Tao Te Ching
THE TAOISM OF LAO TZU
Fake Lao Tzu Quote
"What the caterpillar..."
This is NOT a quote from Tao Te Ching:
"What the caterpillar calls the end, the rest of the world calls a butterfly."
This is an amusing saying, but it has one flaw: what is the point of view of the butterfly? It would make more sense if the perspective of the caterpillar was countered with that of the butterfly. The rest of the world would probably not care as much. What the caterpillar regards as the end, the butterfly must see as the beginning.
Anyway, though often accredited with this quote, Lao Tzu mentioned neither caterpillars nor butterflies in Tao Te Ching. He might have appreciated the humor of it, but it is not the kind of joke he would make. There is another legendary Taoist much more likely to have said something of this kind. That is Chuang Tzu, who lived in the 4th century BC.
The most famous anecdote in the texts about him concerns a butterfly. Here it is in James Legge's Texts of Taoism, volume 1, from 1891 (page 197):
I doubt that this book got a huge score of readers, especially since it is in the Dutch language, except for the quote. But in 2008, three books with the quote were published, all ascribing it to Lao Tzu: With the Dawn Rejoicing, by Melannie Svoboda (page 80), Mastering the Light, by George Lewis (page 43), and the Hallmark book 1001 Things to Be Thankful For (#934 of the things listed). My guess is that the last one was spread the most.
A Google search finds the oldest posting of the exact quote from March 2005, giving no source to it, and the next from August 2008 in a blog, ascribing the quote to Lao Tzu. On Facebook, the earliest appearance of the quote is from May 2010, also ascribing it to Lao Tzu. That accreditation has since been repeated when the quote was.
On Goodreads, both Richard Bach's version of the quote and that ascribed to Lao Tzu are listed. The former has likes back to 2008 and the latter back to April 11, 2010.
September 22, 2020.
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