Lao Tzu Remembered He Did Not Hear, Say Or Forget This Quote

Last Updated November 21st 2017

The title of this blog post is a satirical jab on those popular quotation sites, including Brainy Quotes and GoodReads, and the many books, which attributed the quotation “What I hear, I forget. What I say, I remember. What I do, I understand” to Confucius.

This popular quotation is widely mis-attributed to Lao Tzu too.

In fact, the original line in Mandarin is this:

不聞不若聞之,聞之不若見之,見之不若知之,知之不若行之;學至於行之而止矣

Personally I found the best translation in English is: “Not having heard something is not as good as having heard it; having heard it is not as good as having seen it; having seen it is not as good as knowing it; knowing it is not as good as putting it into practice.”

It is NOTWhat I hear, I forget. What I say, I remember. What I do, I understand“.

This line was written by the 3rd century BC Realist Confucian philosopher by the name of Xun Kuang.

This particular quote in English translation is found  in the book: Xunzi: A Translation and Study of the Complete Works, Books 7-16 By John Knoblock, Stamford University Press, 1990, 8.11; p.81.

For the original Chinese version, you can see the quote in: Xunxi Book 8, line 23.

Beware.

There are many other misquoted Lao Tzu quotations in websites and even printed books.

Lao Tzu remembered he did not hear, say or forget Lao Tzu (老子) means Old Master aka Lǎozǐ was a spiritual Chinese philosopher and the founder of philosophical Taoism.

He is known for his book “Tao Te Ching” (道德经) which was written around 6th century BC.

It is said to be the most frequently translated, widely read and deeply cherished books around.

Below here is my selection of authentic Lao Tzu quotes gathered from his book Tao Te Ching:


“Manifest plainness, embrace simplicity, reduce selfishness, have few desires.” – Lao Tzu

“見素抱樸,少私寡欲。” (Mandarin)

(The Way Of Lao Tzu (Tao te ching) By Lao Tzu, Translated By Wing-tsit Chan, Ravenio Books, 2015, 19)

(This quote is also found in: The Tao Te Ching By Lao Tzu, Translated By Wing-tsit Chan, 1963, 19)

(The quote in Mandarin is found here.)


“When all the people of the world know beauty as beauty, There arises the recognition of ugliness. When they all know the good as good, There arises the recognition of evil.” – Lao Tzu

“天下皆知美之為美,斯惡已。皆知善之為善,斯不善已。” (Mandarin)

(The Tao Te Ching By Lao Tzu, Translated By Wing-tsit Chan, 1963, 2)

(This quote is also found in: The Way Of Lao Tzu (Tao Te Ching) By Lao Tzu, Translated By Wing-tsit Chan, Macmillan Publishing Company, Incorporated, 1963, 2; p.101)

(The quote in Mandarin is found here.)


“…The government of the sage, He keeps their hearts vacuous, fills their bellies, weakens their ambitions, and strengthens their bones. He always causes his people to be without knowledge (cunning) or desire, and the crafty to be afraid to act. By acting without action, all things will be in order.” – Lao Tzu

“是以聖人之治,虛其心,實其腹,弱其志,強其骨。常使民無知無欲。使夫知者不敢為也。為無為,則無不治。” (Mandarin)

(The Way of Lao Tzu (Tao te ching) By Wing-tsit Chan, Ravenio Books, 2015, 3)

(This quote is also found in: The Tao Te Ching By Lao Tzu, Translated By Wing-tsit Chan, 1963, 3)

(The quote in Mandarin is found here.)


“Heaven and Earth are not humane. They regard all things a straw dogs.” – Lao Tzu

“天地不仁,以萬物為芻狗;聖人不仁,以百姓為芻狗。” (Mandarin) 

(The Tao Te Ching By Lao Tzu, Translated By Wing-tsit Chan, 1963, 5)

(This quote is also found in: The Way Of Lao Tzu (Tao Te Ching) By Lao Tzu, Translated By Wing-tsit Chan, Macmillan Publishing Company, Incorporated, 1963, 5; p.107)

(The quote in Mandarin is found here.)


“Heaven is eternal and Earth everlasting. They can be eternal and everlasting because they do not exist for themselves.  And for this reason can exist forever. Therefore the sage places himself in the background but finds himself in the foreground. He puts himself away, and yet he always remains.” – Lao Tzu

“天長地久。天地所以能長且久者,以其不自生,故能長生。是以聖人後其身而身先;外其身而身存。” (Mandarin)

(The Tao Te Ching By Lao Tzu, Translated By Wing-tsit Chan, 1963, 7)

(This quote is also found in: The Way Of Lao Tzu (Tao Te Ching) By Lao Tzu, Translated By Wing-tsit Chan, Macmillan Publishing Company, Incorporated, 1963, 7; p.112)

(The quote in Mandarin is found here.)


“The best (man) is like water. Water is good; it benefits all things and does not compete with them. It dwells in (lowly) places that all disdain. This is why it is so near to Tao.

(The best man) in his dwelling loves the earth. In his heart, he loves what is profound. In his associations, he loves humanity. In his words, he loves faithfulness.” – Lao Tzu

“上善若水。水善利萬物而不爭,處衆人之所惡,故幾於道。居善地,心善淵,與善仁,言善信,正善治,事善能,動善時。” (Mandarin)

(The Way of Lao Tzu (Tao te ching) By Wing-tsit Chan, Ravenio Books, 2015, 8)

(This quote is also found in: The Tao Te Ching By Lao Tzu, Translated By Wing-tsit Chan, 1963, 8)

(The quote in Mandarin is found here.)


“To produce things and to rear them, To produce, but not to take possession of them, To act, but not to rely on one’s own ability, To lead them, but not to master them – This is called profound and secret virtue.” – Lao Tzu

“生之、畜之,生而不有,為而不恃,長而不宰,是謂玄德。” (Mandarin)

(The Tao Te Ching By Lao Tzu, Translated By Wing-tsit Chan, 1963, 10)

(This quote is also found in: The Way of Lao Tzu: Tao-Te Ching By Lao Tzu, Translated By Wing-tsit Chang, Macmillan Publishing Company, Incorporated, 1963; p.116)

(The quote in Mandarin is found here.)


“He who loves the world as his body may be entrusted with the empire.” – Lao Tzu

“愛以身為天下,若可託天下。” (Mandarin)

(The Tao Te Ching By Lao Tzu, Translated By Wing-tsit Chan, 1963, 13)

(This quote is also found in: The Way of Lao Tzu (Tao te ching) By Wing-tsit Chan, Ravenio Books, 2015, 13)

(The quote in Mandarin is found here.)


“When the six family relationships are not in harmony, There will be the advocacy of filial piety and deep love to children. When a country is in disorder, There will be the praise of loyal ministers.” – Lao Tzu

“六親不和,有孝慈;國家昏亂,有忠臣。” (Mandarin)

(The Tao Te Ching By Lao Tzu, Translated By Wing-tsit Chan, 1963, 18)

(This quote is also found in: The Way of Lao Tzu (Tao te ching) By Wing-tsit Chan,
Ravenio Books, 2015, 18)

(The quote in Mandarin is found here.)


“Not putting on a display, they shine forth. Not justifying themselves, they are distinguished. Not boasting, they receive recognition. Not bragging, they never falter.” – Lao Tzu

“不自見,故明;不自是,故彰;不自伐,故有功;不自矜,故長。夫唯不爭,故天下莫能與之爭。” (Mandarin)

(The Tao Te Ching By Lao Tzu, Translated by Gia-Fu Feng & Jane English, Vintage Books, 1989, 22)

(This quote is also found in: Tao Te Ching By Lao Tzu, Translated By Gia-fu Feng, Jane English, Knopf, 1972, 22)

(The quote in Mandarin is found here.)


“He whose (desires) are few gets them; he whose (desires) are many goes astray.” – Lao Tzu

“少則得,多則惑。” (Mandarin)

(Ta Te Ching By Lao-Tse, Translated By J. Legge, Simon and Schuster, 2013, 22)

(This quote is also found in: The Sacred Books Of China, The Text Of Taoism, Translated Jame Legge, Part I, The Tao Teh King, The Writings Of Kwang-Sze, At The Clarendon Press, 1891, 22; p.65)

(The quote in Mandarin is found here.)


“It is only when one does not have enough faith in others that others will have no faith in him.” – Lao Tzu

“信不足,焉有不信焉。” (Mandarin)

(The Way Of Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching By Lao Tzu, Translated By Wing-tsit Chan, Macmillan Publishing Company, Incorporated, 1963, 23; p.141)

(The quote in Mandarin is found here.)


“He who stands on tiptoe is not steady. He who strides forward does not go. He who shows himself is not luminous. He who justifies himself is not prominent. He who boasts of himself is not given credit. He who brags does not endure for long.” – Lao Tzu

“企者不立;跨者不行;自見者不明;自是者不彰;自伐者無功;自矜者不長。” (Mandarin)

(The Tao Te Ching By Lao Tzu, Translated By Wing-tsit Chan, 1963, 24)

(This quote is also found in: The Way Of Lao Tzu (Tao Te Ching) By Lao Tzu, Translated By Wing-tsit Chan, Macmillan Publishing Company, Incorporated, 1963, 24; p.143)

(The quote in Mandarin is found here.)


A good traveler leaves no track or trace. A good speech leaves no flaws. A good reckoner uses no counters. A well-shut door needs no bolts, and yet it cannot be opened. A well-tied knot needs no rope and yet none can untie it.” – Lao Tzu

“善行無轍迹,善言無瑕讁;善數不用籌策;善閉無關楗而不可開,善結無繩約而不可解。” (Mandarin)

(The Tao Te Ching By Lao Tzu, Translated By Wing-tsit Chan, 1963, 27)

(This quote is also found in: The Way Of Lao Tzu (Tao Te Ching) By Lao Tzu, Translated By Wing-tsit Chan, Macmillan Publishing Company, Incorporated, 1963, 27; p.147)

(The quote in Mandarin is found here.)


“The universe is sacred. You cannot improve it. If you try to change it, you will ruin it. If you try to hold it, you will lose it.” – Lao Tzu

“天下神器,不可為也,為者敗之,執者失之。” (Mandarin)

(The Tao Te Ching By Lao Tzu, Translated by Gia-Fu Feng & Jane English, Vintage Books, 1989. 29)

(This quote is also found in: Tao Te Ching By Lao Tzu, Translated By Gia-fu Feng, Jane English, Knopf, 1972, 29)

(The quote in Mandarin is found here.)


“Knowing others is wisdom; Knowing the self is enlightenment. Mastering others requires force; Mastering the self needs strength.” – Lao Tzu

“知人者智,自知者明。勝人者有力,自勝者強。” (Mandarin)

(The Tao Te Ching By Lao Tzu, Translated by Gia-Fu Feng & Jane English, Vintage Books, 1989, 33)

(This quote is also found in: Tao Te Ching By Lao Tzu, Translated By Gia-fu Feng, Jane English, Knopf, 1972, 33)

(The quote in Mandarin is found here.)


“[the sage] never strives himself for the great, and thereby the great is achieved.” – Lao Tzu

“以其終不自為大,故能成其大。” (Mandarin)

(The Tao Te Ching By Lao Tzu, Translated By Wing-tsit Chan, 1963, 34)

(This quote is also found in: The Way Of Lao Tzu (Tao Te Ching) By Lao Tzu, Translated By Wing-tsit Chan, Macmillan Publishing Company, Incorporated, 1963, 34; p.160)

(Another link to the source of this quote.)

(The quote in Mandarin is found here.)


“Simplicity, which has no name, is free of desires. Being free of desires, it is tranquil. And the world will be at peace of its own accord.” – Lao Tzu

“無名之樸,夫亦將無欲。不欲以靜,天下將自定。” (Mandarin)

(The Tao Te Ching By Lao Tzu, Translated By Wing-tsit Chan, 1963, 37)

(This quote is also found in: The Way Of Lao Tzu (Tao Te Ching) By Lao Tzu, Translated By Wing-tsit Chan, Macmillan Publishing Company, Incorporated, 1963, 37; p.166)

(The quote in Mandarin is found here.)


“Reversion is the action of Tao. Weakness is the function of Tao. All things in the world come from being. And being comes from non-being.” – Lao Tzu

“反者道之動;弱者道之用。天下萬物生於有,有生於無。” (Mandarin)

(The Tao Te Ching By Lao Tzu, Translated By Wing-tsit Chan, 1963, 40)

(This quote is also found in: The Way Of Lao Tzu (Tao Te Ching) By Lao Tzu, Translated By Wing-tsit Chan, Macmillan Publishing Company, Incorporated, 1963, 40; p.173)

(The quote in Mandarin is found here.)


People hate to be children without parents, lonely people without spouses, or men without food to eat, and yet kings and lords call themselves by these names.” – Lao Tzu

“人之所惡,唯孤、寡、不穀,而王公以為稱。”  (Mandarin)

(The Tao Te Ching By Lao Tzu, Translated By Wing-tsit Chan, 1963, 42)

(This quote is also found in: The Way Of Lao Tzu (Tao Te Ching) By Lao Tzu, Translated By Wing-tsit Chan, Macmillan Publishing Company, Incorporated, 1963, 42; p.176)

(Another link to the source of this quote.)

(The quote in Mandarin is found here.)


“…he who has lavish desires will spend extravagantly. He who hoards will lose most heavily. He who is contented suffers no disgrace. He who knows when to stop is free from danger. Therefore he can long endure.” – Lao Tzu

“是故甚愛必大費;多藏必厚亡。知足不辱,知止不殆,可以長久。” (Mandarin)

(The Tao Te Ching By Lao Tzu, Translated By Wing-tsit Chan, 1963, 44)

(This quote is also found in: Lao Tzu’s Tao-Teh-Ching: A Parallel Translation Collection Compiled By B. Bolsen, Gnomad Publishing, 1996, Forty-Four, Chan; p.89)

(The quote in Mandarin is found here.)


“There is no calamity greater than lavish desires. There is no greater guilt than discontentment. And there is no greater disaster than greed. He who is contented with contentment is always contented.” – Lao Tzu

“禍莫大於不知足;咎莫大於欲得。故知足之足,常足矣。” (Mandarin)

(The Tao Te Ching By Lao Tzu, Translated By Wing-tsit Chan, 1963, 46)

(This quote is also found in: The Way Of Lao Tzu (Tao te ching) By Lao Tzu, Translated By Wing-tsit Chan, Ravenio Books, 2015, 46)

(Another link to the source of this quote.)

(The quote in Mandarin is found here.)


“One may know the world without going out of doors. One may see the Way of Heaven without looking through the windows. The further one goes, the less one knows. Therefore the sage knows without going about, understands without seeing, and accomplishes without any action.” – Lao Tzu

“不出戶知天下;不闚牖見天道。其出彌遠,其知彌少。是以聖人不行而知,不見而名,不為而成。” (Mandarin)

(The Tao Te Ching By Lao Tzu, Translated By Wing-tsit Chan, 1963, 47)

(This quote is also found in: The Way Of Lao Tzu (Tao te ching) By Lao Tzu, Translated By Wing-tsit Chan, Ravenio Books, 2015, 47)

(The quote in Mandarin is found here.)


“Man comes in to life and goes out to death. Three out of ten are companions of life. Three out of ten are companions of death. And three out of ten in their lives lead from activity to death. And for what reason? Because of man’s intensive striving after life.” – Lao Tzu

“出生入死。生之徒,十有三;死之徒,十有三;人之生,動之死地,十有三。夫何故?以其生,生之厚。” (Mandarin)

(The Way Of Lao Tzu (Tao te ching) By Lao Tzu, Translated By Wing-tsit Chan, Ravenio Books, 2015, 50)

(This quote is also found in: Lao Tzu’s Tao-Teh-Ching: A Parallel Translation Collection Compiled By B. Bolsen, Gnomad Publishing, 1996, Fifty; p.101)

(The quote in Mandarin is found here.)


“Seeing what is small is called enlightenment. Keeping to weakness is called strength.” – Lao Tzu

“見小曰明,守柔曰強。” (Mandarin)

(The Tao Te Ching By Lao Tzu, Translated By Wing-tsit Chan, 1963, 52)

(This quote is also found in: The Way Of Lao Tzu (Tao Te Ching) By Lao Tzu, Translated By Wing-tsit Chan, Macmillan Publishing Company, Incorporated, 1963, 52; p.192)

(The quote in Mandarin is found here.)


“He who knows does not speak. He who speaks does not know.” – Lao Tzu

知者不言,言者不知。” (Mandarin)

(The Tao Te Ching By Lao Tzu, Translated By Wing-tsit Chan, 1963, 56)

(This quote is also found in: The Way Of Lao Tzu (Tao te ching) By Lao Tzu, Translated By Wing-tsit Chan, Ravenio Books, 2015, 56)

(The quote in Mandarin is found here.)


“The more taboos and prohibitions there are in the world, The poorer the people will be. The more sharp weapons the people have, the more troubled the state will be. The more cunning and skill a man possesses, the more vicious things will appear. The more laws and orders are made prominent, the more thieves and robbers there will be.” – Lao Tzu

“天下多忌諱,而民彌貧;民多利器,國家滋昏;人多伎巧,奇物滋起;法令滋彰,盜賊多有。” (Mandarin)

(The Tao Te Ching By Lao Tzu, Translated By Wing-tsit Chan, 1963, 57)

(This quote is also found in: The Way Of Lao Tzu (Tao te ching) By Lao Tzu, Translated By Wing-tsit Chan, Ravenio Books, 2015, 57

(The quote in Mandarin is found here.)


“Great acts are made up of small acts.” – Lao Tzu

“天下大事,必作於細。” (Mandarin)

(The Tao Te Ching By Lao Tzu, Translated by Gia-Fu Feng & Jane English, Vintage Books, 1989. 63)

(This quote is also found here.) 

(The quote in Mandarin is found here.)


“The journey of a thousand li starts from where one stands.” – Lao Tzu

“千里之行,始於足下。” (Mandarin)

(The Tao Te Ching By Lao Tzu, Translated By Wing-tsit Chan, 1963, 64)

(This quote is also found in: The Way Of Lao Tzu (Tao te ching) By Lao Tzu, Translated By Wing-tsit Chan, Ravenio Books, 2015, 64)

(The quote in Mandarin is found here.)


Knowing ignorance is strength. Ignoring knowledge is sickness.” – Lao Tzu

“知不知上;不知知病。” (Mandarin)

(The Tao Te Ching By Lao Tzu, Translated by Gia-Fu Feng & Jane English, Vintage Books, 1989, 71)

(This quote is also found here.) 

(The quote in Mandarin is found here.)


“If men live in constant fear of dying, and if breaking the law means that a man will be killed, who will dare to break the law?” – Lao Tzu

“若使民常畏死,而為奇者,吾得執而殺之,孰敢?” (Mandarin)

(The Tao Te Ching By Lao Tzu, Translated by Gia-Fu Feng & Jane English, Vintage Books, 1989, 74)

(This quote is also found here.) 

(The quote in Mandarin is found here.)


“True words are not beautiful; Beautiful words are not true. A good man does not argue; He who argues is not a good man. A wise man has no extensive knowledge; He who has extensive knowledge is not a wise man.” – Lao Tzu

“信言不美,美言不信。善者不辯,辯者不善。知者不博,博者不知。” (Mandarin)

(The Tao Te Ching By Lao Tzu, Translated By Wing-tsit Chan, 1963, 81)

(This quote is also fond in: Lao Tzu’s Tao-Teh-Ching: A Parallel Translation Collection Compiled By B. Bolsen, Gnomad Publishing, 1996, Eighty-One, Chan; p.162)

(The quote in Mandarin is found here.)