Lao-tzu (-500s), also called 老子 or Laozi, was a wise man who lived in China in the time of Confucius. He founded Taoism which, along with Confucianism, became one of the two great schools of philosophy of ancient China. It later became a religion. Zen Buddhism is Buddhism interpreted according to Taoism.
Lao-tzu wrote the Tao-te-Ching, the book of the Way (Tao) and its power. It is very short, just 5467 words. It is the sort of book you can read in a half hour but take a lifetime to understand.
Apart from the Bible, no book has been translated more times.
Lao-tzu worked in a government office in Luoyang. As an old man he had had enough of man and his world. He got on the back of a black ox and headed west. At a mountain pass a military guard stopped him. He asked Lao-tzu to write a book. So he wrote the Tao-te-Ching and then disappeared into the west.
Some say he made it to India and taught a prince. Others say he died in China.
Experts in our time say that he wrote nothing – that the Tao-te-Ching was written during the centuries after his death by his followers.
The book is about the Tao. The Tao that you can put into words is not the Tao – the Tao is beyond words. It gave birth to the heaven and the earth and all of creation. These things developed out of it naturally, not as something consciously made.
The Tao is not a person like the Christian God. It is a force without a face. Its effect and manner you can see in the actions of heaven and earth, but not in the actions of men.
Men are always fighting against the Tao. They are always doing this or that, always seeking something: wealth, honour, power, knowledge, even holiness. They never sit still. But all this running about goes against the Tao and so it is bound to end in tears. We think we can have it our way. Wrong.
The true wise man acts and lives according to the Tao. Strangely enough, he acts by not acting – called wu wei in Chinese. He does not even try to be good or wise. He trusts in the Tao and acts according to it and everything falls into place.
The wise man has three jewels: mercy, humility and moderation. Going against any one of these goes against the Tao.
If you think of the Pooh stories, Pooh Bear acts in a Taoist manner, while Rabbit is completely the opposite.
After his death, Taoism was developed by his follower Chuang-tzu (Zhuangzi).
In time Taoism became a religion, complete with gods, priests, rites, temples, all of it. Even Lao-tzu was a god. It had the support of the emperors down through the ages. But then in 1911 the last emperor fell. In time the communists took over China under Mao and destroyed Taoism after 1949. It lives on in Taiwan.
– Abagond, 2007, 2015.