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Fake Lao Tzu Quote

"There is no illusion..."

Fake Lao Tzu quote: There is no illusion greater than fear.

This is NOT a quote from Tao Te Ching:


"There is no illusion greater than fear."






Lao Tzu did not mention illusion in Tao Te Ching. It would be a strange concept to him. Certainly, what he observed about the nature of existence seemed to be hidden from the minds of others, but not really replaced by some illusion. It was a question of seeing what was hidden, which is not the same thing as imagining something else.

       But he did speak about fear - not as an illusion, but a real thing for real reasons. For example, in chapter 13 (my version):


What does it mean that praise and disgrace cause fear?
Praise leads to weakness.
Getting it causes fear, losing it causes fear.
This is why praise and disgrace cause fear.



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       In chapter 17 he mentioned that lesser rulers are feared, and in chapter 74 he even pointed out fear as something to keep people obedient:


If people are not afraid of dying,
Why threaten them with death?
If people live in constant fear of death,
And if breaking the law is punished by death,
Then who would dare?


       That was no defense of capital punishment. In the following lines Lao Tzu explained that there is one supreme executioner and it would be a mistake to try taking that place. This executioner is nature, of course, killing each of us at the end.

       Lao Tzu did not regard fear as an illusion, but warned about its consequences.

       The earliest book in which I have found the exact quote examined here is Who Am I without You? 52 Ways to Rebuild Self-Esteem after a Breakup from 2015, by Christina G. Hibbert. The quote, ascribed to Lao Tzu, commences a chapter called "Face your fears."

       On the Internet the quote has been around for a little longer. It got its first like on Goodreads in January 2013 and its first post on Facebook in December that year, in both cases ascribed to Lao Tzu.

       But the same quote with "greater" and "illusion" switching places is found in Stephen Mitchell's version of Tao Te Ching, released in 1988. It is in chapter 46:


There is no greater illusion than fear,
no greater wrong than preparing to defend yourself,
no greater misfortune than having an enemy.

Whoever can see through all fear
will always be safe.


       As often with Mitchell's version, this wording is far from most translations of Tao Te Ching. Here is my version of the same lines:


There is no greater crime than desire.
There is no greater disaster than discontent.
There is no greater misfortune than greed.

Therefore:
To have enough of enough is always enough.


       Here is D. C. Lau's wording from 1963 (page 107):


There is no crime greater than having too many desires;
There is no disaster greater than not being content;
There is no misfortune greater than being covetous.
Hence in being content, one will always have enough.


       So, it is not about fear at all. Mitchell has gone his own way, and I don't understand how he got there. Anyway, I bet that Mitchell is the origin of the quote examined here, although with two words switching places.

       Oddly, the exact Mitchell quote has not reached nearly as much attention. On Goodreads, Mitchell's wording was not introduced until 2016 and has still received just three likes, compared to 113 for the wording examined here (August 2020). In a Google search, the former brings less than 5,000 links, while the latter brings more than 23,000.

       A Google Books search, on the other hand, gives twice the number of results for Mitchell's wording than the other one. That's an argument for trusting books more than the web, I guess.

       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 22, 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.

       More about the book here.


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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