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Fake Lao Tzu Quote

"Time is a created thing..."

Fake Lao Tzu quote: Time is a created thing. To say 'I don't have time,' is like saying, 'I don't want to.'

This is NOT a quote from Tao Te Ching:


"Time is a created thing. To say 'I don't have time,' is like saying, 'I don't want to.'"






Lao Tzu did not contemplate time as such. Nothing in his writing suggests that he thought of it as being relative or a chimera. He most probably regarded it as an eternal absolute. In chapter 25 he described Tao, the Way, as preceding the world - but not preceding time itself. Here it is in my version:


There was something that finished chaos,
Born before Heaven and Earth.
So silent and still!
So pure and deep!
It stands alone and immutable,
Ever-present and inexhaustible.
It can be called the mother of the whole world.
I do not know its name. I call it the Way.
For the lack of better words I call it great.



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       The idea of time as a created thing was suggested by Saint Augustine (354-430 CE), but he meant that time was created by God in the commencement of his world creation - not something that mere humans could make up their own minds about. To Augustine it was an argument against questions about what was before the world, or for that matter before God: There was no before, since he started time when he created the world.

       He wrote in Confessions, book XI (revised from a former translation by F. B. Pusey in 1838, page 234):


For that very time didst Thou make, nor could times pass by, before Thou madest those times. But if before heaven and earth there was no time, why is it demanded, what Thou then didst? For there was no "then," when there was no time.


       This perspective from 1,600 years ago is remarkably comparable to the modern Big Bang theory, which states that time, as we know it, started when the universe started to expand.

       But this is very far from the time concept suggested by the quote discussed here, which deals with a personal relation to time - the time one has, and how one chooses to spend it. That perspective is not cosmological, but moral.

       The earliest printed book I have found with the precise quote examined here accredited to Lao Tzu is La Vida Rica: The Latina's Guide to Success from 2004, by Yrma Rico and Nancy Garascia (page 73). But the previous year another book was published, accrediting it to someone else: Soul Sex Tantra for Two from 2003, by Pala Copeland and Al Link (page 22). They ascribed the quote to the Christian author Elisabeth 'Betty' Elliot (1926-2015).

       Apart from plenty of accreditations to Lao Tzu, the quote has more than once been accredited to Betty Elliot, who famously spent two years as a missionary with an Ecuadorian tribe that had previously killed her husband.

       Although she did not express it exactly like the quote discussed here, it is close enough to determine that she is the source to it, though slightly paraphrased. It is in her book Discipline: The Glad Surrender from 1982, with a paperback edition in 2006 (page 93):


Time is a creature - a created thing - and a gift. We cannot make any more of it. We can only receive it and be faithful stewards in the use of it.
"I don't have time" is probably a lie more often than not, covering "I don't want to." We have time - twenty-four hours in a day, seven days in a week.


       Like Augustine, she insisted that time was created by God, and each person's time on earth is decided by the same entity. So, she preached that we should treat the time we are given with gratitude and make good use of it.

       The paraphrasing in the quote is misleading also about her thoughts, since it implies that time would be something we invent to excuse our own unwillingness to do our duties. In other words, neither Lao Tzu nor Betty Elliot would agree on it.

Stefan Stenudd
September 22, 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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