Life and teaching of Lao Tzu
Lao Tzu, the first of the Taoists, legendary originator of Taoism: Did he exist, and if so, was Lao Tzu the author of the Tao Te Ching? Still, nothing is know for certain about Lao Tzu - not even if he ever lived. Shih Chi even describes a meeting between Lao Tzu and Confucius, where Lao Tzu is No man is an island. Confucius said: “I know how a bird can fly. I know how a fish can swim. But I do not know how Laozi could rise and fly like a sublime dragon. At the end of the meeting, Laozi felt that Confucius was an important enough figure offer some coaching to him. He suggested that he consider things more.
Therefore I shall appoint a duke or Kung as prince to rule over the provinces. You shall rule over the tribal country of the Chou in the Dragon Mountains. Then Emperor Wu once again speaks. As long as the duke is friend, father and protector of his noblemen and peasants, as long as the knight is a good neighbor and benevolent fighter for his peasants, there will be harmony between the throne and the people and peace between the Earth and Heaven.
Drawn by fiery stallions, his carriage, followed by riders who bear lances, hurries over the dusty roads of the provinces. In the years of inspection, the emperor leaves in the second month of spring to head for the holy mountain of the east, in summer he travels to the holy mountain of the south, in the eighth month he travels to the holy mountain of the west and in the eleventh month, when snow heavily falls from the sky, his carriage takes him to the sanctuary of the holy mountain of the north.
The dukes send out riders to meet him on his way and to accompany the Lord of the Yellow Empire to the cities and the market squares. Emperor Wu himself lives a life in harmony.
At all places that he visits he asks for the oldest men in town and full of hospitality invites them to see them so that they can report about the situation in the country. He never ever relies merely on the reports of his feudal lords. But when there is any man older than eighty, the emperor spares him the tiresome way to the court, and the emperor himself goes to see him, because great is his esteem of age and wisdom. Often he mingles into the crowds on the markets, and he examines the offered goods that caravans from the far West or South have brought to the country.
Whenever some folk singers perform somewhere nearby, he invites them to his camp and enthusiastically listens to their ballads and songs. But despite all his kindness and benevolence Wu never forgets that he has gained possession of the empire through military power and war.
With a strong hand he eliminates all resistance and suppresses any arising riots or upheavals. The Emperor has given to the Yellow Empire the highest order possible and has established harmony between heaven, earth and humans. His destiny deems his task fulfilled and dismisses him. He dies young and leaves his empire to his minor son, a pupil of the Duke of Chou. Loyally he reigns the people and the country on behalf of the young heir.
Even centuries later the rule of the Duke of Chou is remembered and praised as an era of peace and justice. A peasant poet wrote the following quatrain: The crowds seek profit, The good man esteems success, The wise man merely the soul Under the mild and just rule of the duke and his successors the pressure of the belief in bad spirits and demons loses ground in the people's souls.
As they no longer live in fear of the unknown and the untamed, they do not need any explanation about ghosts or demonic beings from a world of horrors. Slave sacrifices in honor of the Gods are abolished and made punishable. The great duke, who loved music and who considered it a means to mitigate the instinctive and unbridled elements in humans, created a kind of huge orchestra, in which everyone had to play his part in accordance with his significance, competence and grade.
But he too was powerless against the future, because in the womb of the future there were hidden threats which inevitably had to penetrate from all sides into the Chou Empire and its people, when once an emperor did not know the high art of directing the enormous orchestra of the state. The system of feudalism, which he and his elder brother Wu had introduced as the new regime, was as good or as bad as the bearers of power of the various groups.
As long as there were strong rulers and dukes, earls and barons who were well aware of their patriarchal tasks and were therefore good representatives of this noble regime, everything worked out well. But woe to the state of Chou when it was governed by weak emperors and when the shepherd who was meant to protect and guide his people became a robber or wolf himself!
The spirit of the duke was still felt many years after his death. Even the fifth emperor of the dynasty of Chou still had the reins of the realm fast in his hands, although the tax burden to be borne by the peasants had become heavier and the pernicious richness of the feudal classes had grown enormously.
The treasures accumulated during the five generations of peaceful development and his undisputed power finally motivated Emperor Mu to undertake unnecessary and futile military campaigns to the far West with its mountains and deserts, a region which at that time still represented a threatening dark and mysterious gate to adventure.
After the death of Emperor Mu the decline began. Through arbitrary endowment of land to dukes and barons and repeated upgrading of ranks among the noblemen, the power of the feudal lords throughout the country increased enormously. Under the weak Chou emperors the former feudal states developed into practically independent kingdoms, the earls felt like dukes and claimed unlimited power, the barons saw themselves as masters over the life, death and property of the peasants and increasingly understood that it was on them to squeeze out as much as possible from the poor people of their land in order to become richer and even more powerful.
So the times of the seekers of truth such as Confucius and Lao-tzu dawned. In the year B. In the far West at that time the great king Cyrus conquers Babylon and delivers the people of Israel from Babylonian captivity. In Greece the great philosophers of the Ionic School lead occidental thinking into new tracks; in Olympia young people from all over Hellas meet for national sports competitions, and in India Buddha, the Enlightened, gathers his disciples around him and teaches asceticism and self-redemption.
Confucius' father descends from the old imperial dynasty of Yin.
Confucius and Laozi, The Great Philosophers of the East
The family, however, has long been without any influence, although important soldiers, politicians and high state officials were among their ancestors. Before the son Confucius nine sisters are born. Confucius is the tenth child, and startling signs forebode his birth. For this reason his mother undertakes a pilgrimage to the spirits of the mountains, because astrologers have announced to her that the sacred hill of Mu would be a most blissful place for the future of the unborn child.
The small feudal state of Lu, to which Confucius' hometown belongs, is governed by tyrannical dukes. Here the old families still enjoy high esteem, but they do not have the smallest influence in the political guidance of the country.
His father is already seventy years old, when Confucius is born. He dies when Confucius is still an infant.
Confucius and Laozi, The Great Philosophers of the East
His mother teaches the boy — free of any fears of demons and superstition — ancient legends, traditions and wisdoms. After years of preparation in her own house, she sends the young boy, who is eager for knowledge, to the school of the wise Mandarin Yen. After having completed the Mandarin's education, the poverty of his family forces him into the tough school of life. At first he becomes administrator of the local granary and tax official. As he fulfils all duties assigned to him with the utmost diligence, the ministry of the State of Lu promotes him to supervisor of all the herds of his local district.
At the age of twenty years, Confucius quits his work as supervisor of the herds of Lu, and despite his youth he gathers disciples around him, whom he wants to teach about a new order. In a country in which age counts more than anything else, it is a very high risk to set up one's own school at such a young age. Nevertheless the reputation of the young scholar quickly spreads far beyond the city of Dsou within the next few years.
Young, ambitious people search the vicinity of the learned man in order to learn from his discourses. One of them is Tzu-kung who holds a modest court office in the imperial city of Loyang and only stays temporarily in the State of Lu.
Which skills does he possess? He possesses many wonderful abilities. My youth was poor. Neither do I belong to the rich nor the powerful. The only thing I have acquired is knowledge. But no longer do I seek knowledge — today I seek wisdom. If I meet any dignified man, I strive to become his equal, but if I meet an undignified one, I examine myself and explore my innermost feelings. Not yet am I wise, but firm do I stand on the ground of truthfulness.
At thirty years a man has to stand firm. The noble man demands much from himself, the base much from others. The noble man seeks inner values, the base one property.
A noble man who is not benevolent may well exist, but there is certainly no base man who is benevolent. The noble man is not judged by trivialities, but he is able to assume the great. The base man, however, cannot assume anything great, but he certainly can be judged by trivialities. He has neither prejudices, nor a stubborn craving for admiration, nor obstinacy nor any sense of selfishness.
Lao Tzu - The First Taoist
His journey to the capital is of utmost significance to Confucius, for everywhere he meets important testimonials and the evidence of the great past of the empire.
As in a dream he walks through the palace district and watches the huge mythical animals chiseled out of stone that guard the paths which lead to the imperial graves. He sees the high, carved arches in front of the temples of the ancestors, the gilded bricks and the cambered ridges of the roofs with their bronze dragons.
Well-ordered and powerful was the ancient world of the emperors, for it was filled with benevolence, justice and truthfulness that radiated culture, education and knowledge.
Incredibly rich and comprehensive is the library of the palace at Loyang. Thousands of works of all kinds are stored on the varnished shelves. Most of the books consist of carefully piled stacks of bamboo plates, which are labeled with red linen stripes. Some newer editions are painted on fine linen, carefully rolled and stored in precious containers, which too are labeled with purple linen stripes carrying the title of the books.
His friends and disciples Tzu-kung, Tseng-tzu and Chin quickly enter through the big, silk-lined bamboo gate, and in a state of highest excitement they report to Confucius in an awestruck whispering voice that Lao-tzu, the great Lao-tzu, has just arrived in the palace as a guest of the duke.
Confucius' eyes light up. Silently he puts his writing brush aside and rises from his seat. The eighty-five-year-old Lao-tzu has nearly become a living legend. A long time ago the age-old man had administered the library at the court of the Chou emperors.
Observing the decline of the Chou dynasty, Lao-tzu left the court and headed west. In the distant mountains of the West, he was stopped by Yin-his, the guardian of the frontier pass Hanku. But I request you for mankind's sake to write down your knowledge and not let the wisdom of your age be lost. There he wrote his books about the world principle Tao and the concepts of highest virtue. According to Lao-tzu virtue means to be one with the spirit of Tao, with the harmony of the world's reason and life.
Tao is a cosmic principle, the great secret way of existence, which only the wise realize. As life, happiness and pain as well as death, love and greatness are only changing stages in the eternally moving stream of existence, only a fool will try to withstand his destiny.
Wishes are harmful, richness, honor and the entire step ladder of pleasure and pain, which offers itself delusively to our senses, is as futile as dreams. The wise old man huddles in the middle of the ample room.
He is dressed in long, simple garments. His small, inquiring eyes, which do not show any human emotion, examine the young scholar who approaches him in awe and humbly bows in front of him.
No movement can be seen in the old man's face, which is marked with pain, disappointment and loneliness and which seems to have found completion in ultimate spiritualization. The court is silent and everyone watches the two wise men, whose names are widely known among all the learned men throughout the country.
Lao-tzu's voice can hardly be heard. It sounds as if he spoke to himself. The crowd is lethargic and falls back into dumbness again and again. To resist it, is unworthy of a wise man. He should rather retreat into the loneliness of his own soul, seek to explore the secrets of his soul, explore the secret of creation and struggle his way to self-redemption. So, at the end of his life, he may rise from dust to the crystal pureness of the spirit and attain Tao.
The learned man should not seclude himself from the world, but he should use his wisdom in order to help the ignorant.
But how can we help if we escape into the seclusion of Tao? I believe that people are what we evoke in them.
In man there is everything at one time: To cast light on the noble is the task of every government. Therefore I seek for the most appropriate basic principles underlying human coexistence, principles which are able to restructure the moral relations between humans.
These may be ancient and simple rules that everyone understands: Don't hide your grain if others have nothing to eat! Don't deprive a rightful heir of his rights!
Don't deprive your neighbor of his livelihood! Be mild in earnestness and severe without cruelty, be eager without pride!
These are rules that everyone understands and that are useful for the well-being of the society. You can already find them in the teachings of the ancient emperors! If Man lives in favorable times he may rise. But if the streams of his time are against him, as it is the case in our time, his feet seem to walk as if they were tied. I have learned that in times of misery the clever merchant who has accumulated riches pretends to be poor in order to escape envy.
Still, nothing is know for certain about Lao Tzu - not even if he ever lived. Chinese tradition makes Lao Tzu a contemporary of Confucius Kung Fu Tzu or Kong Fuzithe most famous of Chinese philosophers, and by far the most influential on the values and mentality of Chinese society.
Confucius, whose existence is well documented, lived BC. This should be viewed with some skepticism, since it might just have been a way of claiming Lao Tzu's superiority over the other philosopher: In China, as well as in many other cultures, wisdom is regarded as increasing with age.
Also, old ideas are respected much more than new ones. So, the Taoists would prefer to have Lao Tzu the senior to Confucius, especially since Confucianism and Taoism to a large extent have contradictory views. One could even call Lao Tzu and Confucius opposites. The latter speaks of the necessity of a fixed order, whereas Lao Tzu recommends to let go and trust the sublime working order of nature.
In this book, Lao Tzu is indeed reported to be a senior contemporary to Confucius. Shih Chi even describes a meeting between Lao Tzu and Confucius, where Lao Tzu is portrayed as both older and wiser, giving the latter a lesson that is almost humiliating. The name Lao Tzu is not likely to be genuine, though. It means Old Master and is more of an honorific title. Shih Chi states that his name was really Li Er.
He was a public servant at the imperial archives, who late in his life left this high position in disgust, traveled to the West on a water buffalo, and wasn't heard from again. Lao Tzu departs on a water buffalo. Painting by Chao Buzhi, 11th Century. Lao Tzu's Parting Gift Legend has it that before leaving, Lao Tzu rested at the house of a border guard named Yin Hse, who was delighted at listening to the wisdom of his guest.
The guard said that Lao Tzu must write down his thoughts, for the benefit of mankind. Lao Tzu seemed indifferent to the idea, but when the guard woke up the next morning, Lao Tzu was gone, but he had left the Tao Te Ching text behind. Actually, the book was originally called Lao Tzu, like its legendary writer. When Confucius first saw Lao Tzu in BC, he was young, thirty four, and Lao Tzu as a nationally renowned scholar, and looked much younger than his advanced age.
When Confucius stepped down from his cart at the capital city gate, it was a surprise that Lao Tzu, a high official of the royal court, came to welcome him outside the city wall. According to the custom, Confucius brought Lao Tzu a large wild goose as a gift.
Lao Tzu remembered so many details of the imperial rituals, and he even knew how a funeral procession should proceed if a solar eclipse happened to occur.
Stories of Lao Tzu, Confucius, and Chuang Tzu
With Lao Tzu as his host, Confucius literally buried himself in books for days on end in the royal library. Books were a rare possession of a few privileged people, and Confucius had never seen so many books before. It opened his eyes, and laid the foundation for his career as an educator. I had neither money nor virtue. Let me pretend as a man of knowledge only for the moment to say a few words to you, our honourable guest, Confucius.
Firstly, what you are studying and teaching now is all from ancient men, who died a long time ago and even their bones have rotted away. Those written words are in fact only their footprints, neither their shoes nor their feet, let alone what was in their minds. Secondly, as a man of virtue and knowledge, you can have your own cart and live a luxurious life.
If the time does not permit, it will be perfectly okay as long as you can manage to survive. Thirdly, once I was told of an old saying: It will do you good if you cut off your pride, get rid of your greed, reduce your haughtiness, throw away some of your ambitions.
It will serve your family better, and it will serve your state better if you are not too stubborn no matter whenever, wherever, and whatever. At one point, Confucius had determined to ask all the questions to get to the root of the matter. But at the end, Confucius seemed to be shrouded in thick fog and nothing was clear. He knew neither what to ask nor how to ask. His heart was still pounding, ears humming, and his throat choking when everyone at the party had dried their cups and were saying goodbye.
Was this really the same Lao Tzu whom he had stayed with in the last few weeks in the capital? Lao Tzu had been a kind, warm, and often humorous, old gentleman, treating him as his own son. When Confucius was on his way home with the capital in the distance, a few men were hunting on horse back. A duck fell from the sky at the release of the bowstring.
Fish can swim but will be hooked by the fisherman. A dragon can fly into the sky, ride on clouds, dive into the ocean. A dragon is powerful yet so intangible to us. Now the two, Confucius and his disciple Gent-Road, left their books in the hotel and rode on horseback to the hilly suburban area where Lao Tzu was said to have retired to.Confucius and Laozi - Chinese Culture
Since it was far away from the capital, the two set off so early they passed the city gate with a few stars twinkling overhead. Confucius was so happy when they reached the hilly suburb. There would be plenty of time to consult this senior scholar. Confucius had many interesting topics in mind to discuss with Lao Tzu. Nobody seemed to know this former curator of the royal library or where he lived.