Who was Lao Tsu?

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2010-04-27 20:47:26

Lao Tzu is one of the most important men in history. During his

life, Lau Tzu inspired many people, even the great philosopher

Confucius, but he inspired even more people after his death. His

teachings brought to public eye from his book The Tao Tai Ching

inspired followings of millions first throughout Asia, and

eventually the world. His teachings lead to over five religious

sects that inspired the world.

Lao Tzu was born around the year 604 B.C. in Louyang China to

the name Li Erh with a head of completely white hair. The was the

name Lao Tzu given to him later on in life when he worked for the

King of Zhou in Louyang as the keeper of the imperial archives. It

translates to mean "The Old Master." Lao Tzu was only one of his

many names including: Lao Zi, Elder Dan, Senior Lord, Senior Lord

Li, Senior lord Taishang, Taoist Lord Lao Zi, Lao Tse, Lao Tze,

Shengzu (his temple name), and Emperor Xuanyuan. During his time as

the keeper of the imperial archives, Lao Tzu studied the archive's

books avidly. Being in the Shi, or keeper of archives and sacred

books, Lao Tzu gained a great deal of knowledge over time in which

he used in his wisdom and philosophy. Some of the topics he would

have most likely have been knowledgeable in were astrology and

divination. A famous Chinese philosopher named Confusion heard

about Lao Tzu and decided to travel to Louyang to meet him.

Confuses met Lao Tzu when Lao was just about to browse through the

library scrolls in the royal archives. Both of them discussed

ritual and propriety, which both make up the cornerstone to

Confucianism over a few months. Upon reaching Eighty years of age

Lao Tzu decided to leave Louyang and go on a journey to the desert.

Lao Tzu made the decision because he felt depressed by what he had

seen over his time working for the king, such as men refusing to

follow the path of natural goodness. In Lau's understanding that

came from self-teaching himself with the scrolls accumulated over

centuries in the library he saw that staying where he was he would

get no satisfaction in life. He set out for the western border of

china going towards Tibet. Upon reaching the border of Ch'in, a

guard stopped him. That guard asked him to record his teaching

because he knew that Lau Tzu would not return. Lau Tzu decided for

three days to compose a book of all his wisdom. The book was an

amazing 5250 word two-sectioned piece of literature named The Tao

Te Ching, meaning The Book of The Way. After Writing the Tao Te

Ching Lao Tzu Disappeared into the wilderness and was never seen

again. The Tao Te Ching is a book containing the wisdom of Lao Tzu

and his teachings to help guide others to follow "The Way." In his

writings, Lao Tzu uses the name "Sage" a lot. This name represents

the idealistic man. It has many teachings. One teaching Lao Tzu

conveys in the Tao Te Ching is that you can be strong without being

forceful. An example of this is Lao saying: "The highest excellence

is like (that of) water. The excellence of water appears in its

benefiting all things, and in its occupying, without striving (to

the contrary), the low place which all men dislike. Hence (its way)

is near to (that of) the Tao. The excellence of a residence is in

(the suitability of) the place; that of the mind is in abysmal

stillness; that of associations is in their being with the

virtuous; that of government is in its securing good order; that of

(the conduct of) affairs is in its ability; and that of (the

initiation of) any movement is in its timeliness. And when (one

with the highest excellence) does not wrangle (about his low

position), no one finds fault with him." Lao Tzu also teaches

against pride; an example of this is "It is better to leave a

vessel unfilled, than to attempt to carry it when it is full. If

you keep feeling a point that has been sharpened, the point cannot

long preserve its sharpness. When gold and jade fill the hall,

their possessor cannot keep them safe. When wealth and honors lead

to arrogance, this brings its evil on itself. When the work is

done, and one's name is becoming distinguished, to withdraw into

obscurity is the way of Heaven." Therefore the sage seeks to

satisfy (the craving of) the belly, and not the (insatiable longing

of the) eyes. He puts from him the latter, and prefers to seek the

former." Lao Tzu describes human nature in the Tao Te Ching, like

when he said, "When we renounce learning we have no troubles. The

(ready) 'yes,' and (flattering) 'yea;'-- Small is the difference

they display. But mark their issues, good and ill; -- What space

the gulf between shall fill? What all men fear is indeed to be

feared; but how wide and without end is the range of questions

(asking to be discussed)! The multitude of men look satisfied and

pleased; as if enjoying a full banquet, as if mounted on a tower in

spring. I alone seem listless and still, my desires having as yet

given no indication of their presence. I am like an infant which

has not yet smiled. I look dejected and forlorn, as if I had no

home to go to. The multitude of men all have enough and to spare. I

alone seem to have lost everything. My mind is that of a stupid

man; I am in a state of chaos. Ordinary men look bright and

intelligent, while I alone seem to be benighted. They look full of

discrimination, while I alone am dull and confused. I seem to be

carried about as on the sea, drifting as if I had nowhere to rest.

All men have their spheres of action, while I alone seem dull and

incapable, like a rude borderer. (Thus) I alone am different from

other men, but I value the nursing-mother (the Tao)." Lao Tzu also

sometimes uses rhythmic patterns like in chapter 21 when he said,

"The grandest forms of active force From Tao come, their only

source. Who can of Tao the nature tell? Our sight it flies, our

touch as well. Eluding sight, eluding touch, the forms of things

all in it crouch; eluding touch, eluding sight, there are their

semblances, all right. Profound it is, dark and obscure; Things'

essences all there endure. Those essences the truth enfold of what,

when seen, shall then be told. Now it is so; 'twas so of old. Its

name--what passes not away; so, in their beautiful array, Things

form and never know decay. How know I that it is so with all the

beauties of existing things? By this (nature of the Tao)." Another

lesson Lao Tzu often uses is being modest and thankful such as when

he says "The partial becomes complete; the crooked, straight; the

empty, full; the worn out, new. He whose (desires) are few gets

them; he whose (desires) are many goes astray. Therefore the sage

holds in his embrace the one thing (of humility), and manifests it

to all the world. He is free from self- display, and therefore he

shines; from self-assertion, and therefore he is distinguished;

from self-boasting, and therefore his merit is acknowledged; from

self-complacency, and therefore he acquires superiority. It is

because he is thus free from striving that therefore no one in the

world is able to strive with him. That saying of the ancients that

'the partial becomes complete' was not vainly spoken:--all real

completion is comprehended under It." or, when he said, "He who

stands on his tiptoes does not stand firm; he who stretches his

legs does not walk (easily). (So), he who displays himself does not

shine; he who asserts his own views is not distinguished; he who

vaunts himself does not find his merit acknowledged; he who is

self- conceited has no superiority allowed to him. Such conditions,

viewed from the standpoint of the Tao, are like remnants of food,

or a tumor on the body, which all dislike. Hence those who pursue

(the course) of the Tao do not adopt and allow them." One of the

biggest lessons Lao Tzu uses in the Tao Tai Ching is the flow of

Chi or the energy of life. One instance he uses this is in is

chapter 25 when he says, "There was something undefined and

complete, coming into existence before Heaven and Earth. How still

it was and formless, standing alone, and undergoing no change,

reaching everywhere and in no danger (of being exhausted)! It may

be regarded as the Mother of all things. I do not know its name,

and I give it the designation of the Tao (the Way or Course).

Making an effort (further) to give it a name I call it The Great.

Great, it passes on (in constant flow). Passing on, it becomes

remote. Having become remote, it returns. Therefore, the Tao is

great; Heaven is great; Earth is great; and the (sage) king is also

great. In the universe there are four that are great, and the

(sage) king is one of them. Man takes his law from the Earth; the

Earth takes its law from Heaven; Heaven takes its law from the Tao.

The law of the Tao is its being what it is." Ying Yang is a

philosophy that often shows up in The Tao Tai Ching. Ying Yang is

the rhythm of life, which flows throughout the entire universe, is

the action of complementary principles Yin and Yang. The symbol

explains that when Yin reaches its climax it recedes in to Yang,

then after Yang reaches its climax it recedes in to Yin in an

eternal cycle flowing in everything. The dots inside the white and

black halves indicate that within each half a piece of the other

half exists, showing that Yin cannot exist without Yang and Yang

cannot exist without Yin. Yin is the quiet, intuitive, female,

receiving force that is associated with earth. The earth is the

source of life by providing us with what we need to survive. Yin is

connected with: Night, Dark, Rain, Water, Cold, Winter, Autumn, Odd

Numbers, The Moon, North, West, Right, Down, Intuition, Passive,

Static, Contraction, Decreasing, Conservative, Traditional, Valley,

River, Curve, Soft, Solidifying, the Psychological World, Dragon,

Kidneys, Heart, Liver, and the Lungs. Yang is the strong, creative,

male, giving force that is connected with heaven; Heaven above us

is always in motion and brings about change. Yang is associated

with Day, Light, Sunshine, Fire, Heat, Summer, Spring, Even

Numbers, The Sun, South, East, Left, Up, Intellect, Active,

Dynamic, Expansion, Increasing, Innovative, Reformative, Mountain,

Desert, Straight Line, Hard, Dissolving, the Physical World, Tiger,

Bladder, Intestines, and Skin. One example of Ying Yang in the Toa

Tai Ching is "All in the world know the beauty of the beautiful,

and in doing this they have (the idea of) what ugliness is; they

all know the skill of the skilful, and in doing this they have (the

idea of) what the want of skill is. So it is that existence and

non-existence give birth the one to m(the idea of) the other; that

difficulty and ease produce the one (the idea of) the other; that

length and shortness fashion out the one the figure of the other;

that (the ideas of) height and lowness arise from the contrast of

the one with the other; that the musical notes and tones become

harmonious through the relation of one with another; and that being

before and behind give the idea of one following another. Therefore

the sage manages affairs without doing anything, and conveys his

instructions without the use of speech. All things spring up, and

there is not one which declines to show itself; they grow, and

there is no claim made for their ownership; they go through their

processes, and there is no expectation (of a reward for the

results). The work is accomplished, and there is no resting in it

(as an achievement). The work is done, but how no one can see; 'Tis

this that makes the power not cease to be. Confucianism and Taoism

are both originally from China and share some striking

similarities. Both existed for around 500 years before Buddhism.

Native Chinese customs and traditions had an impact on how both

philosophies are formed. Both philosophies had an effect on latter

Indian philosophies. Confucianism and Taoism are now practiced as

Neo Confucianism and Neo Taoism. Both philosophies are based upon

the compiled teachings of previous followers of the philosophies.

They are each considered a part of Chinese culture and heritage. Su

ma Ch'ien a famous Chinese historian described them both as Hundred


Tai Chi is a form of (usually) slow moving martial arts that can

be used as self-defense, relaxation, or general exercise. Taoism

and Tai chi may seem extremely far apart, but they are actually

very similar. T'ai chi is based on the Chinese principle of yin and

yang. Many of Lao Tzu's lessons such as "Yield and overcome; Bend

and be straight.", "He who stands of tiptoe is not steady. He who

strides cannot maintain the pace."; "Returning is the motion of the

Tao. Yielding is the way of the Tao. What is firmly established

cannot be uprooted. What is firmly grasped cannot slip away.",

"Stiff and unbending is the principle of death. Gentle and yielding

is the principle of life. Thus an Army without flexibility never

wins a battle. A tree that is unbending is easily broken. The hard

and strong will fall. The soft and weak will overcome." Have

inspired Tai Chi. Chuang Tzu, a later Taoist philosopher gave

further inspiration to Tai Chi by saying "The pure man of old slept

without dreams and woke without anxiety. He ate without indulging

in sweet tastes and breathed deep breaths. The pure man draws

breaths from the depths of his heels, the multitude only from their

throats." and "[The sage] would not lean forward or backward to

accommodate [things]. This is called tranquility on disturbance,

(which means) that it is especially in the midst of disturbance

that tranquility becomes perfect." Both of these examples of quotes

from both Lau Tzu and Chuang Tzu show examples of beliefs usually

held by those who practice Tai Chi.

After Lau Tzu and Chuang Tzu Taoism continued to grow and

flourish. A few Chinese philosophers that helped Taoism prosper

were Yang Hsiung, Wang Ch'ung, Huai-Nan, Tzu Lieh Tzu, and Yang

Chu. Yang Hsiung combined classical Taoism with rudiments of

Confucian ethics. Wang Ch'ung did the same thing but He was less

interested in morality and more occupied with human institutions.

Hui-Nan, a prince of Huai-Nan, gave Taoism further fame. Tzu

LiehTzu and Yang Chu revised some original Taoist beliefs and

modernized them. Taoism later reached a religious standpoint. The

Religious Taoism had its own temples, priests, rites, and symbolic

images. The religion emerged into sever sects including The

Heavenly Masters, The Supreme Peace, The Mao-Shan, The Ling-Pao,

and The Ch'uan-chen. The Taoist deities, Yu-huang (The Jade

Emperor), Yuan-shih T'ien-tsun (The First Principal), San-ch'ing

(Three Pure Ones), San-kuan (Three Officials), T'ien-shih, Pa-hsien

(Eight Immortals: Lu Tung-pin, Ts'ao Kuo-chiu, Chang Kuo-lao, Li

T'ieh-kuai, Ho Hsien-ku, Han Hsiang-tsu, and Han Chung-li), were

often venerated as gods and astrology along with divination were

often added to the religious sects due to popular culture. Taoism

eventually became Neo Taoism in the third and fourth centuries. Neo

Taoism was split into two sects, The Pure Conversation School,

which was a group of younger thinkers, and poets who explored

issues of Taoism through poetry and interpretation and Metaphysical

School, which was made up of philosophers who wanted to both expand

Taoism and to reconcile Taoism and Confucianism. Taoism is a

popular practiced belief all over the world even today.

During his life, Lau Tzu inspired many people, even the great

philosopher Confucius, but he inspired even more people after his

death. His teachings brought to public eye from his book The Tao

Tai Ching inspired followings of millions first throughout Asia,

and eventually the world. His teachings lead to over five religious

sects that inspired the world. His inspiration writings lead Taoism

through thousands of years, touching the hearts and souls of all

who followed him. His peaceful concepts inspired religions, other

philosophers, and the writer of this answer. Therefore, Lao Tzu is

one of the most inspirational and important people in history.

Works Cited

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<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tao_Te_Ching>. # Various

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<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lao_Tzu>. # Dim Cheuk

Lau, Laozi, Lao Tzu, Lao zi. Tao Te Ching. 1963 131. Friday,

December 15, 2006


# Toshihiko Izutsu. A comparative study of the key philosophical

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# "Laozi." Microsoft® Encarta® 2006 [DVD]. Redmond, WA:

Microsoft Corporation, 2005. # Livia Kohn, Michael LaFargue.

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# D. C. Lau. Textual Criticism and The Ma Wang tui Lao tzu

Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Vol. 44, No. 1 (Jun.,

1984), pp. 185-224 1984 39.


# "Daoism." Microsoft® Encarta® 2006 [DVD]. Redmond, WA:

Microsoft Corporation, 2005. # Gunn, Edward M. "Chinese

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Corporation, 2005. # "Chinese Philosophy." Microsoft®

Encarta® 2006 [DVD]. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation, 2005.

# Various Authors. "Lao Tzu" 1. Friday, December 15, 2006

<http://who2.com/ask/laotzu.html> # Various Authors.

"Biography" 1. Friday, December 15, 2006


# Various Authors. "Biography of Lao Tzu - Founder of Taoism" 1.

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<http://www.thetao.info/tao/laotzu.htm> # Various

Authors. "Lao Tzu: Father of Taoism" 1. Friday, December 15, 2006

<http://www.chebucto.ns.ca/Philosophy/Taichi/lao.html> #

Various Authors. "Taoism and the Philosophy of Tai Chi Chuan" 7.


# Various authors. "The Taoism-Daoism Philosophy" 1. Friday,

December 15, 2006 <http://www.daoism.net/> # Lao Tzu.

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<http://www.quotationspage.com/quotes/Lao-tzu> #

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"T'ai Chi." Microsoft® Encarta® 2006 [DVD]. Redmond, WA:

Microsoft Corporation, 2005.

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