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  • It’s difficult to know much for certain about the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu.

  • Even his name can be a little confusing; it is also sometimes translated as Laozi or Lao Tze

  • Lao Tzu is said to have been a record keeper in the court of the central Chinese Zhou Dynasty

  • in the 6th century B.C., and an older contemporary of Confucius.

  • He may also have been entirely mythicalmuch like Homer in Western culture.

  • Lao Tzu is said to have tired of life in the Zhou court as it grew increasingly morally corrupt.

  • So he left and rode on a water buffalo to the western border of the Chinese empire.

  • Although he was dressed as a farmer, the border official recognised him and asked him to write

  • down his wisdom. According to this legend, what Lao Tzu wrote became the sacred text

  • known as the Tao Te Ching.

  • After writing this piece, Lao Tzu is said to have crossed the border and disappeared

  • from history, perhaps to become a hermit.

  • In reality, the Tao Te Ching is likely to be the compilation of the works of many authors

  • over time. But stories about Lao Tzu and the Tao Te Ching itself passed down through different

  • Chinese philosophical schools for over two thousand years.

  • Lao Tzu was the leading figure in the spiritual practice known as Daoism

  • which is more than two thousand years old, and still popular today. There are at least

  • twenty million Daoists, and perhaps even half a billion, living around the world now, especially

  • in China and Taiwan. They practise meditation, chant scriptures, and worship a variety of

  • gods and goddesses in temples.

  • Daoists also make pilgrimages to five sacred mountains in eastern China in order to pray

  • at the temples and absorb spiritual energy from these holy places, which are believed

  • to be governed by immortals.

  • Daoism is deeply intertwined with other branches of thought like Confucianism and Buddhism.

  • There is a story about the three great Asian spiritual leaders (Lao Tzu, Confucius, and

  • Buddha). All were meant to have tasted vinegar.

  • Confucius found it sour, much like he found the world full of degenerate people, and Buddha

  • found it bitter, much like he found the world to be full of suffering. But Lao Tzu found

  • the world sweet. This is telling, because Lao Tzu’s philosophy tends to look at the

  • apparent discord in the world and see an underlying harmony guided by something called the

  • Dao 道 = the path

  • The Tao Te Ching

  • which describes the Dao, is somewhat like the Bible: it gives instructions (often vague

  • and generally open to multiple interpretations) on how to live a good life. It discusses the

  • Daoas thewayof the world, which is also the path to virtue, happiness, and harmony.

  • "The way" isn’t inherently confusing or difficult. But in order to follow the Dao,

  • we need to go beyond simply reading and thinking about it. Instead we must learn

  • flowing, or effortless action.

  • It’s a sort of purposeful acceptance of the way of the Dao

  • and living in harmony with it.

  • This might seem lofty and bizarre, but most of Lao Tzu’s suggestions are actually very

  • simple. First, we ought to take more time for stillness. “To the mind that is still,”

  • Lao Tzu said, “the whole universe surrenders.”

  • We need to let go of our schedules, worries and complex thoughts for a while and simply

  • experience the world.

  • We spend so much time rushing from one place to the next in life, but Lao Tzu reminds us

  • nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” It is particularly important

  • that we remember that certain thingsgrieving, growing wiser, developing a new relationshiponly

  • happen on their own schedule, like the changing of leaves in the fall or the blossoming of

  • the bulbs we planted months ago.

  • When we are still and patient we also need to be open.

  • The usefulness of a pot comes from its emptiness.” Lao Tzu said. “Empty yourself

  • of everything, let your mind become still.”

  • If we are too busy, too preoccupied with anxiety or ambition, we will miss a thousand moments

  • of the human experience that are our natural inheritance. We need to be awake to the way

  • sounds of the birds in the morning, the way other people look when they are laughing,

  • the feeling of wind against our face. These experiences reconnect us to parts of ourselves.

  • This is another key point of Lao Tzu’s writing: we need to be in touch with our real selves.

  • We spend a great deal of time worrying about who we ought to become, but we should instead

  • take time to be who we already are at heart.

  • We might rediscover a generous impulse, or a playful side we had forgotten, or simply

  • an old affection for long walks.

  • Our ego is often in the way of our true self, which must be found by being receptive to

  • the outside world rather than focusing on some critical, too-ambitious internal image.

  • When I let go of what I am,” Lao Tzu wrote, “I become what I might be.”

  • Nature is particularly useful for finding ourselves.

  • Lao Tzu liked to compare different parts of nature to different virtues. He said,

  • "The best people are like water, which benefits all things and does not compete with them.

  • It stays in lowly places that others reject. This is why it is so similar to the Dao."

  • Each part of nature can remind us of a quality we admire and should cultivate ourselvesthe

  • strength of the mountains, the resilience of trees, the cheerfulness of flowers.

  • Of course, there are issues that must be addressed by action, and there are times for ambition.

  • Yet Lao Tzu’s work is important for Daoists and non-Daoists alike, especially in a modern

  • world distracted by technology and focused on what seem to be constant, sudden, and severe

  • changes.

  • His words serve as a reminder of the importance of stillness, openness, and discovering buried

  • yet central parts of ourselves.

It’s difficult to know much for certain about the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu.

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B1 UK lao lao tzu tzu dao tao ching

EASTERN PHILOSOPHY - Lao Tzu

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    Kat posted on 2014/12/22
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