ascetics and hermits such as Shen Tao (who advocated
that one 'abandon knowledge and discard self') first
wrote of the 'Tao' it is with the sixth century B.C.
philosopher Lao Tzu (or 'Old Sage' -- born Li Erh) that
the philosophy of Taoism really began. Some scholars
believe was a slightly older contemporary of Confucius.
Other scholars feel that the DAO DE JING (Tao Te Ching
or call Lao Zi), is really a compilation of paradoxical
poems written by several Taoists using the pen-name,
Lao Tzu. There is also a close association between Lao
Tzu and the legendary Yellow Emperor, Huang-ti.
to legend Lao Tzu was keeper of the archives at the
imperial court. When he was eighty years old he set
out for the western border of China, toward what is
now Tibet, saddened and disillusioned that men were
unwilling to follow the path to natural goodness. At
the border (Hank Pass), a guard, Yin Xi (Yin Hsi), asked
Lao Tsu to record his teachings before he left. He then
composed in 5,000 characters the Tao Te Ching (The Way
and Its Power).
the truth, Taoism and Confucianism have to be seen side-by-side
as two distinct responses to the social, political and
philosophical conditions of life two and a half millennia
ago in China. Whereas Confucianism is greatly concerned
with social relations, conduct and human society, Taoism
has a much more individualistic and mystical character,
greatly influenced by nature.
Lao Tzu's view things were said to create "unnatural"
action (wei) by shaping desires (yu). The process of
learning the names (ming) used in the doctrines helped
one to make distinctions between good and evil, beautiful
and ugly, high and low, and "being" (yu) and
"non- being" (wu), thereby shaping desires.
To abandon knowledge was to abandon names, distinctions,
tastes and desires. Thus spontaneous behavior (wu-wei)
Taoist philosophy can perhaps best be summed up in a
quote from Chuang Tzu:
regard the fundamental as the essence, to regard things
as coarse, to regard accumulation as deficiency, and
to dwell quietly alone with the spiritual and the intelligent
-- herein lie the techniques of Tao of the ancients."
One element of Taoism is a kind of existential skepticism,
something which can already be seen in the philosophy
of Yang Chu (4th century B.C.) who wrote:
is man's life for? What pleasure is there in it? Is
it for beauty and riches? Is it for sound and colour?
But there comes a time when beauty and riches no longer
answer the needs of the heart, and when a surfeit of
sound and colour becomes a weariness to the eyes and
a ringing in the ears.
"The men of old knew that life comes without warning,
and as suddenly goes. They denied none of their natural
inclinations, and repressed none of their bodily desires.
They never felt the spur of fame. They sauntered through
life gathering its pleasures as the impulse moved them.
Since they cared nothing for fame after death, they
were beyond the law. For name and praise, sooner or
later, a long life or short one, they cared not at all."
the remarkable natural world Lao Tzu felt that it was
man and his activities which constituted a blight on
the otherwise perfect order of things. Thus he counseled
people to turn away from the folly of human pursuits
and to return to one's natural wellspring.
Tsu taught that all straining, all striving are not
only vain but counterproductive. One should endeavor
to do nothing (wu-wei). But what does this mean? It
means not to literally do nothing, but to discern and
follow the natural forces -- to follow and shape the
flow of events and not to pit oneself against the natural
order of things. First and foremost to be spontaneous
in ones actions.
this sense the Taoist doctrine of wu-wei can be understood
as a way of mastering circumstances by understanding
their nature or principal, and then shaping ones actions
in accordance with these. This understanding has also
infused the approach to movement as it is developed
in Tai Chi Chuan.
this, Taoist philosophy followed a very interesting
circle. On the one hand the Taoists, rejected the Confucian
attempts to regulate life and society and counseled
instead to turn away from it to a solitary contemplation
of nature. On the other hand they believed that by doing
so one could ultimately harness the powers of the universe.
By 'doing nothing' one could 'accomplish everything.'
Lao Tzu writes:
The Tao abides in non-action,
Yet nothing is left undone.
If kings and lords observed this,
The ten thousand things would develop naturally.
If they still desired to act,
They would return to the simplicity of formless substance.
Without form there is no desire.
Without desire there is tranquillity.
In this way all things would be at peace.
| Stories from History, Confucius visited Lao Zi~
Confucius once visited the capital of Zhou and learned the system of ceremonial observations from Lao Zi. One day around 500 B.C., Confucius rode on an old cart pulled by a cow to Luo Yang , the capital of Zhou. The purposes of this trip were to observe the systems of previous emperors, study the source of ceremonial music, and learn the rule of morality. He therefore visited Lao Zi who was the person in charge of the imperial library and familiar with the ceremonial system. After completing tour, Confucius said one sentence that has been passed down for many generations, "In an abundance of theories, I would follow the Zhou State." The system of ceremonial observation of Zhou was established while taking those of Xia and Shang as references. Confucius' promotion the system of Zhou is an indication that he indeed had learned a lot during the trip. During the visit, Lao Zi asked Confucius what book he was reading. Confucius replied that he was reading Zhou Yi (The Book of Changes) as all the saints had read the book. Lao Zi said, "It is ok for saints to read it, but why do you want to read it? What is the essence of this book?" Confucius replied: "Its essence is to promote benevolence and justice." Lao Zi then said, "The so-called benevolence and justice are things that confuse people's heart, like those mosquitoes stinging people at night and making them unable to sleep. They can only add confusion and trouble for people. Look, a large swan's feather naturally stays snow white with no need of washing every day, and a crow is naturally pitch black with no need of dying with ink. The sky is naturally high, the earth is naturally deep, the sun and moon are naturally brilliant, stars are naturally lined up in certain pattern, and the trees and grass are naturally different from each other. If you want to cultivate the Tao, you should just follow the existing natural law, and you will then obtain the Tao naturally. What is the use of promoting those things such as benevolence and justice? Isn't that as ridiculous as looking for a lost sheep while beating a drum? Lao Zi again asked Confucius, "Do you think you have obtained the Tao?" Confucius answered, "I have been seeking for it for 27 years, but still haven't obtained it." Lao Zi said, "If Tao were something you could use to give to others, people would try hard to present it to emperors. If Tao could be given to others, people would give it to their relatives. If Tao could be clearly related, people would tell it to their brothers If Tao could be passed down to others, people would struggle hard to pass it down to their children. However, all these are impossible. The reason is very simple and that is if a person does not have a correct understanding of the Tao in his heart, the Tao will never come to his heart." Confucius said, "I have been studying the six ancient classics and trying to understand the ways our ancestors governed the country. I understand the successful path of good emperors such as Zhou Gong and Zhao Gong. I visited more than seventy dukes of different warring states; however, none of them wanted to accept my ideas. It seems that people are really difficult to persuade!" Lao Zi said, "The six classics you mentioned are all the old stuff of previous dynasties. What is the use of your mentioning them? What you are cultivating now is something old too." After learning the ceremony system of Zhou, Confucius was determined to go back to the Lu Country and promote the recovery of Zhou's ceremony system wholeheartedly, but Lao Zi had some reservations on that. To him, although a ceremony system was necessary, totally recovering Zhou's system was impossible. With time and the world changed, some of the Zhou's systems were no longer appropriate for the situation of that time. Therefore, Lao Zi said to Confucius, "As for those you have mentioned, their bodies have rotten away with only their words left. Besides, a gentleman would get into government service when the political environment was suitable, and reconcile to living like a weed when it wasn't. I have heard that people who are good businessmen will hide their wealth from others. A gentleman of high virtue often looks like a foolish person who doesn't have any inner strength. You should get rid of your pride and desire, get rid of the attitude and the air, and get rid of those ambitions you are so passionate about, because these things are no good for you at all. That's all that I want to tell you."
Confucius did not know how to answer, but he did not give up his ambition: "a great man will do what he knows is difficult." After finishing his visits to other places, Confucius said goodbye to Lao Zi and left Luo Yang, Zhou's capital, feeling somewhat excited yet somewhat lost. He was excited about learning the ceremonial system but disappointed because of Lao Zi's advice. Behind him, a stone tablet was erected which read "Confucius visited Zhou to learn the ceremonial observance system." After coming back from visiting Lao Zi, Confucius did not speak for three days. Zi Gong (one of Confucius' students) felt strange and asked his teacher what had happened. Confucius said: "I know birds can fly, I know fish can swim, and I know beasts can run. For those that can run, I can catch them with a net, for those that can swim, I can catch them with a line; for those that can fly, I can catch them with arrows. As for dragons, I do not know how they ride on wind and cloud, and go to heaven. I met with Lao Zi, today, and he is exactly like a dragon and too deep to be fathomable!" his is exactly the difference between an enlightened being who can save sentient beings and a philosopher in the human world. The saying, "There is little common ground for understanding between persons of different principles" refers to this difference. Lao Zi's Tao, mysterious and hard to understand, is the teaching of gods, while Confucius's words were just human theories and the moral standard for defining human behavior.