Lao Tzu

Lao Tzu (Laozi) sometimes written Lao Tse or Lao Zi, and also known as Li Ehr Tan and Lao Dan) was a Chinese Sage and the legendary writer of the Tao Te Ching (Dow Deh Jeeng), sometimes referred to as The Book of the Way.

The Tao Te Ching

The Tao Te Ching was written in China roughly 2,500 years ago, and speaks of oneness, wholeness, continuum, inclusion, cooperation, complementation.

The original Tao Te Ching was meant to be recited out loud and memorized. The work does not suggest withdrawing from the world as a course of action, but to live while fully engaged. It is a work for the every day and for everyone.

Pictured below are the Ma-wang-tui silk texts, discovered in 1973 in the village of Ma-wang-tui, Hunan Province, South Central China.

The Tao Te Ching provides the basis for the philosophical school of Taoism, which is an important pillar of Chinese thought. Taoism teaches that there is one undivided truth at the root of all things. It literally means:

Tao (the way)
Te (strength/virtue)
Ching (scripture)

A Window to the Tao

The following concepts are from A Window to the Tao through the Words of Lao Tzu by Carol Deppe, an adaptation of Tao Te Ching drawing primarily on the Henricks translation of the Ma-wang-tui silk texts.

The Tao is like a well

The Tao is like a well, empty but inexhaustible, dark, enduring, deep, ancestor of ten thousand things. However much you use it, you never have to fill it. However much you use it, you never use it up.

Seek, and with this you will find

Seek, and with this you will find. If you have committed wrongs, with this you will escape.

Fill yourself with utmost emptiness

Fill yourself with utmost emptiness. Embrace internal tranquility. The ten thou- sand things, see how they arise and flow around you—each one coming into being, growing, adapting, changing, fulfilling, then returning to the source—as you sit in still- ness in the center, watching.

Yield and prevail

Yield and prevail. If you can bend, you can be preserved unbroken. If you can flex, you can be kept straight. If you can be emp- tied, you can be filled. If you can be worn out, you can be renewed. Those with little can receive much. Those with much can be con- fused.

One who is one with the Tao is like a newborn boy-child

One who is one with the Tao is like a newborn boy-child. His body is soft and pliant but his grasp is strong. He doesn’t yet know the union of male and female, but his organ stands up. He can scream all day without getting hoarse or sleep utterly peace- fully. He does just what he should be doing at each moment. He is completely natural.

Be detached

Be detached. Work with joy, without caring for the achievement. Travel with joy, without focusing on the destination.

Rejoice in how things are

Look to achievement for satisfaction and you will never be satisfied. Look to riches for contentment and you will never be content. Look to possessions for happiness and you will never be happy. Look to position for security and you will never be secure. Appre- ciate what you have. Rejoice in how things are. You lack nothing when you realize—there is nothing lacking.

The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step

Stop trouble before it starts. Make order before there is chaos. Deal with the small before it is large. Deal with the few before they are many. Begin the difficult while it is easy. Approach the great work through a series of small tasks. The largest evergreen grows from a tiny seedling. The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.

I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures. — Lao Tzu

The Basic Ideas of the Daodejing

Notes from Daodejing translated by Robert Eno.

The nature of the Dao

There exists in some sense an overarching order to the cosmos, beyond the power of words to describe. The Dao, has governed the cosmos from its beginning and continues to pervade every aspect of existence.

Changing perspective

To understand the nature of human ignorance, it is necessary to undergo a fundamental change in our perspective. To do this, we need to disentangle ourselves from beliefs we live by that have been established through words and experience life directly. Our intellectual lives, permeated with ideas expressed in language, are the chief obstacle to wisdom.

Value relativity

If we were able to escape the beliefs we live by and see human life from the perspective of the Dao, we would understand that we normally view the world through a lens of value judgments -- we see things as good or bad, desirable or detestable. The cosmos itself possesses none of these characteristics of value. All values are only human conventions that we project onto the world. Good and bad are non-natural distinctions that we need to discard if we are to see the world as it really is.

Nature and spontaneity

The marks of human experience are value judgments and planned action. The marks of the Dao are freedom from judgment and spontaneity.

The processes of the Dao may be most clearly seen in the action of the non-human world, Nature. Trees and flowers, birds and beasts do not follow a code of ethics and act spontaneously from instinctual responses. The order of Nature is an image of the action of the Dao. To grasp the perspective of the Dao, human beings need to discard judgment and act on their spontaneous impulses.

The Daodejing celebrates spontaneous action with two complementary terms, “self-so” and “non-striving”.

The inhabitants of the Natural world are “self-so,” they simply are as they are, without any intention to be so. Human beings live by purposive action, planning and striving. To become Dao-like, we need to return to an animal-like responsiveness to simple instincts, and act without plans or effort. This “wuwei” style of behavior is the most central imperative Daoist texts recommend for us.

The distortion of mind and language.

The source of human deviation from the Dao lies in the way that our species has come to use its unique property, the mind. Rather than allow our minds to serve as a responsive mirror of the world, we have used it to develop language and let our thoughts and perceptions be governed by the categories that language creates, such as value judgments.

The mind’s use of language has created false wisdom, and our commitment to this false wisdom has come to blind us to the world as it really is, and to the Dao that orders it.

The person who “practices” wuwei quiets the mind and leaves language behind.

Selflessness

The greatest barriers to discarding language and our value judgments are our urges for things we believe are desirable and our impulse to obtain these things for ourselves.

The selfishness of our ordinary lives makes us devote all our energies to a chase for possessions and pleasures, which leaves us no space for the detached tranquility needed to join the harmonious rhythm of Nature and the Dao.

The practice of wu-wei entails a release from pursuits of self-interest and a self-centered standpoint. The line between ourselves as individuals in accord with the Dao and the Dao-governed world at large becomes much less significant for us.

Power and sagehood

The person who embraces the spontaneity of wu-wei and leaves self-interest behind emerges into a new dimension of natural experience, and becomes immune to all the frightening dangers that beset us in ordinary experience.

Once weakness, poverty, injury, and early death are no longer concepts we employ in our lives, we discover that such dangers do not really exist. Once we are part of the spontaneous order of Nature, it presents no threat to us and we gain tremendous leverage over it. We have the power of the Dao. This active power is wisdom, and the person who possesses it is a sage.

The human influence of the sage

The selfless power of the sage endows him or her with a social prestige that cannot be matched by ordinary people. So magnificent is the presence of the sage that those who come into contact with such a person cannot help but be deeply influenced. As in the case of Confucianism, de (character, virtue, power) has power over other people, who will spontaneously place themselves under the protection of and seek to emulate the sage.

The political outcome

As the Daoist sage comes effortlessly to subdue the world, he will necessarily be treated as its king. The rule of such a king will be to discard all human institutions and social patterns that are the product of human intellectual effort and value judgments. The people will be returned to a simple and primitive state close to animal society, and this social environment will itself nurture in the population a stance of wuwei. Ultimately, the world will return to the bliss of ignorance and fulfillment in a stable life of food gathering, food consumption, and procreation, all governed by the seasonal rhythms of Nature and the Dao.

Taoism' and 'Daoism'

The terms Taoism and 'Daoism' both refer to the exact same thing. Daoism emphasises living in harmony with the Dao. The Dao is used symbolically to mean the 'way' as the 'right' or 'proper' way of existence . Daoism teaches how to live in harmony with the world. The Tao Te Ching (also spelled Dao De Jing) underpins Taoist philosophy.

Taoism is not a religion

Daoism is not a religion, but a philosophy of how to live a pleasant life, without causing unnecessary commotion or distress. It's all about the here and now. In China, Daoism is a deep, fundamental trait of Chinese thinking.

The Tao means 'the way'

Taoism teaches that there is a power in the universe, higher, deeper, and truer than any other force. They call it the Tao, which means 'the way'. Tao, the way, is a kind of natural law behind all of creation. And when we can harmonise with it, we can be at peace with existence, and not have to fight against the universe's natural flow.

Yin and Yang

In Chinese philosophy, the philosophy of Yin and Yang is one of dualism, where opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary. Taoism teaches that we need to learn from both yin and yang.

The Yin

Yin is the quiet, female, intuitive, receiving force that is associated with earth. The earth is the source of life; it provides us with what we need to survive.

The Yang

Yang is the strong, male, creative, giving force that is associated with heaven. The heaven above us is always in motion and brings about change.

Yin cannot exist without Yang and vice versa

When Yin reaches its climax, it recedes in favour of Yang, then after Yang reaches its climax it recedes in favour of Yin. This is the eternal cycle.

The dots inside the white and black halves indicate that within each is the seed of the other. Yin cannot exist without Yang and vice versa. The ideal state of things in the physical universe, as well as in the world of humans, is a state of harmony represented by the balance of Yin and Yang in body and mind.

Daoism

Daoism a philosophy of how to live a pleasant life, without causing unnecessary commotion or distress. It's all about the here and now.

Questions and Answers

Lao Tzu, the Tao Te Ching and Daoism.
  • Who was Lao Tzu?

    Laozi, also rendered as Lao Tzu and Lao-Tze was the author of the Tao Te Ching, or the Way. He was an ancient Chinese philosopher and writer and a deity in religious Taoism and traditional Chinese religions.
  • What is Daoism (also translated as Taoism)?

    Lao Tzu was a guiding figure in Daoism, a philosophical or religious tradition of Chinese origin which emphasises living in harmony with the Dao. The Dao is used symbolically to mean the 'way' as the 'right' or 'proper' way of existence . Daoism teaches how to live in harmony with the world.
  • What is the Tao Te Ching?

    The Tao Te Ching is a Chinese classic text traditionally credited to the 6th-century BC sage Laozi. The Tao Te Ching (also spelled Dao De Jing) underpins Taoist philosophy. It is rumoured to be written by the legendary Lao Tzu (Lao Zi) somewhere between the 7th and the 4th century BC in China. It is likely to be the compilation of the works of many authors over time. The Tao Te Ching is most translated book in the world after the Bible.
  • What is the essence of Daoism?

    Daoism is not a religion, but a philosophy of how to live a pleasant life, without causing unnecessary commotion or distress. It's all about the here and now. Tao, the way, is a kind of natural law behind all of creation. And when we can harmonise with it, we can be at peace with existence. In China, Daoism is a deep, fundamental trait of Chinese thinking.