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Fake Lao Tzu Quote

"One cannot reflect..."

Fake Lao Tzu quote: One cannot reflect in streaming water...

This is NOT a quote from Tao Te Ching:


"One cannot reflect in streaming water. Only those who know internal peace can give it to others."






The idea of only a peaceful person being able to make others peaceful fits well with Lao Tzu's thoughts. He didn't express it exactly like the quote above, but close enough - for example, in chapter 57 of Tao Te Ching (my version):


I am at peace,
And people become fair by themselves.



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       And in chapter 35 the path to peace is described:


Hold on to the great image,
And the whole world follows,
Follows unharmed,
Content and completely at peace.


       The great image is Tao, the Way. The one who stays with its principle makes others follow and become peaceful. It is possible that this image has been interpreted as a reflection, a mirror, which is indeed an image of sorts. Then the quote discussed here might be described as a free interpretation of the lines from chapter 35.

       The earliest example of this exact quote I have found is in the book One Home, One Family, One Future from 2009, by B. A. Zikria (page 73). He listed a number of Lao Tzu quotes and stated as his source the website Quotationspage. I have not found that quote there, though, nor some others in Zikria's list. But that is no mystery - web pages change constantly, and this reference is more than a decade old.

       So, I used Internet Archive to check versions of that web page from before Zikria's book was published, but with no luck. The content seems to have been the same all through the years. The source to just about all the quotes is Wing-tsit Chan's version of Tao Te Ching from 1963, but his book does not contain the quote examined here.

       The oldest example of the quote I found on Facebook is a meme posted January 14, 2011, where the quote is accredited to Confucius, not Lao Tzu. That did not stop later posts on Facebook from accrediting it to Lao Tzu.

       To be sure, I made a search through James Legge's translations of Confucian texts, without finding the quote. But in Chuang Tsu: Inner Chapters from 1974, by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English, Confucius says (page 95):


Men cannot see their reflection in running water but only in still water. Only that which is still in itself can still the seekers of stillness.


       It is in Book 5 of Chuang Tzu, "Signs of full virtue," where Confucius discussed a crippled man who attracted many followers although he was still, saying nothing. Legge's wording of this section from Chuang Tzu is different, but the meaning is the same (The Texts of Taoism, volume 1, page 225).

       Feng and English also wrote a popular version of Tao Te Ching, so it is quite plausible that this quote from Chuang Tzu has been spread and paraphrased into the quote examined here, along the way mistakenly accredited to Lao Tzu.

Stefan Stenudd
September 19, 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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