The Tao Te Ching

Essay by jtdevoeUniversity, Bachelor'sA-, June 2004

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Lao-tzu cultivated Tao and its virtue. He taught that one should efface oneself and be without fame in the world. He lived under the Chou dynasty. After a long time he realized that, the dynasty was declining. He decided to leave. When he reached the western frontier, Yin Hsi, the guardian of the pass, said: "You want to withdraw forever. Please write down your thoughts for me." Thereupon Lao-tzu wrote a book in two sections dealing with the Tao and its virtue [the Tao-te-ching]. It had more than five thousand words. Then he left, and nobody knows what became of him. (Shih-chi, ch. 63)

T'ang Chün-i thinks that it is entirely fitting that Ssu-ma Ch'ien should leave us with only a vague portrait of Lao Tzu; the vagueness of the person of Lao Tzu faithfully reflects his philosophy. While the Confucian aims at establishing his fame and thereby his immortality in the memory of the living, the Taoist goal is to retreat to the source, to lose his identity until he becomes one with the creative principle.

The Tao Te Ching does not so much represent the thought of one person as the embodiment of the spirit of a living tradition. Yet, the thought contained in it has such unity that it certainly is not merely a loose collection of ancient sayings, as those who could not grasp its unique message have contended.

If the Tao Te Ching appears to be a polemic against the Confucian emphasis on rites and learning, Confucius himself and later Mencius, (371-289 B.C.) was not opposed to its teaching. The Analects shows us a Confucius also looking back to the golden age when sage kings ruled and nature was perfect. The aim of education, as well as the mission with which Confucius felt he entrusted,