Lao Tzu
Lao Tzu is regarded as the founder of Taoism. According to tradition, he was an older contemporary of Confucius, and, perhaps, also of Buddha. Lao Tzu and Confucius are considered the two greatest sages of China and tit is recorded that they met on at least one occasion. Lao Tzu never met Buddha but many people see some similarity in the philosophies of the two great teachers. When Buddhism first arrived in China many people considered it to be a form of Taoism and initially Buddhist texts were translated into Chinese using Taoist terminology.

Lao Tzu was born in Ch’ü Jan (Good Man’s Corner), a village in the K’u Hien (Thistle District) of the state of Ch’u. His name was Li Er. Li is the family name and Er the personal name. When adult he became the official historian and archivist of the state of Cheu.

Confucius & Lao Tzu
Confucius visited him. Lao Tzu said to Confucius, “The ancient sages have mouldered away with their bones, but their words live on. The way it is with a noble man is that if the time is right he rises, but if the time is not right he drifts and wanders. I notice that wise merchant hides his treasure and presents himself as if poor.  A noble man of great virtue assumes an aspect as though he were foolish. Let go, sir, of proud airs, of many wishes, of affectation and exaggerated plans. They are of no use to you. That is all I have to say.”

Later Confucius said, “For animals that run, one can make a noose; for fish that swim, a net; for birds that fly arrows; but dragons rising to heaven on wind and cloud, thry are beyond my ken.  Today I met Lao Tzu who is rather like a dragon.”

Lao Tzu's Philosophy
We can tell from this encounter that Lao Tzu’s philosophy had something to do with nobility and virtue, with self-effacement, and with acceptance of the changing times. He is saying that one cannot contrive to be famous or important and to try to do so is to invite disaster. It might happen, but if it does it will be a result of forces beyond one’s personal control and there is a hint that this is actually a dangerous situation. If it does not happen then one should be content to wander or to bend like a reed in the wind. As far as we can tell he was a conscientious man of little ambition, happy to do his duty when the conditions were right for it and happy to retire when there was nothing more he could do. Equally, however, we can tell by the impact that he had on Confucius that he was a man of strong character who did indeed make an impression.

Leaving the World
Later in life he sensed the decline of Cheu and decided to retire. He left the state of Cheu, perhaps riding on an oxen. At the frontier, the customs officer engaged him in conversation and begged him to write a book. Here again we see that Lao Tzu must have emanated a presence that spoke of wisdom. I don’t suppose that the custom’s officer made this request vof many of the people who passed his post. The short book that Lao Tzu wrote is called the Tao Te Ching. Thereafter, he went on his way. Nobody knows where to.

Scholarly Debate
All of the above facts have been disputed by one or another scholar or group of scholars both in China and in the West. The debate goes on and on and is difficult to settle. It does seem quite likely that, even if much of the traditional story is true,  the book that we have today may not have been entirely written by Lao Tzu, but may have accumulated additions down the years. Old versions found in tombs seem to have chunks of the modern version missing.

Continuing Fascination
Nonetheless, the philosophy presented in the Tao Te Ching has had a fascination for people for more than two thousand years and this influence continues to this day. The Tao Te Ching is almost certainly the  Chinese book that has been most translated into English. It is the most important classic of Taoism.

Tao Te Ching
It is a book in two parts - the Tao Ching and the Te Ching. Each chapter is made up of several sections and each section is composed of aphorisms that are cryptic and suggestive. The work is therefore a bit like a Rorschach blot inviting projection and interpretation. The whole is suggestive of a mystical philosophy, close to Nature, full of ancient wisdom laced with practical advice, often paradoxical and frequently tending to stand worldly values on their head. It can as easily be taken as a manual for politicians as for mystics, for people involved in the world as for hermits.

The study of this book can itself be a wonderful practice. It reaches into deep places and plants seeds of ideas that go on germinating and sprouting for years, constantly yielding new fruit. Reading it in English one has the additional issue of translation to contend with. Sitting here I have nine different translations on my table and there are more in my library and many more to be found in bookshops that have not yet found their way into my collection.

The Meaning of Tao
The title of the book is Tao Te Ching. Ching means book. Tao is clearly the key word, but te is also important. Tao is commonly translated as “way” but in English way is never a verb but tao appears as a verb in the very first line of the book. If “to way” were a verb in English it might mean something like “to do something in a predictable or understandable manner”. The underlying point is the notion that there is a human way of waying things and there is a heavenly (or eternal) way, but the heavenly way always eludes human understanding. Therefore, if the way one is talking about is humanly understandable and seems right and normal to people, then it is not the way of Heaven that is being talked about.

The Meaning of Te
The Chinese character for te is made up of the signs for “man”, “heart” and “straight” so te refers to straight-hearted-ness which could be called virtue or good character. It is rather like the English term straight-forward, in implying sincerity and non-contrivance.

Wu Wei
A term that conveys this well is Lao Tzu’s phrase “wei wu wei” which translates quite directly as “acting without acting” with the same double meaning as in English where the first “acting” means “doing” and the second means “performing a part”, as in theatre. A straight-forward person is not acting (posing) when he is in action. This, therefore, is a philosophy of avoiding affectation and preferring humility. The Taoist does not put his wisdom on display.

The suggestion is that the person who is straight-hearted in this sense, naturally acts in accord with the eternal tao, the way of heaven, even without understanding it in a rational or conscious way. Such a person feels no urge to coerce others and values the way of heaven above the way of man. The way of heaven is manifest in the natural order of things. It is demonstrated by water that always seeks the lowest place, but by doing so, becomes the most powerful thing, capable of reducing mountains.

Views: 225

Replies to This Discussion

The beginning of Taoism as Philosophy didn't start with Lao Tzu's figure. Taoism is an evolution of Chinese shamanic traditions and the main legacy of its tradition is the I Ching's book. The Tao Te King's book is the perfect abstract for the unnamed Tao. I can see in Buddhism a lot of resemblances with Taoism and mainly due to being a clear inspiration for Buddha during his long journey around China and in his visits to different Taoist Monasteries. My two cents.... 

Thanks Dharmavidya. I like that the lowest place holds the most power! I find Taoism to be very powerful and a wonderful complementary practice to Buddhism. There's something about the simplicity of the philosophy that cuts through the conceit of the ego, illuminating a deep truth which has been there all the time, right in front of me but buried under layers of delusion. The Tao penetrates the armor of the Self and aligns us with the fundamental energies of life! Namo Amida Bu(   :

 Juan. Interesting. Thank you. I don't think that Buddha Shakyamuni ever went to China - but who knows - it was a long time ago. The connections between Buddhism, Taoism and shamanism must be interesting, though presumably mostly unrecorded. The word shaman is presumably connected with the Buddhist term sraman but which came first is not clear. The I Ching is certainly a very important book for Taoism and Confucianism and, as you hint, older in origin than Tao Te Ching, probably, though it is possible that some bits of the Tao Te Ching are older than other bits. Even if Lao Tzu wrote it it is quite possible, even likely, that a lot of what he wrote was quoted from earlier sources - he was an archivist, after all. Yes, a lot to investigate here - many thanks - do keep contributing - this is an interesting subject. Un abrazo.

David, I can not assure this point, it can be only an urban legend......Buddhism spread to China, Korea and Japan and become the most important religion in those countries. In the other hand in India, Buddhism is not the majority religion. The reasons why it was in that way are unknown for me. I suppose that Buddha left Nepal and spent part of his live travelling around China so his influence was more important there than in any place in the World. 

Un abrazo para tí también

Wu Wei is basic in Taoism. Any of Tai Chi Chuan forms starts with the Wu Wei position. It is the starting and end point. The Taoist goal is a return to the emptiness. The "action with no action" is the natural flow of nature, with no efforts. You can apply Wu Wei to any situation of your daily life and it is not restricted to human relationships. A good martial artist needs to act without acting for a good performance of Tai Chi forms and techniques. My two cents.

Yes, it is a very interesting question why Buddhism took hold more strongly in the end in the Sino-Japanese world than in the Indian one, though, of course, it did become hugely important in the periphery of the Indian world - Tibet, Sri Lanks, Thailand, Burma, etc. This is something that is constantly developing and taking on new forms, as with the current reintroduction of Buddhism into India and the regeneration of Buddhism in the somewhat more liberal conditions now in China.

The point about wu-wei is interesting too. I like the D.T. Suzuki interpretation that acting without acting means genuineness and not putting on airs. The development of the principle in martial arts is also important, however. Taoism makes much of utility springing from emptiness. A house is no good without doors and windows. it is the emptinesses that make it useful. The house may seem solid, but it is in the emptiness within it that we actually live.

Yes, I agree with you David, in my humble opinion Wu Wei is the action with no mental intention as a rational fact, more resides in our intuition that dictates us what to do in any situation. As a concept, it is related to pure action in martial arts, also a Zen concept, Do and Tao have lastly the same original idea, a path.

Un abrazo de nuevo.



David Brazier said:

Yes, it is a very interesting question why Buddhism took hold more strongly in the end in the Sino-Japanese world than in the Indian one, though, of course, it did become hugely important in the periphery of the Indian world - Tibet, Sri Lanks, Thailand, Burma, etc. This is something that is constantly developing and taking on new forms, as with the current reintroduction of Buddhism into India and the regeneration of Buddhism in the somewhat more liberal conditions now in China.

The point about wu-wei is interesting too. I like the D.T. Suzuki interpretation that acting without acting means genuineness and not putting on airs. The development of the principle in martial arts is also important, however. Taoism makes much of utility springing from emptiness. A house is no good without doors and windows. it is the emptinesses that make it useful. The house may seem solid, but it is in the emptiness within it that we actually live.

RSS

Events

ITZI Conference 2019

Subscribe to ITZI Conference Newsletter

* indicates required

Blog Posts

Sagesse féline...

Posted by Tamuly Annette on September 29, 2019 at 12:00 1 Comment

En l'absence de Darmavidya, j'ai - en ma qualité de voisine et d'amie - le privilège de m'occuper (un peu) de Tara, la petite chatte. C'est un bonheur  de la voir me faire la fête chaque fois que je me rends à Eleusis: elle s'étire, se roule sur le dos au soleil ou saute sur mes genoux. J'ignore si elle a profité de l'enseignement du maître des lieux, mais j'ai comme l'impression qu'elle me donne une belle leçon de sagesse: elle…

Continue

WEEP FOR OUR WORLD

Posted by David Brazier on August 20, 2019 at 21:38 2 Comments



At the moment I am feeling very sad for the state of the planet. As I write the great forests are being consumed by fire, both the tropical forest in Brazil and the tundra forest in Russia. The great forests are the lungs of the earth. I myself have lung problems. When there are parts of the lungs that don’t work anymore one can run out of energy. It can strike suddenly. We will probably not do anything serious about climate change or wildlife extinction…

Continue

MY MEDICAL CONDITION

Posted by David Brazier on June 26, 2019 at 18:04 10 Comments

My medical condition continues to be a mystery. It is clear that I do not have any of the big nasty things - brain tumour, cracked skull, stroke, etc - as these have been ruled out by MRI investigation. Nonetheless I continue to have persistent, continuous head pain that varies in intensity and I become exhausted by the least effort so that I am functioning like an invalid incapable of doing very much. There is always a possibility that the whole syndrome is a…

Continue

Grace.

Posted by Dayamay Dunsby on June 2, 2019 at 1:02 4 Comments

“Do we know what it means to be struck by grace? It does not mean that we suddenly believe that God exists, or that Jesus is the saviour, or that the Bible contains the truth. Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark Valley of a meaningless and empty life. It strikes us when we feel that our separation is deeper than usual, because we have violated another life, a life which we loved, or from which we were estranged. It strikes us… Continue

© 2019   Created by David Brazier.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service