of Lao Tzu - Founder of Taoism
It's hard to pin down a biography of Lao Tzu (570-490 BC). There are numerous legends about him. Many believe he never existed at all, while historians can point to several possible historical identities for him. Regardless, the legends give the book an endearing, human face. They all place him in Luoyang (marked in this map), the ancient capital of China.
and Lao Tzu
The most famous legends are of how he came to write the Tao and of his meeting with Confucius
(pictured below; click for larger version of image):
Around the 6th century B.C.E. Greece had Plato and Socrates; India had the Buddha and China had Confucius and Lao Tzu. Born in Ch'u (present-day Henan Province), Lao Tzu (), which literally means "old master", is also sometimes referred to as Lao Tan or Li Er.
He was appointed Keeper of the Imperial Archives by the King of Zhou in Luoyang. He studied the archive's books avidly and his insight grew.
Hearing of Lao Tzu's wisdom, Confucius travelled to meet him. Confucius put a lot of emphasis on traditional rituals, customs and rites.
Confucius asked Lao Tzu about performing rites and rituals. Lao Tzu replied: "The bones of the people you are talking about have long since turned to dust! Only their words linger on. If a man's time comes, he will be successful; if not, he will not be successful. A successful merchant hides his wealth and a noble person of character will feign foolishness. Therefore, you should give up your proud airs, your desires, vanity and extravagant claims! They are useless to you.
Later Confucius later told his students:
Birds can fly,
Fish can swim,
Animals can run,
So they can all be snared or trapped.
But Lao Tzu is like a flying Dragon, un-trappable.
Traditional Chinese painting of Lao Tzu
Much later, Lao Tzu perceived that the kingdom's affairs were disintegrating , so it was time to leave. He was travelling West on a buffalo when he came to the Han Gu Pass, which was guarded. The keeper of the pass realised Lao Tzu was leaving permanently, so he requested that Lao Tzu write out some of his wisdom so that it could be preserved once he was gone (pictured on the right).
Lao Tzu climbed down from his buffalo and immediately wrote the Tao Te Ching. He then left and was never heard of again.
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