“Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.”
Laozi, also known as Lao Tsu or Lao-Tze, was a Chinese philosopher and the founding father of Taoism who has become a dignified figure in Chinese history.
The ancient Chinese philosopher is said to have lived during the Warring States period, before the great philosopher Confucius was born. The name “Laozi” literally means “Old (lao) Master (zi).” He is said to be the reputed author of the “Tao Te Ching,” a principal text of Taoist thought. As part of his legacy, he was able to influence anti-authoritarian and Legalist philosophers after his time. He is even considered and believed to be one of the deities in Taoism and Chinese folk religions.
Due to scarce records, not much is known about Laozi. What we do know is Laozi came from the village of Chu Jen in Chu, a Zhou Dynasty southern state in China. He worked as a keeper of archival records for the royal court during this time.
Working as a curator of the royal library gave him the opportunity to access the works of the Yellow Emperor and other classics of the time period, which gave historians the impression that the ancient philosopher never entered formal schooling prior to working for the imperial court. Nonetheless, Laozi was able to attract a lot of students and loyal disciples during his time.
From his exposure to the imperial court, Laozi recognized the corruption and self-interest within the government system as the cause of the kingdom’s decline. He grew frustrated with his inability to change their behavior that he decided to go into exile. Legend has it that he wrote the “Tao Te Ching,” as he was leaving the Western pass, only to leave the book with the gatekeeper. Moments later, he vanished without a trace.
Since its existence, Taoism (also spelled as Daoism) has become a huge influence on Chinese folk religion and belief. It started in the rural areas of China, and it eventually became the official religion of the country during the Tang Dynasty.
Taoism centers on the belief that humans and animals should live with balance and accordance with the “Tao” (or Dao) or the universe. In simplest terms, the said ancient philosophy centers on doing what is natural and “going with the flow.” It focuses on spiritual harmony within the individual which complements Confucius’ philosophy that is centered on social duty.
Taoism coined the principle of Yin and Yang, which is a concept of dualism. It considers all existent things to be inseparable and complementary, seeing opposites that eventually make up a unity or a great whole. This principle then became a fundamental concept in Chinese philosophy and culture in general.
Taoism is one of the five religions recognized and practiced by the People’s Republic of China. And there are as many as 20 million Taoists worldwide, most of whom live in China, Taiwan, or Southeast Asia. Taoism has also become influential in Western countries, especially in the fields of alternative medicine and martial arts like Tai Chi.