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Lao Tzu

Biography of the great Chinese philosopher

Lao Tzu (alternate spelling: Laozi), Chinese Philosopher

Lao Tzu, fl. 6th cent. B.C., Chinese philosopher, reputedly the founder of Taoism. It is uncertain that Lao Tzu [Ch.,=old person or old philosopher] is historical. His biography in Ssu-ma Ch'ien's Records of the Historian (1st cent. B.C.) says he was a contemporary of Confucius and served as curator of the dynastic archives until retiring to the mythical K'un-lun mountains. He allegedly transmitted his teachings to a border guard who subsequently compiled the Lao Tzu, also titled the Tao-te ching [Classic of the Way and Virtue]. Scholars date the work in the 4th-2d cent. B.C., with some strata perhaps as old as the 6th cent. B.C. Its parables and verse, written in incantatory language, advocate passive and intuitive behavior in natural harmony with the Tao, a cosmic unity underlying all phenomena. It emphasizes the value of wu-wei, "nonstriving" or "non-[purposeful ]action," by which one returns to a primitive state closer to the Tao, a stage of creative possibility symbolized by the child or an uncarved block. It also promotes a laissez-faire approach to government.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2005, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.



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