Lao Tzu (Laozi)
Wisdom of the Ancient Sages
Lao Tzu (Laozi)
The Old Master
An Introduction to Lao Tzu
Two and a half millennia ago, in ancient China two great contemporary philosophers and holy men, Confucius and Lao Tzu, attempted to reform and improve the way people lived.
Lao Tzu was not only a philosopher but a personality worshiped as a prophet or divinity. He showed people the "Tao" or "The Way", and through his Taoist teachings he tried to lead them to a non-aggressive and harmonious way of life, and to being in accordance with nature and the forces that govern the natural and universal order. He is also one of the top deities in the Pantheon of Taoism, a member of the Three Pure Ones.
Lao Tzu presented his philosophy in the Tao Te Ching, which, next to the Bible, is the most translated book in the world.
The Story of His Life
Lao Tzu (The Old Master), also know as Lao Tse, Lao Tsu or Lao Zi, is a personality clouded by doubt and historical uncertainty, as far as facts about his life are concerned. Historians and scholars have been trying for centuries to create an accurate biography for Lao Tzu without much success, as two or three historical figures seem to identify with him.
During the Han dynasty (206-220 BC), a historian named Ssu-ma Ch'ien created Lao Tzu's first biography. Although its reliability cannot be confirmed, it is a point of reference for the study of the philosopher's life. Lao Tzu was a citizen of the state of Chu, which corresponds to the modern city of Luyi in the Honan Province. His first name was Er, his surname Li and his appellation Tan. He worked as a keeper of the archives in the court of the Emperor. At that time keepers of archives were not historians but scholars who specialized in divination, astrology and the study of sacred books. According to legend, Confucius ( 551-479 BC), who was younger than Lao Tzu, had consulted the royal archives to find information on certain rituals, and not only praised Lao Tzu, but also compared him to a dragon that flies high up in the sky, rising on the winds and clouds.
Also legendary is the account of Lao Tzu's voyage to the west and the way he wrote his book "Tao Te Ching". Lao Tzu got disgusted because of the decline in morality and the dishonesty prevailing in politics in the area where he lived, and decided to go away and live as a hermit. When he reached the entrance to the state of Ch'in, the famous Hsien Ku pass, he met Yin Hsi, the guardian of the pass, who asked him to prove his wisdom by writing a book. When Lao Tzu finished the book, he left it to Yin Hsi and after that, nobody ever learned what became of him.
In order to provide an explanation to why Lao Tzu's life was so much shrouded in obscurity, Ssu-ma Ch'ien claimed that since Lao Tzu taught non-action and inner calm, he, himself was a recluse who wanted to leave no trace of his life.
By the 2nd century AD, Taoism had become a religion and a very important part of people's lives, consequently, Lao Tzu was worshiped as a divine creature, a revealer of truth and a saviour of mankind, and as such, his life was beautified with several stories and legends.
One of the stories concerning his birth is that his mother bore him in her womb for 72 years and that Lao Tzu entered this world through her left flank, while another explains his family name by saying that he was born at the foot of a palm tree (li) and because of this, his family name was Li.
Lao Tzu was also connected to the Buddha. There are stories that say that he was one of the Buddha's teachers, while others claim that he was the Buddha himself or one of Buddha's incarnations.
Lao Tzu, as several other Taoist masters, was credited with unusual longevity as it was believed to have reached the age of 150, and that he had incarnated innumerable times after his death to provide the rulers with proper instructions on the Taoist doctrine.
Tao Te Ching
Lao Tzu only wrote one book, the famous Tao Te Ching on which Taoism was based. Tao means "The Way", Te means "Virtue" and Ching means "classic scripture". The book is a short, poetic text of 5000 Chinese characters, divided into 81 chapters, but has been a great source of inspiration for poets, artists philosophers and theologians all over the world through its numerous translations into most of the Western languages.
In the first part of the book the Tao Ching, the Tao is presented like Whatever Existed before time and space and the Nameless Creator of everything. Tao is the Source of Chi, the essential energy that keeps the creation in motion. Tao could be the "Word" as it is described in the beginning of the Gospel by John, which was the creator of everything.
In the second part the values are described as "feminine" or Yin, with properties of a quiet and passive nature and "male" or Yang with properties of energy and action. The symbol of Yin and Yang is very well known in the West as the omnipresent duality that exists in every aspect of life on Earth.
On the whole, the Tao is a quiet power and man should attune to its harmony. Tao Te Ching teaches man to live a life free from violence and all forms of aggression. People are also taught to adopt special eating habits and practise special breathing exercises so that they could maintain peace of mind and harmony with the Tao.
Despite the controversy surrounding Lao Tzu's life, what remained of him is of the utmost importance, as Taoism has been the pillar of Chinese religious beliefs and way of life. At the same time that the Buddha taught in India and Pythagoras in Greece and Southern Italy, Lao Tzu was the influential spirit in China. It seems that at all times and at all places, The Great Sower sows the seeds of knowledge in all parts of the world.
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