Sources returnpage

Tzu, Lao

Category: Mystic

Laozi, depicted as a
Taoist god.

Lao Tzu, (also Laosi, Lao Tse, Laotze, Lao Zi, Laocius, and other variations) was a mystic philosopher of ancient China and is a central figure in Taoism (also spelled "Daoism"). Lao Tzu was also the author of the Tao Te Ching.

Lao Tzu literally means "Old Master" and is generally considered an honorific. He is revered as a god in religious forms of Taoism. Taishang Laojun is a title for Lao Tzu in the Taoist religion, which refers to him as "One of the Three Pure Ones".

Historically, very little is really known about him.  The earliest reliable reference (circa 100 BC) to Lao Tzu is found in the Records of the Grand Historian by Chinese historian Sima Qian (ca. 145–86 BC), in which Lao Tzu was said to be a contemporary of Confucius (551-479 BC).  An alternative account says that Lao Tzu was the Grand Historian and astrologer Lao Dan, who lived during the reign (384-362 BC) of Duke Xian of Qin concurrent with the Hundred Schools of Thought and Warring States Period.


Taoism - old sage

Other less credible accounts have even claimed that Lao Tzu is mythical or that he is a synthesis of multiple historical figures. 

Traditional accounts state that Lao Tzu grew weary of the moral decay of city life and noted the kingdom's decline. According to these legends, he ventured west to live as a hermit in the unsettled frontier. At the western gate of the city, or kingdom, he was recognized by a guard. The sentry asked the old master to produce a record of his wisdom.

This is the legendary origin of the Daodejing/Tao Teh Ching.

Thankfully, by the mid-twentieth century, many westerns scholars believed that the existence and history of Lao Tzu was unprovable, but this did not stop them adding that they thought the Daodejing was "a compilation of Taoist sayings by many hands originating in the 4th century."    Alan Watts (1975), however, held that this view was part of an academic fashion for skepticism about historical spiritual and religious figures, arguing that not enough would be known for years, or possibly ever, to make a firm judgment. And I agree with him.  I think Lao Tzu existed, was a highly enlightened man and that - given the style and content of the Tao Teh Ching, wrote the entire book.  And that is all I really need to know.

References

Tao Te Ching/ Daodejing
The Daodejing, is one of the most significant treatises in Chinese cosmogony. As with most other ancient Chinese philosophers, Lao Tzu often explains his ideas by way of paradox, analogy, appropriation of ancient sayings, repetition, symmetry, rhyme, symbolism and rhythm.

It is also a supremely beautiful piece of poetry.

Observations

For iPad/iPhone users: tap letter twice to get list of items.