Lao Tzu
Lao Tzu

Lao Tzu
(c 520 BC - c 440 BC)

Chinese Founder of Taoism


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The Life and Teachings of Lao Tzu

Lao Tzu (the name means (or "Old Sage") was born Li Erh.

Lao Tzu was the keeper of the archives at the imperial court at Luoyang. His studies of the archive's books gave him enlightenment and wisdom. However he became disillusioned as society began to b reak down around him.

When he was an old man (some legends say 80 years old) he travelled by water buffalo to the western regions of China, (the modern Tibet). He wrote down his teachings in a book called the Tao Te Ching ("The Way and Its Power"). It is one of the world's most translated books. The philosophy is called Taoism.

Lao Tzu
Lao Tzu leaving China on a buffalo.

Taoism is individualistic, mystical and influenced by nature. Its contemporary philosophy, Confucianism, concerns itself with social relations, conduct and human society.

Taoism teaches that all striving is vain and counterproductive. One should follow the natural forces and "go with the flow" of events. Avoid going against the natural order of things and be spontaneous.

"The Tao abides in non-action,
Yet nothing is left undone.
If kings and lords observed this,
The ten thousand things would develop naturally.

If they still desired to act,
They would return to the simplicity of formless substance.

Without form there is no desire.
Without desire there is tranquillity.
In this way all things would be at peace."

There is a political element to Taoism as can be seen from the following:

"Why are people starving?
Because the rulers eat up the money in taxes.
Therefore the people are starving.
Why are the people rebellious?
Because the rulers interfere too much.
Therefore they are rebellious.

Why do people think so little of death?
Because the rulers demand too much of life.
Therefore the people take life lightly.

Having to live on, one knows better than to value life too much."

One of the most famous ideas of Taoism is the concept of Yin-Yang. This represents the balance of opposites in the world. When they are equally present, there is calm. When one outweighs by the other, there is confusion and disarray. Yin is darkness; Yang is brightness. The symbol (below) appears on the flag of South Korea.

Yin-Yang

The Sayings of Lao Tzu

"A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving."

"A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves."

"A scholar who cherishes the love of comfort is not fit to be deemed a scholar."

"An ant on the move does more than a dozing ox."

"Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength; loving someone deeply gives you courage."

"He who knows others is wise. He who knows himself is enlightened." "Fill your bowl to the brim and it will spill. Keep sharpening your knife and it will blunt."

"Great acts are made up of small deeds." "The five colours blind the eye. The five tones deafen the ear. The five flavours dull the taste.
Racing and hunting madden the mind. Precious things lead one astray.
Therefore the sage is guided by what he feels and not by what he sees. He lets go of that and chooses this."

"Health is the greatest possession. Contentment is the greatest treasure. Confidence is the greatest friend."

"Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished."

"Violence, even well intentioned, always rebounds upon oneself."

"I treat those who are good with goodness. And I also treat those who are not good with goodness. Thus goodness is attained."

"Be still like a mountain and flow like a great river."

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Inventions from the period that includes Chinese culture at the time of Lao Tzu.

These are words found in English from Mandarin.


External Lao Tzu Links

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Lao Tzu, The Father of Taoism
A brief biography with images.

The Taoism Information Page
An introduction to Taoism.