Thursday, December 22, 2011

Lao Tzu & Self-Transformation

"Knowing others is intelligence, 
knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength, 
mastering yourself is true power."
- Lao Tzu

"Experience is a riverbed,
Its source hidden, forever flowing:
Its entrance, the root of the world,
The Way moves within it:
Draw upon it; it will not run dry."
- Lao Tzu

Lao Tzu also known as Laozi or Lao Tse was a mystic Chinese philosopher who was best known as the author of the "Tao Te Ching". Being the author of "Tao Te Ching", he is considered as the founder of the Taoism. In Taoism, he is often worshipped as a deity and called as Taishang Laojun, or "One of the Three Pure Ones". Based on Chinese tradition, he lived in the 6th century BCE. Lao Tzu is a central figure in Chinese tradition and both the nobles and common people consider him in their ancestry. During the course of history, his works were generally accepted by various anti-authoritarian movements.

Lao Tzu Childhood & Life
In Chinese tradition, Lao Tzu is considered as the author of the famous “Tao Te Ching” or the “Daodejing”. The earliest account of Lao Tzu was found in the Records of the Grand Historian (Shiji) written by Chinese historian Sima Qian (ca. 145–86 BCE). Shiji contains a number of stories related to him. In one of the stories, he was said to be a contemporary of Confucius (551–479 BCE). It was believed that Lao Tzu was an official in the imperial archives, and wrote a book in two parts before leaving for the West. In second story, he was a contemporary of Confucius and wrote a book in 15 parts. Another story, suggests that he was the grand historian and astrologer Lao Dan who lived in the reign of Duke Xian of Qin. In one popular legends, it was said that Lao Tzu was conceived when his mother was gazing upon a falling star. It further said that he stayed in womb for 62 years and was born when his mother leaned against a plum tree. He appeared as a grown man with a full grey beard and long earlobes, which were symbols of wisdom and long life. Another popular version states that he had thirteen reincarnations since the days of Fuxi and in his last reincarnation; he lived to nine hundred and ninety years, and traveled to India to reveal the Dao. The popular traditional biographies put forward different stories. Based on them, it was believed that Lao Tzu worked as the Keeper of the Archives for the royal court of Zhou. It helped him to read the works of the Yellow Emperor and other classics of the time. It was further said that though Lao Tzu never opened a formal school; he still attracted numerous students and loyal disciples. Some variations to the story depict that Confucius consulted Lao Tzu about rituals. There were also references which say that he married and had a son named Zong who was a famous soldier. A number of common and noble people which includes the emperors of the Tang Dynasty trace their lineage back to Lao Tzu. Another popular story tells that Lao Tzu became tired of the moral decay of the city and the decline of the kingdom. These legends states that he at the age of 160, moved towards west to live as a hermit in the unsettled frontier. When he reached the western gate of the city, he was stopped by a guard. The guard asked him to show a record of his wisdom. This way the legend of “Daodejing” originated. This story had some different versions also, which say that the guard was so moved by the work that he went along with Lao Tzu and was never seen again. Some legends consider him the teacher of t he Buddha, or the Buddha himself. According to the consensus emerged in the mid-twentieth century, there was an uncertainty over the historicity of Lao Tzu and Daodejing was considered as a compilation of Taoist sayings by many hands originating in the 4th century.

Lao Tzu’s magnum opus, the “Daodejing” is one of the most important treatises in Chinese cosmogony. Like other ancient Chinese philosophers, he explains his ideas by way of contradiction, analogy, appropriation of ancient sayings, repetition, symmetry, and rhythm. According to” Daodejing”, the Dao (or Tao) is the mystical source and ideal of all existence. It is unseen, not transcendent, but immensely powerful yet supremely humble, and the root of all things. It, further, describes that humans have no special place within the Dao and is only one of its many ("ten thousand") manifestations. People have both desires and free will, hence they can change their own nature. Many unnatural acts disturb the natural balance of Dao. This text tells people to return to their natural state which rests in harmony with Dao. In this context, the language and conventional wisdom are critically evaluated. According to Livia Kohn, Lao Tzu encouraged a change in approach, or return to "nature". Over the statement that the technology may bring about a false sense of progress, Daodejing asked to look the calm state of wu wei, free from desires rather than rejecting the technology. This also refers to several statements where Lao Tzu had encouraged rulers to keep their people in "ignorance". Some scholars assert that this explanation ignores the religious setting. Wu wei, is an important concept of the Daodejing. This concept is complex and is generally reflected into multiple meanings such as "not doing anything", "not forcing", "not acting" or theatrically, "creating nothingness", and "flowing with the moment." This can be used to explain other key concept Ziran or harmony with the Dao. Lao Tzu used this term generally with simplicity and humility as key virtues, often contrasting with selfish action. On political view, it tells to avoid circumstances like war, harsh laws and heavy taxes. Taoists often see connection between wu wei and esoteric practices. This book also contains instructions for adept Taoists about qigong meditations, and veiled preachings to revert to the primordial state.

Throughout the Chinese history, prominent officials used the authority of non-Confucian sages, particularly Lao Tzu and Zhuangzi to deny serving any ruler at any time. According to traditional accounts, Zhuangzi was a famous follower of Lao Tzu and immensely influenced the Chinese literati and culture. Zhuangzi is the fundamental authority regarding eremitism and considered it the highest ideal. Scholars like Aat Vervoom said that Zhuangzi had discussed a hermit immersed in society. This view further tells that seclusion is hiding anonymously in society. It states that a Zhuangzi hermit believes that the state of mind is being unknown and drifting freely. Several political theorists influenced by Lao Tzu argues humility in leadership and a restrained approach to statecraft, either for ethical and pacifist reasons, or for tactical ends. Several anti-authoritarian movements accepted his teachings on the power of the weak. The economist Murray Rothbard considered Lao Tzu as the first libertarian. According to James A. Dorn, like several other 18th century liberals, Lao Tzu had argued that minimizing the role of government and letting individuals would develop and simultaneously achieve social and economic harmony. The Cato Institute's David Boaz used passages from the Daodejing in his 1997 book The Libertarian Reader.

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