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Fake Lao Tzu Quote

"The career of a sage..."

Fake Lao Tzu quote: The career of a sage is of two kinds...

This is NOT a quote from Tao Te Ching:


"The career of a sage is of two kinds:
He is either honored by all in the world,
Like a flower waving its head,
Or else he disappears into the silent forest"






This is not a Lao Tzu quote, but it got one thing right. His ideal for the sage - or for anyone of significance - was to modestly hide from praise, and if he did not he just wasn't much of a sage. Already in chapter 2 of Tao Te Ching he stated (my version):


So, the sage acts by doing nothing,
Teaches without speaking,
Attends all things without making claim on them,
Works for them without making them dependent,
Demands no honor for his deed.
Because he demands no honor,
He will never be dishonored.



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90 of the most spread false Lao Tzu quotes, why they are false and where they are really from. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Click the image to see the book at Amazon.

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       The quote examined here has some decorative language that does not fit Lao Tzu. But a flower waving its head can be seen as a symbol of parading, which is something he would shun. And disappearing into the silent forest is a sweet symbol of quietude and modesty. So, those are not his words, but also not that far from his meaning.

       The word career, on the other hand, is misplaced in a text from at least 2,300 years ago. Its origin must be much nearer to our time, and indeed it is.

       The first occurrence of it that I have found is in a book from 1977: Elegant Sayings, by the Buddhist philosophers Nagarjuna and Sakya Pandit (page 8). So, the book is recent, but the two sources are not. Nagarjuna lived around the 2nd century CE, and Sakya Pandit (usually spelled Pandita) 1182-1251. I found no information about who was the translator. If it is not Tarthang Tulku, it might be Keith Dowman.

       The quote discussed here is from Nagarjuna's Prajnadanda (The Staff of Wisdom). The problem is that this text of 260 sayings is very unlikely to be by Nagarjuna.

       Still, the sayings are written in poetic form and have their similarities to Tao Te Ching both in style and content. Therefore it is no mystery how this quote has been mistakenly attributed to Lao Tzu somewhere along the way.

       None of the few books with the mistaken accreditation is older than 2014, so they are likely to have gotten it from the Internet. In a Google search, the oldest appearance of the quote with an ascertained date is in a blog post from 2011, changing "he" to "she" and ascribing it to Lao Tzu. The same year it started to appear on Facebook.

       That is quite late, considering the book is from 1977. There are also web pages with the proper accreditation of the quote to Nagarjuna, but they are few in comparison. A Google search shows that there are about 230 of those, but well over 4,000 ascribing it to Lao Tzu (August 2020). So it goes.

Stefan Stenudd
September 20, 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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