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Fake Lao Tzu Quote

"The flame that burns..."

Fake Lao Tzu quote: The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long.

This is NOT a quote from Tao Te Ching:


"The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long."






Lao Tzu said nothing about flames or burning in Tao Te Ching, but he would approve of the moral of this quote. He even spoke about dimming the light as an ideal, for example in chapter 56 (my version):


Seal the openings.
Shut the doors.
Dull the sharpness.
Untie the knots.
Dim the light.
Become one with the dust.



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       Also the Way itself, Tao, has this trait. Chapter 4 says about it:


It dulls the sharpness,
Unties the knots,
Dims the light,
Becomes one with the dust.


       The quote examined here does not only deal with brightness, but warns against overdoing things and being too energetic. Lao Tzu would agree with that as well. It would only wear you down and lead you astray. Chapter 15 states:


He who holds on to the Way seeks no excess.
Since he lacks excess,
He can grow old in no need to be renewed.


       So, although Lao Tzu was not the source to this quote he would not object to it. Then, who was?

       There are many sayings of this kind. An old and widely familiar one is the expression "burning the candle at both ends" of French origin, introduced to the English language in 1611 by Randle Cotgrave in A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues.

       But there is a more recent example, much closer to the quote discussed here. In the 1982 movie Blade Runner, the character Dr. Tyrell says to the replicant Roy Batty, when explaining why his life cannot be extended:


The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long - and you have burned so very, very brightly, Roy.


       Amusing as it seems, it is quite plausible that the movie line somehow became a Lao Tzu quote. I have not found any reference to the quote before 1982, neither the "flame" nor the "light" version.

       The oldest book I have found to accredit the quote to Lao Tzu is as recent as 2019: Opium: How an Ancient Flower Shaped and Poisoned Our World, by John H. Halpern and David Blistein (page 89).

       On the Internet, the earliest appearance of the quote ascribed to Lao Tzu was on Goodreads, where it got its first like on August 28, 2008. On Facebook, the first post with the Lao Tzu reference was on January 27, 2010. Both used "flame" instead of "light."

Stefan Stenudd
September 20, 2020.



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The Taoism of Lao Tzu Explained. The great Taoist philosophy classic by Lao Tzu translated, and each of the 81 chapters extensively commented. Click the image to see the book at Amazon.

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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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