While it is not known with certainty that Lau Tzu actually existed, legend has it that Lau Tzu's access to the information found in the royal archives supplied valuable knowledge.
Apparently disgusted with society, Lau Tzu abruptly "retired" to live out the remainder of his days as a hermit -- away from people and closer to nature.
Fortunately for the future of Taoism and eastern philosophy, Lau Tzu had to exit the Chinese emperor's territory and into his new home and co-existence with nature by way of the Han-ku pass. The keeper of the pass asked that Lau Tzu write a book telling all that he knew before leaving society. This book, Tao Te Ching, would become the foundation of Taoism.
The Tao, translated as "the way," is not something that we humans can understand or describe in words but can best be reflected in Nature, which is the basis of much of taoist thought and philosophy.
Lau Tzu associates the Tao with "non-being," or a non-resistant and passive existence, called "wu wei."
Some other philosophical terms associated with Taoism include the idea of "fu," which is a return of all things from extremes to a state of balance; "yin and yang," which are the counter-balances of passivity and activity in the universe; and "te," which is the power of the Tao that enables each individual being to be what they are in their own unique way.
Whether one believes he was real or fictional, just the fact that Lau Tzu's wisdom applies just as much today as it did more than 2500 years ago confirms that our flawed human drive to know all the answers and our hyperactive desire to force things to happen are human flaws certain to be repeated; but also that this knowledge is valuable for the acquisition of self-awareness.
Lau Tzu's wisdom speaks for itself so here are just a few selected quotes from the "Old Master:"
Thus Something and Nothing produce each other; The difficult and the easy compliment each other; The long and the short off-set each other; The high and the low incline toward each other; Note and sound harmonize with each other; Before and after follow each other.
Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.
There is no calamity greater than lavish desires. There is no greater guilt than discontent. And there is no greater disaster than greed.
Health is the greatest possession. Contentment is the greatest treasure. Confidence is the greatest friend. Non-being is the greatest joy.
Those who have knowledge, don't predict. Those who predict, don't have knowledge.
At the center of your being you have the answer; You know how you are and you know what you want.
If I have even just a little sense, I will walk on the main road and my only fear will be of straying from it.
If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.
Image by Shannon
Sources:Complete Idiot's Guide to Eastern Philosophy