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Fake Lao Tzu Quote

"Perfect kindness..."

Fake Lao Tzu quote: Perfect kindness acts without thinking of kindness.

This is NOT a quote from Tao Te Ching:


"Perfect kindness acts without thinking of kindness."






Lao Tzu did not praise kindness, probably because it would be meaningless to him without a higher purpose. True kindness is not just to treat people well, but to help them along. That can sometimes seem unkind. Chapter 5 of Tao Te Ching states (my version):


Heaven and Earth are not kind.
They regard all things as offerings.
The sage is not kind.
He regards people as offerings.



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       What he implied was that everything and everyone are parts of the whole, so individual preferences hardly count. There is a greater order, which is Tao, the Way, and even when it doesn't look like it, it is for the best for all. The sage may not be kind, but works for what is good. Chapter 49 explains:


The sage has no concern for himself,
But makes the concerns of others his own.
He is good to those who are good.
He is also good to those who are not good.
That is the virtue of good.


       The quote examined here suggests that the best kindness is of the unselfish kind, demanding no praise. Lao Tzu might have approved of that, but only if the kind deeds were in accordance with Tao. Otherwise, no matter how kind, they might not be good.

       What he stressed was te, virtue, the willingness and ability to follow Tao. To him, that would be perfect kindness. Chapter 10 says about how people should be treated:


To give birth to them and nourish them,
Carry them without taking possession of them,
Care for them without subduing them,
Raise them without steering them.
That is the greatest virtue.


       The earliest occurrence of the exact quote examined here, as far as I have found, is in the book Men Who Have Walked with God from 1945, by Sheldon Cheney (page 19). There it is clearly stated that the quote is from Chuang Tzu, but it is in a chapter devoted to "The Poet Lao-Tse," so people getting the quote from this book may easily have mixed it up.

       The first book doing so was Great Thoughts from 1954, by Queene Ferry Coonley and Charlotte Krum (page 11). That book seems not to have spread widely, though, but so did The Mystic Path to Cosmic Power from 1967, with several later editions, by Vernon Howard (page 80). Either he got the quote from the 1954 book, or he also misread Cheney's book.

       On the other hand, they both might have had the same source to the quote as Cheney did. Oddly, I have not been able to find the origin of this Chuang Tzu saying, although Cheney indicates clearly that it is an exact quote. I have checked the sources he lists for Chuang Tzu (page 386).

       The problem is that in spite of signaling quotes by italics, Cheney admits to making his own versions of both the many Lao Tzu quotes and those of Chuang Tzu (page 387):


To James Legge I am especially indebted, since I used his nearly literal translation, by courteous permission of the Oxford University Press, as basis for my own "versions" of the poems of Lao-Tse herein presented - though I worked with frequent reference to ten other translations. The excerpts from Chuang-Tse also are "after" Legge.


       Unfortunately, Cheney did not refer to any specific Tao Te Ching or Chuang Tzu chapters when "quoting" them, so they are difficult to trace. The closest I have come to the quote in James Legge's translation is this, in The Texts of Taoism, volume 2, 1891 (page 261):


Heaven has no (special feeling of) kindness, but so it is that the greatest kindness comes from It.


       That is not from Chuang Tzu, though, but from a much later text: Yin Fu Ching, Classic of the Harmony of the Seen and the Unseen, which Legge placed at the 8th century CE.

       Well, in any case it is not a Lao Tzu quote. So, let's leave it at that.

Stefan Stenudd
September 19, 2020.



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