Wednesday, May 6, 2015
The Way of the Way: The Wisdom of Lao Tzu
Jeffrey LaPorte H01
Tao is a difficult word to translate. Literally it means ‘the way’ as in a path but it also can mean the way to live, the way to govern, and the way of the entire cosmos. The search for Tao is at the heart of Chinese, and possibly all, philosophy but it is most associated with China’s first philosopher the mystical poet Lao Tzu.
The historic details of Lao Tzu’s life are difficult to pin down. Some historians are not even sure he ever really existed and those that do debate even the most basic details like his real name (Lao Tzu is a title meaning Old Master). Most agree he was born around the year 570 B.C. and served as some kind of scholar where he read many texts including those of the legendary yellow emperor. At an advanced age Lao Tzu gave up his position and rode on a water buffalo out to the wilderness to live as a hermit leaving behind the Tao Te Ching (or the way of the Tao and its changes). According to legend he eventually reached India and was a teacher of the Buddha.
Lao Tzu on a water buffalo
According to the Tao Te Ching the core principle to finding Tao is to pursue a course of wu-wei or non-ado. To not take any action is to never oppose the tao. If people want happiness they should only seek to be kind to others and contemplate nature. He said morals and laws were merely a secondary substitute to having a truly wise and enlightened populace who would embrace the tao and simply go with the flow.
Much of the Tao Te Ching is concerned with proper governance. Much like his prescription for life Lao Tzu’s advice for rulers is to rule with as little action and self-interest as possible. He says that the greatest ruler is one who accomplishes things while the people think they have done it themselves and that “only one who is willing to give his life for the world would be fit to rule it.”
Lao Tzu’s relatively simple work combined with traditional Chinese beliefs about the after life to form the religion known as Taoism. Taoism involves the worship of Lao Tzu as a divine figure and the use of rituals and ceremonies to try to maintain a state of union with the eternal Tao. Another core piece of religious Taoism is the belief in the eternal opposing forces of Yin and Yang which gave birth to the universe and represent how all opposites are united.
Yin and Yang