Who Was Lao Tzu ?
🧙♂️ Lao Tzu is, in Chinese tradition, a sage, contemporary of Confucius (5th and 4th centuries B.C.) to whom the foundation of Taoism is attributed through the transmission of the Tao te king “the way of integrity". Let us discover today, who was this Chinese mystical philosopher...
1) Biography of Lao Tzu
🇨🇳 Lao Tzu or Laozi or Lao Zi, more commonly known in China as Tàishàng lǎojūn, of his real name Li Er, would have been a Chinese sage and, according to tradition, a contemporary of Confucius (mid 6th century BC mid 5th century BC, end of the Spring and Autumn period).
He is considered a posteriori to be the founding father of Taoism. He would have been born in the country of Chu of the Zhou Dynasty and would have left for a spiritual retreat towards the west of present-day China with an unknown destination.
Historical information about him is rare and uncertain, and his biography develops from the Han dynasty onwards, essentially based on supernatural and religious elements; since the end of the 20th century, some skeptical scholars have considered him to be a fictitious or composite character, and not strictly historical 🤔.
He is represented as an old man with a white beard, sometimes mounted on a buffalo.
A. What Does Lao Zi Mean ?
The meaning of the name "Lao" is debated: the literal interpretation of "old" or "ancient", evoking wisdom, is tempting.
Some take the suffix "Zi" literally as "child" and make it "the old child", a mystical or symbolic name, others believe that this nickname comes from the fact that he was born with white hair or that his mother would have had it late.
Still others believe that it is simply his surname, the existence of Lao families in the time of the Fighting Kingdoms being attested.
Moreover, the characters Li (plum) and Er (ear) - his surname and first name according to Sima Qian (a Chinese historian) have inspired the imagination. "Plum" would come from the fact that his mother conceived him by seeing a comet or a flying dragon while she was sitting under a plum tree, or by eating a magical fruit 🍈.
Ge Xuan thought that Lao Tzu would have pointed to a plum tree at birth, but also suggested that it could be his mother's surname. The first name "Ear" is usually explained by their particularly developed size, especially the lobes, a characteristic often attributed to the sages 👂🏻.
B. The Birth of Lao Tzu
The most common image of Lao Tzu makes him an extraordinary character.
🌠 Conceived miraculously by the passage of a comet or the ingestion by his mother of a magical plum (li, the family name generally attributed to him), he is born with white hair and a beard, hence his nickname of elder (lao), and ears with very long lobes, a sign of wisdom.
C. Death of Lao Tzu
Archivist at the court of the Zhou and contemporary of Confucius who recognizes him as a master and an extraordinary being, he ends up leaving the country at least 160 years old, tired of political dissension.
He leaves towards the west mounted on a Buffalo 🐃; arrived at the pass which marks the border, he writes the Book of the Way and the Virtue at the request of the guardian Yin Xi then continues his journey.
No one knows then what becomes of him, but some believe that he does not die or that he is reincarnated, reappearing in different forms to transmit the Tao.
D. Lao Tzu: Precursor of Anarchism ?
Lao-tzu is widely recognized as a precursor of anarchism, indeed, some quotations correspond to a certain idea of anarchism.
Nevertheless, this question remains subject to debate because of the many interpretations of the writings of Lao Tzu, some people seeing in it, on the contrary, the advice of government by non-action, an opinion taken up by the Huanglao current from which the Han emperors Wendi and Jingdi would have been inspired.
For Graham, a specialist in Zhuangzi, it is in this work that we find traces of the first Chinese anarchists, some of whom, it is true, rely on Laozi.
2) Was Lao Tzu a Real Person ?
In the 3rd century BC, the forensic work Hanfeizi is the first to attribute the paternity of the Tao te King (Daodejing) to a certain Lao Tzu.
A Lao Dan/Lao Tzu critical of Confucius is mentioned in passages in the Zhuangzi that may date from the fourth century BC, but no mention is made of the Daodejing or his biography, except for a passage qualifying him as an archivist.
🧐 It cannot be said with certainty that the Lao Tzu of Hanfeizi and the Lao Tzu of Zhuangzi are the same person, although this is the assumption of historical tradition.
In the second century B.C., the historian Sima Qian wrote his first biographical note, but his sources are unknown and he himself is not absolutely certain of his version, since he mentions two other hypotheses concerning his identity and the authorship of the Daodejing.
This is why there is still uncertainty about the identity of Lao Tzu. The prevailing opinion at the end of the twentieth century is that the Lao Tzu of the tradition could be a composite character, the result of the synthesis of different sources.
3) The Tao The King
The Tao Te King (Book of the Way and Virtue) that tradition attributes to Laozi is a major text of Taoism, considered important by other currents as well. Lao Tzu is considered by the Taoists as a god and as their common ancestor.
📙 "Tao Te Ching", which contains 81 short verses, has been translated as "The Book of the Way of Virtue", "Live and Apply the Great Way" and "The Classic of the Way and Virtue", among others. The word, tao (or dao), means "way".
It is not only the translation of the title that proved difficult. The book itself was written in ancient Chinese, so there are many different translations and interpretations. The subject can be described as practical wisdom for policy advisors.
A. What is Taoism ?
The primary goal of Taoism is to promote a long life and natural death through perfect harmony with nature.
This discipline of life suggests to protecting oneself from desires and intense pleasure, which are often harmful to health; from wealth, power and rivalry, which promote stress, fatigue and risk bringing forward the time of death ☠️.
The Tao is all-encompassing. That which is born of the Tao is destined, with death, to return to its bosom. In this, the Tao is associated with movement and perpetual return.
Nature does not act but, through it, everything happens.
This is why the method par excellence of the Way is that of non-action. This method does not promote inaction but rather aims at an attitude that is in tune with the essence of nature 🌱.
Yin Yang in Taoist Philosophy
Following the path of Tao implies not premeditating anything but simply advancing towards the creative path of opposition, that of Yin and Yang.
☯ The complementary principles of Yin and Yang are represented in a circle where each of them seems to "pursue" the other.
Yin is associated with earth, shade, night, rest and passivity. Yang, on the other hand, symbolizes the sky, light, day and action.
Any growth through Tao always calls for a creative opposition between a positive and a negative dimension.
Thus, nothing is strong without having to become strong; no adult has grown up without first having experienced childhood; and the strength of adulthood will always decrease with old age... 👴🏻
B. Wu Wei - the Non Action
One of the great principles of Taoism is that of non-action (wu wei, wuwei or wou wei), which does not mean "doing nothing", but rather acting in the order of things, being aware that it is Life that directs each action.
Trust in nature is at the heart of non-action, just as the water of a river follows its course without question 💧.
The doctrine of non-action, very close to Greek and Roman stoicism 🇬🇷, invites us not to undertake actions that are contrary to nature. In a certain way, it means accepting one's destiny, it means stopping believing that we can influence everything, it means putting ourselves in our right place.
4) 10 Beautiful Quotes from Lao Tzu
"The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step."
"Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage."
"He who knows, does not speak. He who speaks, does not know."
"He who conquers others is strong; He who conquers himself is mighty."
"Life and death are one thread, the same line viewed from different sides."
"Great acts are made up of small deeds."
"He who is contented is rich."
"To realize that you do not understand is a virtue; Not to realize that you do not understand is a defect."
"A man with outward courage dares to die: a man with inner courage dares to live."
"If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. if you are at peace, you are living in the present."