Quotations by Lao-tzu


Quarrel with a friend — and you are both wrong.

Lao-tzu (604?-531? BC) Chinese philosopher, poet [also Lao-tse, Laozi]
(Attributed)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
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Rule a kingdom as though you were cooking a small fish — don’t overdo it.

Lao-tzu (604?-531? BC) Chinese philosopher, poet [also Lao-tse, Laozi]
(Attributed)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
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He who controls others may be powerful but he who has mastered himself is mightier still.

Lao-tzu (604?-531? BC) Chinese philosopher, poet [also Lao-tse, Laozi]
(Attributed)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
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When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.

Lao-tzu (604?-531? BC) Chinese philosopher, poet [also Lao-tse, Laozi]
(Attributed)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
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Care about people’s approval and you will be their prisoner.

Lao-tzu (604?-531? BC) Chinese philosopher, poet [also Lao-tse, Laozi]
Tao te Ching
Added on 15-Dec-14 | Last updated 15-Dec-14
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A tower of nine storeys begins with a heap of earth.
The journey of a thousand li starts from where one stands.

Lao-tzu (604?-531? BC) Chinese philosopher, poet [also Lao-tse, Laozi]
Tao-te Ching ch. 64 [tr. Wing-Tsit Chan]

Popularized in the west by John F. Kennedy, "A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step," announcing the atmospheric nuclear test ban treaty (26 Jul 1963).
Added on 19-Jan-15 | Last updated 6-Apr-17
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He who knows does not speak.
He who speaks does not know.

Lao-tzu (604?-531? BC) Chinese philosopher, poet [also Lao-tse, Laozi]
Tao-te Ching, ch. 56 [tr. Wing-Tsit Chan]
Added on 6-Apr-17 | Last updated 6-Apr-17
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The more laws and orders are made prominent,
The more thieves and bandits there will be.

Lao-tzu (604?-531? BC) Chinese philosopher, poet [also Lao-tse, Laozi]
Tao-te Ching, ch. 57 [tr. Wing-Tsit Chan]
Added on 12-Apr-17 | Last updated 19-Apr-17
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There is nothing softer and weaker than water.
And yet there is nothing better for attacking hard and strong things.
For this reason there is no substitute for it.
All the world knows that the weak overcomes the strong and the soft overcomes the hard.
But none can practice it.

Lao-tzu (604?-531? BC) Chinese philosopher, poet [also Lao-tse, Laozi]
Tao-te Ching, ch. 78 [tr. Wing-Tsit Chan]
Added on 19-Apr-17 | Last updated 19-Apr-17
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It is wisdom to know others. It is enlightenment to know one’s self.

Lao-tzu (604?-531? BC) Chinese philosopher, poet [also Lao-tse, Laozi]
The Way of Life, 33 [tr. Blakney (1955)]

Alt. trans.: "He who knows others is wise; He who knows himself is enlightened."
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 18-Dec-13
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People are constantly spoiling a project when it lacks only a step to completion.

Lao-tzu (604?-531? BC) Chinese philosopher, poet [also Lao-tse, Laozi]
The Way of Life, 64 [tr. Blakney (1955)]

Variant (?): "People in their handling of affairs often fail when they are about to succeed. If one remains as careful at the end as he was at the beginning, there will be no failure."
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 2-Feb-10
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Having given all he had,
He then is very rich indeed.

Lao-tzu (604?-531? BC) Chinese philosopher, poet [also Lao-tse, Laozi]
The Way of Life, 81 [tr. Blakney (1955)]
Added on 5-Dec-13 | Last updated 5-Dec-13
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Be the chief but never the lord.

Lao-tzu (604?-531? BC) Chinese philosopher, poet [also Lao-tse, Laozi]
The Way of Life, ch. 10 [tr. Blakney (1955)]
Added on 21-Sep-15 | Last updated 21-Sep-15
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He is aloof, as if his talk
Were priced beyond the purchasing;
But once his project is contrived,
Th folk will want to say of it:
“Of course! We did it by ourselves!”

Lao-tzu (604?-531? BC) Chinese philosopher, poet [also Lao-tse, Laozi]
The Way of Life, ch. 17 [tr. Blakney (1955)]

Alt. trans.:
  • "A good manager is best when people barely know that he exists. Not so good when people obey and acclaim him. Worse when they despise him. But of a good leader, who talks little, when his work is done -- his aim fulfilled, they will say: 'We did it ourselves.'"
  • "When the effective leader is finished with his work, the people say it happened naturally."
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 11-Nov-15
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The world is won by those who let it go!

Lao-tzu (604?-531? BC) Chinese philosopher, poet [also Lao-tse, Laozi]
The Way of Life, Ch. 48

(trans R. B. Blakney, 1955)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
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Of the best rulers
The people (only) know that they exist;
The next best they love and praise;
The next they fear;
And the next they revile.
When they do not command the people’s faith,
Some will lose faith in them,
And then they resort to oaths!
But (of the best) when their task is accomplished, their work done,
The people all remark, “We have done it ourselves.”

Lao-tzu (604?-531? BC) Chinese philosopher, poet [also Lao-tse, Laozi]
The Wisdom of Laotse, ch 17 (1948) [tr. Lin Yutang]

Alt. trans. [Tao-te Ching tr. Wing-Tsit Chan]:
"The best are those whose existence is merely known by the people.
The next best are those who are loved and praised.
The next are those who are feared. And the next are those who are reviled.
The great rulers accomplish their task; they complete their work.
Nevertheless their people say that they simply follow Nature."
Added on 28-Feb-08 | Last updated 6-Apr-17
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