Laozi

Since ancient times, Chinese have all along held the Heavens and the Land that they live on in great reverence, thousands of years ago, when many peoples on the Earth embraced a strong belief in Spirits who were thought of as the creators of all beings, the Chinese had begun to probe into astronomy as well as geography. There was an old man for the first time explained the laws of nature and formed a cosmic view of worshiping nature, by symbolically comparing the relations between the Heavens and the land and men to a chain. The old man, regarded by the world as the initiator of the Chinese Taoist school- the native religion of China-was called Lao Zi.

The Life of Lao Zi

The Shiji (Records of the Historian) by the Han dynasty (206 B.C.E.-220 C.E.) court historian Sima Qian offers a "biography" of Laozi. Its reliability has been questioned, but it serves as a common point of departure for scholarly debate. According to Shi Ji, Lao Zi was a native of the state of Chu in the late Spring and Autumn Period (722-481 B.C.). His family name was Li and his proper name Er. He had worked at the Zhou Dynasty's imperial archives and was an older contemporary of Confucius (551-479 B.C.), who had once called upon Lao Zi and sought his instructions concerning rites. This establishes the traditional claim that Laozi was a senior contemporary of Confucius.

Lao Zi lived in the domain of Zhou for a long time. But, seeing the decline of the imperial household of Zhou, he eventually left traveling to the Hangu Pass in what is today’s Henan Province. He was stopped by Yin Xi, a guardian, who begged Lao Zi to write a book for him. The result was a book consisting of some five thousand Chinese characters, divided into two parts, which discusses “the meaning of Dao and virtue.” It is the famous treatise Daode Jing, or The Classic of the Way and Its Power. Thereafter, Laozi left; no one knew where he had gone. It was said that Lao Zi lived for more than 160 years-some said more than 200years- because he knew how to keep himself in good health.

Daode Jing (The Classic of the Way and Its Power)

The Daodejing is the classic text of Daoism. Known as the "5000 Character Classic", it is one of the most translated works in the world. This is not only because it is relatively short (one character is approximately one word in English) but also because of its beautiful language--like the Zhuangzi, the Daodejing is considered one of the finest examples of Chinese literature. The Daodejing expresses the basic beliefs of Daoist philosophy. It teaches that the Dao, or Way, is the fundamental oneness of all things. The De is the energy of the Dao, and it operates in terms of the opposing principles of yin and yang. These two principles or forces have combined in varying proportions to produce everything in the universe.

The core of the book is the concept of the Dao, which literally means "way". Dao is a force that existed before the universe; a force that brought the universe into existence; a force that sustained and sustains the universe. However, Lao Zi used it in the sense of "law and pattern of development", or the way of nature. According to the book, the Dao is that by which all things come to be, but it does not form everything with a will or purpose. The “Dao” does nothing, yet everything is done by it. It is at the head of all things, but never tries to control them. This is the concept of the Dao’s natural inaction.

Daoist cosmology was shaped by the ways the Chinese people traditionally understood the world. Daoists believe that when the world began, there was only the Dao, which generated swirling patterns of cloud-like energy called qi. After many eons, the Dao generated two complementary forces that directed the movement of qi; the yin, which was dark, heavy, and feminine, and the yang, which was light, airy, and masculine. The yin energy sank to form the Earth, the yang energy rose to form the Heaven, and both energies harmonized to form humanity. The human body was believed to hold within it the energies of both the Earth and the Heaven, and thus it was seen as microcosm of the world. The primary symbols of the yin and the yang in ancient China were the white tiger and the green dragon, also symbols of winter and summer. By the Song Dynasty (960-1279), these symbols were supplemented by the Taiji Diagram, commonly known as the yin-yang symbol. This diagram illustrates the unity and interdependence of the yin and the yang within the Dao, with a yin dot in the yang side of the diagram and vice versa.

The Philosophy of Lao Zi
 
During Lao Zi’s life he was never appointed to high office; nor did he have the ear of nay eminent king. However, he succeeded in adumbrating a blueprint for the carrying out of state affairs, which would have an enormous influence on a large number of Chinese dynasties. This system was known as “Wu Wei,” and was essentially a laissez faire philosophy of non-enforcement for the management of state affairs. Laozi encouraged a change in approach, or return to "nature", rather than action. Technology may bring about a false sense of progress. The answer provided by Laozi is not the rejection of technology, but instead seeking the calm state of wu wei, free from desires. Lao Zi advocated self-cultivation and self-rectification, which means that the rulers of a country should have faith in the people. Human nature he saw as essentially honest and true. If this nature was allowed to unfold, the state would be naturally a well administered state. This is the essence of Lao Zi's "Wu Wei" theory of government: "non-enforcement and non-contention".

The ideal society described in Daode Jing or the Classic of the Way and Its Power is "a small nation with an isolated people". It maintains that culture spells disaster for the people, and mankind should therefore return to the ancient age of obscurantism. "Let there be a small country with a few inhabitants. Though there are labour saving contrivances, the people would not use them. Though there be boats and carriages, there would be no occasion to ride in them. Though there be armour and weapons, there would be no occasion to display them". "Let people revert to the practice of rope knotting, and be contented with their food, pleased with their customs. Though there be a neighbouring country in sight, and the people hear each other's cocks crowing and dogs barking, they would grow old and die without having anything to do with each other". Lao Zi rejected all kinds of rules and laws-they would only deform man and increase the number of wrongdoers. Lao Zi believed that human life, like everything else in the universe, is constantly influenced by outside forces. He believed "simplicity" to be the key to truth and freedom. Lao Tzu encouraged his followers to observe, and seek to understand the laws of nature; to develop intuition and build up personal power; and to use that power to lead life with love, and without force.