Lao Tzu

Lao Tzu (born c600 BCE) was a junior contemporary of Confucius whose formalism contrasted with what became Taoism. According to tradition, Lao Tzu ("old man") was a quiet librarian who became disillusioned with the world in his old age, packed his yak, and headed for the wilderness. AT the top of a mountain pass, the last outpost of 'civilisation', the gate-keeper persuaded him to write down his philosophy which he did in the Tao Te Ching ("The Way") in some 5000 pictographs. As is the case with many ancient manuscripts, authorship is a matter of scholastic debate.

Translating the subtleties of pictographs is difficult but a reasonable degree of accuracy can be accomplished. Taoism is individualistic and mystical, greatly influenced by nature, and focusing on the notion of "motherliness" as a governing concept which dictates the circular pattern of life: birth, growth, maturity, decay and death.

By contrast with Confucianism which concentrated on discipline as a foundation of growth and social conformity, Taoism values spontaneous action. Calculation led to ruin and desire whereas there should be a movement towards non-desire.

Taoism ultimately merged with Buddhism in what became Zen. It is not based on religious beliefs but is a way of remaining in harmony with the natural world from which Christianity has tended to part itself.

The following are extracts from the Tao Te Ching for reflection and discussion:

“When people see beauty as beautiful,
They recognise other things as ugly”.

“Do not value precious goods
Or the people will becomes thieves.”

“The Tao is like an empty pitcher,
Poured from, but never drained.
It is infinitely deep, it is the source of all things.”

“The spirit of emptiness is eternal,
It is called ‘the Mysterious Woman’.

Her womb is called “The Source of Heaven and Earth”.

“When the real Tao is abandoned
Ideas of ‘humanitarianism’ and ‘righteousness’ appear.
When intellectualism arises
It is accompanied by great hypocrisy.”

“One who knows others is intelligent.
One who knows himself is truly wise.”

“Heaven’s way is to take from what has too much
And give it to what does not have enough.
This is not the way of men, however,
For they take from those who have little
To increase the wealth of the rich.”

Mabry, Rev. John, God as Nature Sees God (Apocryphile Press, 2004)

BT/KC 09/13