In ancient China a man by the name of Lao Tzu who was in charge of the royal archives in the village of Zhou. Before his retirement from his office he wrote a book that would affect the people of China to this very day. This book was titled the Dao De Jing, and it contained all the religious ideals that Lao Tzu has deemed of great importance for living one’s life in the correct manor. This sparked the formation of the Chinese religion known as Daoism. A religion, or way of thought, that tries to teach people how to live in a way that will get them closer to the ultimate goal of Dao.
This has no real meaning but loosely translates into the Way which eludes to the idea of showing people how to live their lives correctly. (Mou 210-11) The Dao De Jing opens up with the words, “Dao called Dao is not truly Dao” (Tzu 01). This is the starting point for the concept of the Dao not really having a meaning (though it’s often translated into “the way”). For a Daoist the Dao is the unattainable for that if we all possessed the world would be at peace. This can be related to the Daoist idea of “not glorifying heroes” (Tzu 03), or not glorifying anything that we do for that matter.
The Dao De Jing teaches that, “When no credit is taken. Accomplishment endures” (Tzu 02). This idea coupled with not glorifying individuals show the humility that the Dao De Jing demands of its followers. These two ideas then play into the Daoist principle of “non-action” (Tzu 03). The Dao De Jing teaches that by not doing do we actually accomplish something. When we let go of goals and stop striving to reach them do we actually do great things. Stemming from this concept comes the teaching of stepping backwards, so that we may step forward towards Dao.
By stepping back we go back to the beginning of things which allows us to see, and understand things more clearly. (Tzu 07) Simplicity as well as the beauty of what nature can do are other concepts that are taken out of the Dao De Jing. “Look at plain silk; hold uncarved wood. The self dwindles; desires fade” (Tzu 19). The silk and the uncarved wood are things that are naturally produced by Mother Nature, and do not need the hand of man to add anything to them.
This idea ties into the above concepts of going back to the beginning of things, i. e. going back to the uncarved wood before it was shaped into something by the hands of man. Another teaching brought of the Dao De Jing is the concept of war. War is thought to be an extreme evil due to the fact that, “After each war, years of famine” (Tzu 30). War doesn’t bring life after it is over because the land and the towns that it was fought in are laid to ruin. This however will not last long due to the fact that it isn’t Dao, and anything not Dao such as: arrogance, hostility, pride, resistance, and violence will not last in the grand scheme of things because it goes against the way of the world. (Tzu 30)
In the world of Daoism there are three concepts that help explain that which cannot truly be explained: Dao. The first of these three is Qi, which often translates as breathe. This Qi is the life force that flows all across the world. The second idea is that of yin and yang, two opposite forces that cannot exist without each other. Daoism is the balancing of these two forces. Lastly Wu-wei which is simply the idea of going with the flow of the world, and not fighting the things you can’t control. (Lee) These ideas written by Lao Tzu caused Daoism to form in two different and very distinct ways.
One is Daoism in the religious sense (Tao-chiao), and Daoism as a philosophical (Tao-chia) way of thought. These concepts while might appear to be to opposite sides of the spectrum turn out to be intertwined quite closely with each other. (Lee) The philosophical Daoist believes that the key to the Dao is to ignore external rule, and focus on finding the Way in you. This is done by becoming undetectable, so that the Dao may not be disturbed by the things that he or she would do in their day to day actions.
A religious Daoist believes that by find or discovering the Way he or she will unlock the key to immortality. This is done through various methods of mind exercises such as meditation, or even a cleansing of the inner body through diet and gymnastic routines. These help the Daoist integrate the Dao into their bodies. A third sect of Daoism formed during the period of the Three Kingdoms by a group called: The Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove. This version of Daoism tried to sway Confucianism by taking what they had, and applying Daoist ideas to it.
(Lee) All these ideas are accredited to a man by the name of Lao Tzu. In Daoist depictions “He is often depicted on a water-buffalo or an ox, with a book in his hand” (RM). However a big question still perplexes historians: Did Lao Tzu really exist? The earliest biography of the man was written by a Chinese historian named Sima Qiun. This biography can be found in his book titled Shi-Ji. In this writing Sima Qiun tells us that Lao Tzu, or Lao Zi, is from the “Qu-ren-li neighborhood of Li Village, Country of Ku, in the State of Chu” (Mou 210).
It is believed that in his adult life he was director of the royal archives in Zhou. (Mou 210) There are also quite a few Daoist myths as to who Lao Tzu is, and how he came into being. One such myth says that Lao Tzu lived in his own mother’s womb for 70 years. When he came out he was already gray from age, and he lived his life as a historian in the State of Ch’u. He later retires to the mountains after he writes down all his teachings in the form of the Dao De Jing.
Another story goes onto say after he retires to the mountains he lives 160-200 years due to the long life that is given to those that cultivate the Way. (RM; Mou 212) The Daoist religion is made up of a vast array of Chinese idea’s such as: “beliefs, practices, and movements, including popular deity worship and ancestor veneration, traditional ritual practices of the state and home, self-cultivation practices and medicine, cosmological speculation, the political philosophy of the Huang-Lao school, the cult of immortality, Han Confucianism, and the apocryphal writings” (Kohn 23-24).
In the same regards; however, it also is a religion that rejects many Chinese traditions and labels them as “heretical, even evil” (Kohn 24). In Daoism’s early years it was not the native Chinese who played a huge role in shaping it, but instead non-Chinese ethnic groups embraced the religion in the beginning. (Kohn 24) The word Daoism means a lot of different things depending on what person you’re talking to. Some view it as a religion, while others see it as a philosophical view that they apply to their everyday thinking.
Either way finding a way to become ever closer to Dao is still the primary focus of any Daoist Sage. While the founder Lao Tzu is still clouded by mystery it can be said that the teachings in the book he is accredited with writing has helped shape the people in ancient China, as well as people in China today. Works Cited Kohn, Livia, and Harold David Roth. Daoist Identity: History, Lineage, and Ritual. Honolulu University of Hawaii Press, 2002. Netlibrary.
Web. 3 March 2010. Lee, Jacob. “Daoism (Taoism). ” Daoism (Taoism) (2007): 1. History Reference Center. EBSCO. Web. 21 Apr. 2010. Mou, Bo. History of Chinese philosophy. Routledge, 2009. NetLibrary. Web. 17 April 2010 RM, plc. “Lao Zi (or Lao Tzu) (c. 604-531 BC). ” Hutchinson’s Biography Database (2003): 1. History Reference Center. EBSCO. Web. 21 Apr. 2010. Tzu, Lao. Tao Te Ching. Trans. Stephan Addiss, Stanley Lombardo. Boston: Hackett, 1993. Print.
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