since August 4, 2001, so it precedes Johnson's book with at least eight years.

       Charles Muller, professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, is a merited translator and expert on East Asian philosophy and religion. He has his own website, with several of his translations online, including that of Tao Te Ching, which he translated the first time in 1991.

       He seems to continue to edit it. His webpage was updated as late as January 23, 2019, but I don't know to what extent. It has a slightly different wording of chapter 46 from what Johnson seems to have copied. Here is his present version of the part of the chapter quoted above:


There is no greater disaster as bad as not knowing what is enough.
No greater than not wanting more.

Therefore the sufficiency that comes from knowing what is enough is an eternal sufficiency.


       I don't understand the second sentence of it, which is the one correlating to the quote examined here. It seems to say that not wanting more is a great disaster, but Lao Tzu would really claim the opposite. Did Muller add that "not" accidentally? I bet it is a typo. Anyway, he has abandoned the "loss" of some previous version, which I am all for.

       His translation of Tao Te Ching was also published as a book in 2005, which did not come up in my web searches on the quote. But I could find it on Amazon, so now it is in my possession. The copyright page of it states that Muller's translation was "written in 1991 and revised in 1997."

       Its version of chapter 46 is identical with the one found on the website with multiple Tao Te Ching versions mentioned above (oddly, there is no page numbering of the part of the book containing the translation, though there is before and after it).

       Another example of Charles Muller's version is discussed briefly in the chapter Act without expectation.

Stefan Stenudd
September 17, 2020.



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