This is 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 also widely wrongly attributed to Lao Tzu too.
In fact, the original line in Mandarin is this:
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.”
And not “What I hear, I forget. What I say, I remember. What I do, I understand“.
It is by written by the 3rd century BC Realist Confucian philosopher Xun Kuang.
This particular quote is in his book called “Xunzi“.
For the Chinese version, you can see the quote in Book 8, line 23.
For the English version, it can be found in “Xunxi: Books 7-16“.
This line is in Book 8, The Teachings Of The Ru; page 81.
There are many other misquoted Lao Tzu quotations in websites and books.
By the way, Lao Tzu (means Old Master) aka Laozi was a spiritual Chinese philosopher and the founder of philosophical Taoism.
He is known for his book “Tao Te Ching” 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.
(Tao Te Ching, ch.19)*
“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.”
(Tao Te Ching, ch.2)*
“…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.”
(Tao Te Ching, ch.3)*
“Heaven and Earth are not humane. They regard all things as straw dogs.”
(Tao Te Ching, ch.5)*
“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.”
(Tao Te Ching, ch.7)*
“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.”
(Tao Te Ching, ch.8)*
“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.”
(Tao Te Ching, ch.10)*
“He who loves the world as his body may be entrusted with the empire.”
(Tao Te Ching, ch.13)*
“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. “
(Tao Te Ching, ch.18)*
“Not putting on a display, they shine forth. Not justifying themselves, they are distinguished. Not boasting, they receive recognition. Not bragging, they never falter.”
(Tao Te Ching, ch.22)#
“He whose (desires) are few gets them; he whose (desires) are many goes astray.”
(Tao Te Ching, ch.22)+
“Those who lack trust will not be trusted. It is only when one does not have enough faith in others that others will have no faith in him.”
(Tao Te Ching, ch.23)*
“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.”
(Tao Te Ching, ch.24)*
“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.”
(Tao Te Ching, ch.27)*
“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.”
(Tao Te Ching, ch.29)#
“Knowing others is wisdom; Knowing the self is enlightenment. Mastering others requires force; Mastering the self needs strength.”
(Tao Te Ching, ch.33)#
“[the sage] never strives himself for the great, and thereby the great is achieved.”
(Tao Te Ching, ch.34)*
“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.”
(Tao Te Ching, ch.37)*
“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.”
(Tao Te Ching, ch.40)*
“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.”
(Tao Te Ching, ch.42)*
“…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.”
(Tao Te Ching, ch.44)*
“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.”
(Tao Te Ching, ch.46)*
“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.”
(Tao Te Ching, ch.47)*
“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.”
(Tao Te Ching, ch.50)*
“Seeing what is small is called enlightenment. Keeping to weakness is called strength.”
(Tao Te Ching, ch.52)*
“He who knows does not speak. He who speaks does not know.”
(Tao Te Ching, ch.56)*
“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.”
(Tao Te Ching, ch.57)*
“Great acts are made up of small acts.”
(Tao Te Ching, ch.63)#
“The journey of a thousand li starts from where one stands.”
(Tao Te Ching, ch.64)*
“Knowing ignorance is strength. Ignoring knowledge is sickness.“
(Tao Te Ching, ch.71)#
“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?”
(Tao Te Ching, ch.74)#
“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.”
(Tao Te Ching, ch.81)*
* Translation by Wing Tsit Chan (1963)