When I Googled this quote — “She who knows life flows, feels no wear or tear, needs no mending or repair” — the first ten results all said it was by the Buddha. Many people would take that as confirmation that it was a genuine Buddha quote, but that just goes to remind us that lots of people making a false claim doesn’t make it true. We can also remind ourselves how unwise it is to assume that something must be true because you read it on the internet.
Incidentally there’s a “He who knows life flows…” version as well, although it’s far less popular.
On the grounds of content and style it seemed very unlikely that this would be from the Buddhist scriptures. It turns out to be from the Tao Te Ching, although I doubt it’s a very good translation.
It can be found on page 44 of “The Way of Life According to Laotzu,” by Witter Bynner (1944). It’s part of his translation of chapter 15 of the Tao Te Ching.
How can a man’s life keep its course
If he will not let it flow?
Those who flow as life flows know
They need no other force:
They feel no wear, they feel no tear,
The need no mending, no repair.
According to Wikipedia, “Harold Witter Bynner, also known by the pen name Emanuel Morgan, (August 10, 1881 – June 1, 1968) was an American poet, writer and scholar, known for his long residence in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and association with other literary figures there.”
Translations of this work vary enormously, and I’m in no position to make judgements about which translations are best, but Bynner’s version is very different from most others that I’ve seen. Other translators’ versions are much closer to each other. Here are just two alternate translations, taken from this very helpful comparison site:
Gia-Fu Feng’s translation (1972):
Who can wait quietly while the mud settles?
Who can remain still until the moment of action?
J. H. MacDonald (1996):
Who can be still
until their mud settles
and the water is cleared by itself?
Can you remain tranquil until right action occurs by itself?
I’ve no idea how, or by whose hand, the quote changed form from “Those who flow as life flows…” to “She who knows life flows…” and how it came to be seen as a quote from the Buddha.
This particular part of the Tao Te Ching, in another translation, has also been mistakenly attributed to the Buddha.
When the Buddha talked about life flowing it often was in a negative sense—of us being swept along by our desires:
These four types of individuals are to be found existing in the world. Which four? The individual who goes with the flow, the individual who goes against the flow, the individual who stands fast, and the one who has crossed over, gone beyond, who stands on firm ground: a brahman.
And who is the individual who goes with the flow? There is the case where an individual indulges in sensual passions and does evil deeds. This is called the individual who goes with the flow.
There was also however the concept of the “stream winner” or “stream entrant” who was someone to had attained entry to the stream that flows to awakening.
One of the few references I know of to life as being like a river is not about “flow” in a positive sense, but to emphasize how brief is our time on earth.
Just as a river flowing down from the mountains, going far, its current swift, carrying everything with it, so that there is not a moment, an instant, a second where it stands still, but instead it goes & rushes & flows, in the same way, brahmans, the life of human beings is like a river flowing down from the mountains — limited, trifling, of much stress & many despairs. One should touch this [truth] like a sage, do what is skillful, follow the holy life. For one who is born there is no freedom from death.