Monday, January 25, 2016



The Way of Lau Tzu

In my previous talk on Taoism I mentioned that Taoism is concerned with letting your mind be free, and realizing whatever you are doing. It is learning from nature and adjusting your life to existing the natural way.       That means accepting what is and letting go of what was or what might be.

From that viewpoint Taoism and Zen are related.

Aside from the many branches and splinter groups within Taoism, there are two main schools, usually termed "philosophical Taoism" (Tao-chia) and "religious Taoism" (Tao-chaio). Philosophical Taoism tends to focus on the writings of Lao-Tzu, Chuang-Tzu, and other early sages. Religious Taoism emphasizes mystical rituals aimed at achieving immortality.

Philosophical Taoism is closer to Zen than religious Taoism because it deals with the real world rather than with fanciful legends. By “fanciful” I mean such myths that Taoist masters learned to extend their lives indefinitely, to fly through the air, and to become invisible.

I won’t spend much time with religious Taoism other than mention that it has to do with mystical practices, fortune telling, and pseudoscience. Such stuff has strayed far from the original concepts of natural living.

Fortunately, the original Taoism has endured.

The prime mover of Taoism is believed to have been a man named Lau Tze Tung, or Lau Tzu, who lived around 604 to 531 BC. He was a librarian in the Chinese royal court and is assumed to have been the author of the book Tao Te Ching, the classic manual on the art of living.

One day while working in the library Lau Tzu became disenchanted with government work and fed up with society in general. According to legend, he straddled a horse and headed for the remote regions of China. At the border of the next province he got into a conversation with a friendly gatekeeper who asked him to make a record of his philosophical thoughts, which he did. Then he gave the guard the manuscript and rode into the desert like an American cowboy riding into the sunset. He was never seen again.

Lau Tzu believed in living in harmony with one’s essential nature. He referred to this as the Tao, and he taught that the Tao is not capable of being described. Rather, it must be experienced through practicing the natural way of existence.

That natural way is known as “The Tao,” or “The Way.”

Essentially it means to think for yourself.

Of course that is too simple for most people. The ancient Chinese venerated Lau Tzu as a "saint" and made sacrifices to him. Then they spun off a bunch of divinities they venerated as gods. Taoism lurched away from a simple way of life into one more organization of flimflam and religion.

In the words of a contemporary writer, Taoism is in some ways a personal or individual philosophy. In other ways it is a mystical school of religion or oriental magic, depending upon the word's use and the century in which the word appears.

At its core, the Tao is beyond language. As I said earlier, it is an experience rather than a definition. It’s a path of adapting to constant change. 

In the literature on Taoism three terms pop up that are worth mentioning: YinYang, Wu Wei, and Ch’i.


Ch’i, spelled Ch’i or Qi, literally means life energy. It’s a quality of all living things from a human being to a clam. Ch’i is often referred to as the natural strength of the universe. It is an important factor in such practices as acupuncture (the balancing one’s energy through the insertion of thin needles into key points of the body), qi gong (a system that combines physical posture, breathing, and meditation), and feng shui (a method of harmonizing objects with the surrounding environment).

Wu Wei

Wu wei involves discarding complex plans to improve oneself and everything else. Instead, it entails accepting the world (and oneself) as it is. That means giving up selfish desires and living an unplanned life rather than becoming trapped in preparing for the unrepairable, avoiding the inevitable, or seeking the unobtainable.


YinYang: The two words together signify the contrasting principles in nature that complement each other. Suffering, pain, and misery are basic for contentment, pleasure, and happiness to exist. Sickness and health are the equivalent phenomenon. Masculinity and femininity are mutual. When the imaginary space between such concepts is understood, extremes of either sort are seen as unnatural. It is the cycle of nature for the pendulum to swing back and forth.

As Lau Tzu says:

When you are content to be simply yourself and don't compare or compete, everybody will respect you.


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