Lao Zi — Great Philosopher and Founder of Taoism in Chinese Culture

Extraordinary Influences of Lao Zi (or Lao Tzu)

 

Lao Zi or Lao Tzu (about 571 BC — ?), original name as Li Er or Li Dan and honorific name as Bo Yang, was one of the greatest philosophers, authors, and historians in Chinese culture.

 

His masterpiece Laozi, also named Dao De Jing (or pronounced as Tao Te Ching), formed Taoism, one of the most influential philosophical schools in Chinese Culture.

Centuries later, Lao Zi was believed as the incarnation Tai Shang Lao Jun, one of the most honorable deities of the Taoism Religion that was formed in the late Han Dynasty (202 BC — 220 AD). 

In addition, Emperors of the Tang Dynasty (618 — 907) respected Lao Zi (or Lao Tzu) as their ancestor and the Emperor Xuanyuan of the Tang Empire.

 

Lao Zi’s Early Life and Work Experiences in the Zhou Empire

 

Born into a noble family, Lao Zi started to learn history, astrology, and military since he was a toddler.

As a knowledgeable, diligent wunderkind, a few years later, his teacher believed that Lao Zi had mastered everything he knew; therefore, he recommended Lao Zi to move to the capital city of the Zhou Empire and to learn from the most knowledgeable scholars there.

Soon, as a 13-year-old boy, Lao Zi left his parents and hometown and went to the capital city where he studied and mastered more knowledge.

Then, Lao Zi worked in the Zhou Empire as a historian and a librarian, when he had read large numbers of books and mastered the entire documented history.

Soon, many people worshipped him as a sage, because of his exceptional insight and talent. 

Confucius had traveled long distances to consult Lao Zi several times, to talk about the universe, life, history, politics, etc. Confucius was inspired after each meeting, and compared Lao Zi as a mysterious and powerful dragon.

Decades later, the Zhou Empire stepped into a chaotic era, so Lao Zi decided to leave this kingdom.

When he arrived at Hangu Pass, an important military gate on the border, the chief commander here recognized him.

This commander stopped and welcomed Lao Zi, saying a master like him should leave the world his knowledge.

 

Writing of Dao De Jing and Lao Zi's Mysterious Ending

Lao Zi agreed and wrote down a five-thousand-words book, and gave it to this commander. 

Afterward, Lao Zi disappeared from the public forever.

But the book he handed over before he left, named Laozi or Dao De Jing or Tao Te Ching, was widespread nationwide and formed the philosophy of Taoism in Chinese culture.

The content of this masterpiece, some people believed is regarding teach the ruling class how to be a good monarch, while others considered it was revealing the essence of the universe, nature, and society.

In a word, everyone could learn different things out of it, based on their various perspectives.  

 

Silk Manuscript of Dao De Jing (Tao Te Chin), Unearthed From Tomb of Prime Minister Li Cang (? — 185 BC) — Mawangdui Museum of Hunan Province

 

Main Beliefs of Lao Zi (or Lao Tzu) 

  • Everything has two sides, and they are transferable.

Everything is complicated and keeps changing. Hence, there’s no absolute and permanent right or wrong, beauty, or ugliness.

Therefore, people’s definition and cognition of the universe is always limited and requires constant progressing.  

  • Humans adhere to the pattern of the earth; earth responds to change of heaven; heaven obeys the Dao; Dao follows the doctrine of nature. 

For instance, human agricultural activities need to adhere to the change of seasons and rainfall, and temperature or moisture on earth is the result of the movement of the Sun. 

The pattern of the whole universe could be recognized as the Dao, the essence of nature.

 

  • Everything in the universe follows the Dao, the ultimate principle of nature. Humans can perceive, define, and make use of it, but no one is able to change it.

Chinese Character "Dao" Written by Emperor Li Longji (685 — 762)

  • Denial of Theism.

Dao dominates the universe, not any kind of immortal nor supernatural force. 

  • Dao treats everyone and everything equally, with no preferences to humans nor any other kind.

Hence, everyone could think and pursue their own Dao, as an important means to find and be themselves, without being forced to follow some absolute, universal rules or standards set by others. 

  • A great person could know, overcome, and never lost him/herself.

  • Value the Doctrine of Inaction.

When the ruling class does not advocate luxury goods and man-made secular values, civilians won’t have many resemble desires nor imitate certain behaviors.

Monarchs should master and respect the law of nature and avoid intervening in society frequently through excessive policies.

Inaction is the methodology, not the purpose. It doesn’t mean doing nothing; it means more learning, to be insightful and capable of seeing a bigger picture, while less interfering, and trusting others can do their job. That way, the inaction could lead to better achievement.

 
  • Nurture, but don’t take forcible possession of everything, having made contributions to but not take advantage or impose on others. 

 

This is the greatest moral standard to treat other people, like one's children, friends, relatives, or colleagues. 

  • Value the Conciliatory Thought, in which water is the best representative.

Water is extremely soft and flexible, and can be shaped into everything. It nurtures and cleans everything but is modest and quiet.

However, water also can be extremely strong and powerful, since it can destroy everything.

Water doesn’t compete with anything, but it is invincible. 

Therefore, soft and compromise don’t mean weak or useless, humble and quiet doesn’t equal to a coward or incapable.

Everything in the world is convertible. ​

Ancient Temple (Lao Jun Tai) to Memorize Lao Zi in Luyi City of Henan Province (Hometown of Lao Zi), Built Around 742. 

  • War is strongly opposed.

People shouldn’t be proud of or afraid of war, and righteous war is necessary. 

Strategy in war is necessary and welcome, which could end the war as soon as possible and achieve victory.

Ruling class shouldn’t advocate or praise military success. 

  • Everything starts from zero.

A long journey begins with a single step, a huge tree grows out of a tiny seed.

The big dream is made of countless and consistent hard works, as well as complicated and subtle details.

  • Everything comes from nothingness and goes to nothingness. 

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