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Fake Lao Tzu Quote

"When you are content..."

Fake Lao Tzu quote: When you are content...

This is NOT a quote from Tao Te Ching:


"When you are content to be simply yourself and don't compare or compete, everyone will respect you."




The Book

Tao Te Ching — The Taoism of Lao Tzu Explained. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Tao Te Ching

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 (paid link).

       More about the book here.



So much in this sentence deviates from the perspectives of Lao Tzu. Comparing and competing is an obsession of modern man, but hardly of the people of ancient China. The idea of being oneself, too, is quite anachronistic. Lao Tzu would ask: What else can one be? Also "everyone will respect you" fits our days better than those of Lao Tzu.

       But behind this modern lingo, thoughts similar to those of Lao Tzu can be detected. To be content without strife and allow one's life to be simple is what Lao Tzu recommended. The one who lives so will gain the admiration of others.

       Lo and behold, this quote is found in a popular version of Tao Te Ching from 1988, written by Stephen Mitchell. His version has been the most bestselling one for years, and still is. He allowed himself plenty of poetic license to make Lao Tzu's text accessible to modern man.


Fake Lao Tzu Quotes — Erroneous Tao Te Ching Citations Examined. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Now it's a book, too!

90 of the most spread false Lao Tzu quotes, why they are false and where they are really from. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Click the image to see the book at Amazon (paid link).

       More about the book here.


       The quote is from the end of chapter 8. His version of the chapter is decently close to the original text at times, but at others it deviates considerably. That's particularly evident in the last lines. The words and meaning of the lines are there, but Mitchell's addition about being yourself sticks out. That turns the perspective away from Lao Tzu's idea.

       For comparison, here is my version of the end of chapter 8:


Where there is no conflict, there is no fault.


       Where I wrote "conflict" it is also possible to write competition, or for that matter strife or struggle. D. C. Lau used "contend" in his 1963 version, where he had the whole chapter be about the good example of water (page 64):


It is because it does not contend that it is never at fault.


       Furthermore, my wording "no fault" can be interpreted as in the eyes of others, which is indeed an expression of respect. That is how James Legge understood it in 1891 (page 53):


And when (one with the highest excellence) does not wrangle (about his low position), no one finds fault with him.


       So, the remaining problem with Mitchell's version is that thing about being yourself. It is superfluous and leads the reader astray. Lao Tzu was not much for self-reflection. As so often in Tao Te Ching, what the end of chapter 8 points out is not to overdo things. Bernhard Karlgren in 1975 simply translated it (page 2):


If one does not strive there will be no blame.


       For more about Stephen Mitchell and his version of Tao Te Ching, see the chapter A good traveler has no fixed plans.

Stefan Stenudd
April 2, 2017, revised September 10, 2020.



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My Taoism Books:


Tao Te Ching — The Taoism of Lao Tzu Explained. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Tao Te Ching

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 (paid link).

       More about the book here.


Tao Quotes — the Ancient Wisdom of the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Tao Quotes

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 (paid link).

       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 (paid link).

       More about the book here.



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