Your complimentary articles
You’ve read one of your four complimentary articles for this month.
You can read four articles free per month. To have complete access to the thousands of philosophy articles on this site, please
Laozi (Pre-Fourth Century BCE)
by Terence Green
Going with the flow
Being at one with nature
The way of the Dao
Laozi, often written Lao Tzu – the name simply means ‘Old Master’ – has the distinction amongst great philosophers of probably never having existed. Still, having an uncertain existence hasn’t prevented his being revered by many as a deity (which is pretty much the case with God). Laozi is reputedly the author of the great text of Daoism, the Dao De Ching or Tao Te Ching (Treatise on the Way and Its Power). Tradition holds that Laozi lived in the sixth century BCE; but it might’ve been the fifth century… or the fourth (it’s a moot point, really, when you’re talking about someone who possibly didn’t live at all). Whenever it was he did or didn’t live, he was certainly esteemed, and given the title of ‘Supreme Mysterious and Primordial Emperor’, idolised by both nobility and the ordinary riff-raff. Clearly, having an uncertain existence doesn’t prevent his being revered by many as a deity (that’s also pretty much the case with God). All sorts of legends surround the legendary Old Master, including the story that he gave the Buddha a few hints on how to live.
Laozi (supposedly) taught that the world consists of opposites – light and dark, hot and cold, male and female – and that the underlying principle of the natural world is reversion: if things go too far to one extreme, they’ll swing back the other in due course, like a pendulum (possibly flattening you along the way past). The best way for us to live is to be in accordance with this natural order, that is, in accordance with the Dao, which is the natural flow of the universe, merging ourselves as fully as we can with nature. Time and effort shouldn’t be wasted in pursuing worldly possessions – inevitably these lead only to loss and suffering. Instead we should endeavour to be meek, mild, and have as few desires as possible.
For reasons which escape me, this is not a philosophy that appeals much to the current Western mind.
© Terence Green 2017
Terence is a writer, historian and lecturer, and lives with his wife and their dog in Paekakariki, NZ. hardlysurprised.blogspot.co.nz