Lao-Tse (604 BC-?)
Lao-Tse is considered the first philosopher of the Taoist school. The Te-Tao
Ching, attributed to Lao-Tse, is one of the most sacred texts of Taoism. His
writings teach the philosophy of the Tao, or the Way, which is reality that
naturally exists prior to and gives rise to all other things such as the
physical universe and all things in it. Te, which means virtue, is the life
energy in things and a sense of morality which constitutes the Way. The Tao can
be found by experiencing the oneness in all things - fulfilling life as one with
nature and as one with the inner self. The speaking of Lao-Tse's wisdom is what
attracts people to follow him and make him the teacher of Taoism.
Eighty percent of Lao-Tse's teachings are devoted to man's function and his role
in society by means of virtue. He finds courage, generosity, and leadership to
be three virtues involved in all ethical systems. However, he wants the truly
virtuous man to spontaneously do good out of what he genuinely feels without
being aware and concerned of other people's approval. He believes people should
"act without acting" by spontaneously saying and doing what is genuinely felt
rather than putting on a show for others. This is to avoid hypocrisy, the result
of people acting in ways they think others will approve of and value.
From the Taoist point of view, Confucian virtues of humanity, righteousness,
knowledge, and wisdom are seen as bridges to hypocrisy. This is because these
virtues make distinctions between right and wrong, a concept which is absent and
unnecessary in Taoism. In further comparison with the teachings of Confucius,
Lao-Tse emphasizes peace of mind and tranquility of the spirit, whereas
Confucius emphasizes moral perfection and social adjustment. In addition,
Lao-Tse nourishes a person's nature, while Confucius fully develops it.
Therefore, Confucius hopes for his followers to become one with heaven, and
Lao-Tse opens himself to become one with the nature of the universe. However,
both teachers share a common interest to avoid extremes and to live by the
Moreover, Lao-Tse stresses how important it is to be one with nature because it
provides positive character. He regards genuineness, sincerity, and spontaneity
to be "natural" characteristics which people are born with and possess. Yet, he
claims these qualities are destroyed through education and cultural influences.
In addition, he explains how a person is able to dismiss all authority except
for the authority of self and a personal God. In this case, God is understood to
be everything in nature. Thus, people who know and respect the authority of
their inner nature know where they belong.
Consequently, Lao-Tse longs for life to take place in a small, united community
where deceit, selfishness, and evil are non-existent in order to pursue a life
of single and simple community. He glorifies simplicity by encouraging people to
live without desires, knowledge, competition, and things of the senses.
Therefore, he also teaches how to live the simple life, the one which is free
from cunning and cleverness and not devoted to the pursuit of profit. As a
result, Lao-Tse opens himself up to the universe and demonstrates how to live a
life full of the beauty of nature, which allows people to follow in his path and
take his teachings to heart.