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Fake Lao Tzu Quote

"Stop thinking..."

Fake Lao Tzu quote: Stop thinking, and end your problems.

This is NOT a quote from Tao Te Ching:


"Stop thinking, and end your problems."






To stop thinking is not only detrimental to any philosophy - it is impossible, also to Lao Tzu. He repeatedly encouraged the reader to contemplate the order of life and the workings of Tao, the Way. His ideal was the sage, who can reason and thereby reveal the true essence of nature.

       The ideal of no thinking is more of a Zen thing, with its concept of empty mind - mushin in Japanese, which also implies freedom of ambition and longing. It is the basis of Zen meditation: sit and think of nothing.

       There are several similarities between Buddhism, especially Zen, and Lao Tzu's Taoism. But not here. Lao Tzu's world was not one to turn away from, but instead to accept as it was. That, too, is easier said than done.


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       The quote comes from Stephen Mitchell's 1988 version of Tao Te Ching, which is notorious for its often very free interpretations of the text. It's the starting line of chapter 20. That, too, is debatable. But first, here is my version of that line:


Abandon knowledge and your worries are over.


       James Legge's version from 1891 reads (page 62):


When we renounce learning we have no troubles.


       Wing-tsit Chan in 1963 wrote (page 134):


Abandon learning and there will be no sorrow.


       Robert G. Henricks in 1989 wrote (page 224):


Eliminate learning and have no undue concern.


       It is about acquired knowledge, and not about thinking as such - a most important difference.

       Now, regarding placing the line in chapter 20:

       Originally, Tao Te Ching had no division into 81 chapters. That's a much later edit, probably at the 1st century BC. The number of chapters was to reach the symbolic symmetry of 9 X 9. The consequence has been an additional complication in understanding the text as it was meant. Verses on different subjects have been combined, and some verses have been split up between chapters wrongly, adding confusion for the reader. As if the text was not already difficult to understand.

       Of the above quotes, only I and Robert G. Henricks put the line as the last of chapter 19, instead of the start of chapter 20. But it has been an issue of discussion among Lao Tzu translators and commentators for long. I have followed Henricks' strong arguments for this (page 224), which also seem to be confirmed by the two old Tao Te Ching manuscripts discovered in Mawangdui, 1973. They are from around 200 BC.

       That may have changed with the Guodian findings in the 1990's of Tao Te Ching fragments a hundred years older than those of Mawangdui. Examining the Guodian manuscripts in his book from the year 2000, Henricks found clear support in these findings for the line belonging to chapter 20 (page 29).

       The final verdict may not be in yet, but in any case the wording of the quote is not affected by what chapter it belongs to. Lao Tzu would have allowed us to continue pondering it. He might even have been amused.

       For more about Stephen Mitchell and his version of Tao Te Ching, see the chapter A good traveler has no fixed plans.

Stefan Stenudd
September 20, 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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