Lao Tzu Philosophy

Records about Lao-tzu’s philosophy may be found in several sources:
Lao Tzu statue1. Ssu-ma Ch’ien’s Historical Records. The historian wrote only very few things about the thinking of Lao Tzu, mainly consisting in his urge to keep a low profile and retire from the public life.

2. Tao Te Ching – Lao Tzu’s book – contains his basic concepts such as Tao, nondoing (wu-wei), emptiness (wu) and return (fu). Therefore, if you want to study Lao Tzu’s thought, you must first start from his own book.

3. Finally we find a lot about Lao Tzu’s philosophy in the work of Chuang Tzu, his famous disciple. His book is in many ways a compilation of Tao Te Ching and a further development of its ideas.

The following is a short dialogue from Chuang Tzu where Lao Tzu talks about the features of a Pure or Perfect Man (chen jen):

Lao Tzu: “The Perfect man, along with other men, gets his food from the earth, and derives his joy from his Heaven (conferred nature). But he does not like them allow himself to be troubled by the consideration of advantage or injury coming from men and things; he does not like them do strange things, or form plans, or enter on undertakings; he flees from the allurements of desire, and pursues his way with an entire simplicity. Such is the way by which he guards his life.”

Question: “And is this what constitutes his perfection?”

Lao Tzu: “Not quite. I asked you whether you could become a little child. The little child moves unconscious of what he is doing, and walks unconscious of whither he is going. His body is like the branch of a rotten tree, and his mind is like slaked lime. Being such, misery does not come to him, nor happiness. It has neither misery nor happiness; – how can he suffer from the calamities incident to men?

(James Legge translation)