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Taoism's Founder: Lao Tzu, China

Lao Tzu
Legends vary, but Lao Tzu's birth is guessed to be between 600 and 300 B.C.E. Lao Tzu is attributed with the writing of the "Tao-Te Ching," (tao-meaning the way of all life, te-meaning the fit use of life by men, and ching-meaning text or classic). Lao Tzu was not his real name, but an honorific given the sage, meaning "Old Master."

Lao Tzu's wise council attracted followers, but he refused to set his ideas down in writing. He believed that written words might solidify into formal dogma. Lao Tzu wanted his philosophy to remain a natural way to live life with goodness, serenity and respect. Lao Tzu laid down no rigid code of behavior. He believed a person's conduct should be governed by instinct and conscience.

Lao Tzu believed that human life, like everything else in the universe, is constantly influenced by outside forces. He believed "simplicity" to be the key to truth and freedom. Lao Tzu encouraged his followers to observe, and seek to understand the laws of nature; to develop intuition and build up personal power; and to use that power to lead life with love, rather than with force.

  • How does Taoism compare to other religions of the east at the time?
  • The Teachings of Lao Tzu
  • How Can this help me in my life?

    The Three Teachings of China
    An ancient piece of folk artwork, entitled "The Vinegar Tasters" shows us the three main teaching of China during Lao Tzu's time. The first man tasting the vinegar has a terrible look on his face. He believes the vinegar is sour. This man was Confucius, who thought that our earthly government was not in line with the heavenly government. The rituals, courts, human actions and words had to be perfectly planned, prescribed, and executed perfectly for our ancestors to accept us.

    The second man was Buddha, who feels the vinegar is bitter; he saw all of life's daily attachments and relationships caused suffering and sorrow, therefore tying man to an eternal existence on earth.

    The third taster has a smile on his face - this is Lao-tzu. He believed that Earth was governed by the laws of heaven, and by interfering with the natural balance of the world, we treaded farther and farther away from harmony.
    The reason the vinegar tastes sweet to Lao-tzu is because in Taoism, the world can bitter or sour, but from the experience we learn valuable lessons. They accept the world in its natural and simple state, and appreciate the gifts that the world can give us in that state.

    The Teachings of Lao Tzu
    Excerpts from the website's lessons to help you understand whe reading.

  • Non-contention. Lao Tzu noted that violence and conflict, no matter how tightly controlled, could not help but cause negative side effects. The Taoist ideal is to solve problems through peaceful means.

  • Non-action. (This is Wei Wu Wei) The foolish expend a great deal of energy and time trying to do everything and end up achieving nothing. On the other end of the spectrum, the truly wise don't seem to do much at all and yet achieve whatever they want. This magic is possible, indeed unavoidable, when one is in tune with the Tao.

  • Non-intention. So often we perform virtuous deeds hoping to receive praise or recognition. That's no virtue at all. True virtue is a state where such actions flow forth naturally, requiring no conscious effort or thought.

  • Simplicity.(P'u) The basis for our reality and our existence is elemental and uncomplicated. Human beings create a lot of trouble for themselves by making everything more complex than they need to be. If we learn to simplify our lives, we can experience a profound satisfaction that is infinitely more meaningful than the rewards of the material world.

  • Wisdom. Logic has its place in human affairs but isn't everything. There is a limit to what we can understand through rationality and reasoning. To transcend that limit, we need to engage our intuition fully. This is the key to insights as opposed to knowledge, and the difference between living the Tao and reading all about it.

  • Humility. The more you learn, the more you realize there's still so much more to learn. This tends to make you humble. Arrogance and egotism come from ignorance -- knowing a little bit and assuming you know a lot.

  • Duality. Lao Tzu pointed out that all qualities in the world possess meaning only by the existence of their opposites. Something can only be big if there is something else that is small by comparison. "Good" exists in the world so long as "evil" exists as well. One cannot do without the other.

    How can this help me?
    Taoism is not easy to understand. In fact, the more you try to understand, the more confusing it can get. The first step is in understanding that Taoism is not really a religion - there are no gods, dieties, rituals, altars, or ceremonies. (Some forms of Taoism include these aspects, but not the form we are covering.) Taoism is a way of thinking and living in harmony with nature. It stresses simplicity in one's life - something we all need. You don't have to read the Tao Te Ching every day to be a Taoist. You don't have to live in hut in the middle of nowhere. You don't even have to know that Taoism exists to have this state of mind. Take a look at how Taoism can be a part of your life in the following sections.

    Relationships | Daily Life | Your Body | Your Mind

    • The term P'u refers to "The Uncarved Block." P'u is a natural power that all things possess when in their natural states. The more simple the better. A beautiful tree in the middle of the forest has much more natural power than a tree in the middle of a city, or a tree that has been made into a dining room table.

    • Wu Wei means "Do nothing," and Wei Wu Wei means "do without doing." Taoists believe that things happen on their own (Tzu Jan). We don't need to meddle with processes or even really "try." We will see how you can use the Wei Wu Wei to help you deal with events in your life.

  • Home | Relationships | Daily Life | Your Body | Your Mind