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Fake Lao Tzu Quote

"The moment truth..."

Fake Lao Tzu quote: The moment truth is asserted it becomes false.

This is NOT a quote from Tao Te Ching:


"The moment truth is asserted it becomes false."






This is a very strange statement, indeed. How can a truth become false when it is asserted? It makes no sense. It was either true or untrue already before being asserted. The claim itself does not make it false.

       Of course, a claim alone is no proof. Evidence is needed, but when the evidence is there, that's it - until other evidence invalidates it.

       There are many reflections through the history of human thought about the difficulty of finding the truth, and what is true to some is blatant lie to others. That is the message of Pontius Pilates' response when Jesus said he came into the world to bear witness to the truth: "What is truth?" (John 18:38).


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       But a truth does not become untrue because it is asserted. Nor does it become untrue because someone else asserts to it being so. That's just quarreling. In modern terminology we would say that a statement is neither true nor false before being tested, it is but an hypothesis. If it passes the test it is true, if not it is false.

       As far as I have found, this quote seems to originate with the Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (1931-1990), later called Osho, who was famous and had many followers in the 1970's and 80's. He mentioned it in a speech on August 19, 1980, accrediting it to Lao Tzu.

       That and other speeches were recorded by his disciples and later published in several books, none of them giving the year of publication. The exact date of this speech is given in Theologia Mystica by Narinder Sharma (page 139).

       In another speech five days earlier, also documented in this book (page 61), Osho had another Lao Tzu quote, which most likely refers to the same saying, though with different wording:


Truth cannot be said. The moment you say it you falsify it.


       And in a speech on August 20th, he had this version (page 153):


To say the truth is to falsify it.


       Clearly, he was quoting from his own memory and allowing himself to paraphrase. He had a lot of followers for many years, so his version of a Lao Tzu saying has surely spread substantially through the years, leading to the quote examined here being ascribed to Lao Tzu.

       Tao Te Ching does not contain such a statement, but Osho was a learned man and probably interpreted some line in the text as he perceived it. My guess is that he based it on the last line of chapter 78, which reads (my version):


True words seem false.


       James Legge's version from 1891 reads:


Words that are strictly true seem to be paradoxical.


       Lao Tzu didn't question the truth, but stated that it may sound absurd or false to those not understanding it.

       He did warn against false claims of knowing the truth, in several chapters of Tao Te Ching. In particular, he distrusted those who took pride in being learned, full of knowledge instead of wisdom, like in the 81st and very last chapter of the book (my version):


True words are not pleasing.
Pleasing words are not true.
Those who are right do not argue.
Those who argue are not right.
Those who know are not learned.
Those who are learned do not know.


       It was not that their truth became false upon their announcing it. They were just wrong to begin with.

       In the speech where Osho used the quote examined here, he followed up by explaining: "There is no way to communicate truth. But language has to be used; there is no other way. So we always have to use the language with the condition that it cannot be adequate to the experience."

       It is close to the nihilistic approach of the Greek philosopher Gorgias, from the 5th century BC, who claimed that nothing exists, and if anything did exist, it could not be known to do so, and finally, if it could be known to exist, this knowledge could not be communicated.

       This reasoning is similar to the opening line of Tao Te Ching:


The Way that can be walked is not the eternal Way.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.


       D. C. Lau's translation from 1963 of the first line makes the similarity to Osho's thinking even clearer:


The way that can be told is not the constant way.


       Lao Tzu said repeatedly in his text that words could not describe Tao accurately, and therefore not grasp the fundamental truth of it and its workings. It would not even be possible to come up with an adequate terminology.

       So, a plausible expression of Lao Tzu's standpoint regarding the fundamental truth of nature would be something like: A truth that can be stated is not the real truth. That's not so far from the meaning of Osho's quote.

Stefan Stenudd
September 20, 2020.



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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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