Who was Lao Tse?

Conscious TV

January 07, 2022

Lao Tse was a philosopher and poet of ancient China. He is best known for writing the Tao Te Ching and for being the founder of philosophical Taoism, although he is also revered as a deity in religious Taoism and traditional Chinese religions.

Although he is a legendary figure, his life is usually framed in the 6th century BC, making him a contemporary of Confucius. However, some historians believe that he lived during the period of the Warring Kingdoms, between the 5th and 4th centuries BC.

Lao Tse, a fundamental figure of Chinese culture, is considered by both the emperors of the Tang dynasty and people of the Li surname as the founder of their lineage.

Throughout history, Lao Tse's work has been claimed by various anti-authoritarian movements. Lao Tse, author of the "Dao De Jing" (Tao Te Ching), was the head of the Archives of the Imperial Court of Chou, in Honan province, in the 6th century BC. Some historical records claim that he personally taught Confucius in his old age, while others maintain that he died before Confucius was born.

Lao Tse taught throughout his life that "the Tao that can be named is not the true Tao," as can be read in his work.

According to legend, when Lao Tse was about to retire, he mounted his horse and began to ride westward into the desert regions of China. When the border guardian of the province of China asked him to write down his thoughts so that they could be transmitted to mankind, Lao Tse retired for two days and wrote the Tao Te Ching. After delivering the work to the guardian, he went into the wilderness and was never seen again.

Most studies agree that he became disillusioned with Chinese society and disappeared in the West; however, before departing, he left the last guardian of the Middle Kingdom some writings of his wisdom. This is in keeping with the customs of the ancient Taoist hermits who abandoned society to unite with Nature and become one with the Tao. One legend says that Confucius was a disciple of Lao Tse and was so impressed with the wisdom of the old sage that he compared him to a "dragon ascending to the heavens amid clouds and wind." His name means "old master" and there is hardly any evidence that such a man actually lived at that time, let alone that he was the author of the Tao Te Ching.

What is the Tao Te Ching?

The earliest manuscripts, dating back to the 2nd century BC, were divided into two parts, the Tao and the Te. The division into 81 chapters seems to be later. The number 81 may be due to the influence of Buddhism on Chinese thought after its introduction in the 1st century AD. The number 81 is the square of 9 and has great symbolic significance for Indian mystics.

The first known Chinese librarian was the philosopher Lao Tse, who was put in charge of the royal historical archives of the Chou dynasty around 550 BC. Although the first to write about the Tao were ascetics and hermits such as Shen Tao (advocate of "abandoning knowledge and getting rid of ego"), it was not until the 6th century BC that the philosophy of Taoism had its beginning with the philosopher Lao Tse (or "ancient sage" born Li Erh).

There is also a close relationship between Lao Tse and the legendary yellow emperor Huang Di. In ancient China, Lao Tse was famous for his wisdom. Sensing the growing corruption of the government, he went to the countryside. Thus it was that the keeper of the city gates asked Lao Tse to write down the essence of his teachings for the benefit of generations to come. Lao Tse wrote the Tao Te Ching.

What is the Tao?

Although deeply rooted in Chinese history, Taoism is a way of life and not a religion, based on Lao Tse's book, Tao Te Ching. This book consists of two parts: the first is the "book of the way" and the second the "book of virtue". Lao Tse thought that there is a harmony between heaven and earth and that anyone can find it at any time. All they have to do is naturally follow the flow of nature called the Tao or "the Way".

Their basic teaching is that one cannot speak of the Tao because words cannot describe the infinity of the universe. Along with the development of Taoism as a philosophy, another, stricter religious interpretation of Taoism evolved. This "religious" Taoism had its own temples, priests, rites and symbolic images.

Lao Tse was revered as a "saint" and imperial sacrifices were made in his honor. This interpretation was based especially on the ideas of yin and yang and the "Five Elements" (metal, wood, water, fire and earth).

During this period the pantheon of Taoist deities, often worshipped as gods, began to develop. In this stream of Taoism, astrology, alchemy and divination were so important that attention shifted from philosophy to occultism. This movement is sometimes referred to as Huang-Lao, after the legendary yellow emperor Huang Di and Lao Tse.