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Bernaldez, Ruel Benjamin M.

Lao Tzu and the Dao De Jing


The Shiji (Records of the Historian) by the Han dynasty court

historian Sima Qian offers a “biography” of Laozi. Its reliability has

been questioned, but it serves as a common point of departure for

scholarly debate. Lao literally means old, while Zi literally means

master.1 According to the Shiji Lao Tzu was a native of Chu which is

a southern state of the Zhou Dynasty. Lao Tzu’s birth is said, in the

most likely account of it, to have taken place in the third year of king

Ting of the Kau dynasty.2 His family name was Li, private name Er,

and posthumous name Dan.3 Lao Tzu became a curator in the royal

library and it was in that library where Lao Tzu met Kong Zi. Kong Zi

visited Lo-yang because he wants to ask Lao Tzu about the subject

of ceremonies. Lao Tzu was responsible for the Dao De Jing which is

a combination of philosophy, mysticism, political view, and military

view written in poetry form.4 Tao was adopted to denominate an

Co, Alfredo P. Philosophy of Ancient China, p. 132. University of Santo Tomas publishing house.
Muller, Max. The Sacred Books of the East volume 39. Oxford University Press.
Co, Alfredo P. Philosophy of Ancient China, p. 132. University of Santo Tomas publishing house.
ibid. p. 133
abstract cause, or the initial principle of life and order, to which

worshippers were able to assign the attributes of immateriality,

eternity, immensity, and invisibility.’5


The main focus of Lao Tzu was on nature and his learning was

devoted to self-effacement and not having fame. The term “Daoism”

is associated with assorted naturalistic or mystical religions. Lao Tzu

urges man to cease striving for things that are essentially temporary

and evanescent and to realize the wrongs and tyrannies of all that


Some says that Taoism was prior to Lao Tzu. According to the

Sacred Books of the East there was Taoism earlier than that of Lao

Tzu.7 The first translation of Dao De Jing into a western language

was executed in Latin by some of the Roman Catholic missionaries,

and a copy of it was brought to England.8 Tao is taken in the sense of

Ratio, or the Supreme Reason of the Divine being, the creator, and


Muller, Max. The Sacred Books of the East volume 39. Oxford University Press.
Co, Alfredo P. Philosophy of Ancient China, p. 137. University of Santo Tomas publishing house.
Muller, Max. The Sacred Books of the East volume 39. Oxford University Press.
ibid. p. 12
Tien is an important aspect for the Tao. The meaning of Tien can be

translated as the vaulted sky or the open firmament of heaven.

Heaven and earth are the two great constituents of the cosmos,

owing their origin from the Tao, and acting in harmony with the Tao.

For Taoism Tien is not considered as a noun rather it is considered

as an adjective. This means that Tien for the Tao is not a God. The

Tao of heaven means the Tao that is Heavenly, the course that is

quiet and undemonstrative, that is free from motive and effort, such

as is seen in the process of nature, grandly proceeding and

successful without any striving or crying. 10 When the Taoist wrote

about Tien they do not cogitate a personal God with them. On the

other hand we have the Tao of man which is contrary to the Tao of

heaven. The Tao of man shows will, purpose, effort, till, submitting to

it, it becomes the Tao or way of the sages which in all its action has

no striving.11 Taoism is acting without action and yet attracting all

honor is the way of heaven. The two should be distinguished from

another. Heaven takes its laws from the Tao.

Dao De Jing talked about non-being as the originator of heaven

and earth. The Tao cannot be named according to the Dao De Jing

Muller, Max. The Sacred Books of the East volume 39. Oxford University Press.
ibid. p. 16.
because it cannot be captured by humanly definitions. According to

the Dao De Jing we know things because of their opposites. It is said

in the Dao De Jing “being before and behind give the idea of one

following another.”12

The primary signification of the Tao is “road” because it appears as

the spontaneous operating cause of all movement in the phenomena

of the universe. Tao cannot be regarded as having a positive

existence; existences cannot be regarded as non-existent.13 Ku Hsi,

the prince of literature, describes the main object of Taoism to be ‘

the preservation of the breath of life’; and Liu Mi, probably of our

thirteenth century in his ‘ Dispassionate of the three Religions,’

declares that ‘its chief achievement is the prolongation of

longetivity.’14 Lao Tzu on the other hand insisted that the Tao is

conducive to long life.

Lao Tzu describes some other and kindred results of cultivating the

Tao in terms in which are sufficiently startling to us and which is

difficult to accept. Lao Tzu says that ‘he who is skilful in managing his

life travels on land without having to shun rhinoceros or tiger, and

enters a host without having to avoid buff coat or sharp weapon. The
Ibid. p. 48.
Ibid. p. 15
ibid. p. 23.
rhinoceros finds no place in him into which to thrust its horn, nor the

tiger a place in which to fix its claws, nor the weapon a place to admit

its point. Such assertions startles us because of their contrariety to

our observation or experience but so does most at the teaching of


In Lao Tzu’s sixty seventh chapter of the Dao De Jing he

emphasized to us his three Jewels. According to Lao Tzu his three

jewels are gentleness, Economy, and shrinking from taking

precedence of others. With that gentleness he says, ‘ I can be bold;

with that economy I can be liberal; shrinking from taking precedence

of others, I can be the vessel of the highest honor.’16 In Lao Tzu’s

sixty third chapter he rendered goodness from evil. Lao Tzu said to

act without acting, to conduct affairs without the trouble of them, to

taste without discerning any favor, to consider the small as great, and

the few as many, and to recompense injury with kindness.’ This

means that evil must not overcome you but rather you must

overcome evil by using goodness. Lao Tzu also said something about

the state in his Dao De Jing. In the sixty first chapter Lao Tzu said

that ‘ what makes a state great is its being like a low-lying, down

Ibid. p. 26
flowing stream; it becomes the center to which tend all under heaven.

Thus it is that a great state by condescending to small states, gains

them for itself; and that small states, by abasing themselves to a

great state, win it over to them. The abasement is tending to gaining

adherents in the other case the procuring favor. The great state only

wishes to unite men together and nourish them while a small state on

the other hand only wishes to be received by, and to serve, the other.

Each gets what they desire but the great state must learn to abase


Lao Tzu protested against war in his Dao De Jing. He said in

his thirty first chapter that ‘arms, however beautiful, are instruments of

evil omen; hateful, it may be said, to all creatures. They who have the

Tao do not like to employ them.’ Lao Tzu does not really mean that

there must be no war at all but rather Lao Tzu thinks that in waging a

war there must be a good reason for the state. That reason is to

defend itself from danger. Lao Tzu therefore allows defensive wars

only and excludes those that are offensive ones.

In the Dao De Jing it is said that if you embrace the way then

you will be on harmony. Lao Tzu defines harmony as ‘Bearing and

nurturing, Creating but not owning, Giving without demanding,

This is harmony.’ Lao Tzu said that the object of fear and hope is the

self because without the self disaster and fortune will not occur to

anything because they only occur at the self. Lao Tzu commented

about the rulers and he said that the best rulers are scarcely known

by their subjects. If the rulers have no faith with the people then the

people will be unfaithful to the ruler too. The ruler must not forget the

people because they are an important part of the state. this passage

of Lao Tzu can be compared on the three parts of the state of Meng

Zi. It is also said in there that the people is an important part of the


Lao Tzu said in the eighteenth chapter that when the way is

forgotten hypocrisy emerges. In order to escape hypocrisy one must

therefore practice the way. Simplicity is an important factor for

Taoism. Lao Tzu emphasized that we must submit ourselves to

nature. He writes in his nineteenth chapter that If we could renounce

our sageness and discard our wisdom, it would be better for the

people a hundredfold. If we could renounce our benevolence and

discard our righteousness, the people would again become filial and

kindly. If we could renounce our artful contrivances and discard our

(scheming for) gain, there would be no thieves or robbers.

The word for Lao Tzu is only permanent and that he compared

the words of man to the words of nature. Lao Tzu said that Nature

says only a few words: High wind does not last long, Nor does heavy

rain. If nature's words do not last Why should those of man? That is

the reason why Lao Tzu said that the Tao cannot be named because

for the fact that words of man are finite but the Tao is not. Lao Tzu

commented about violence and army. Lao said about violence that it

will return to the person. Violence will someday return to the person

who committed it. It is said in the thirtieth chapter of the Dao De Jing

‘Powerful men are well advised not to use violence, For violence has

a habit of returning; Thorns and weeds grow wherever an army goes,

And lean years follow a great war.’ Armies are the compliment of

violence for Lao Tzu because he believes that armies are tools of

violence. The purpose of armies according to Lao Tzu is destruction.

If there is violence of course there must be peace, Lao Tzu also

talked about peace in the Dao De Jing. It is said in the thirty-fifth

chapter that ‘if you accord with the Way All the people of the world

will keep you in safety, health, community, and peace.’

There is a very interesting chapter in the Dao De Jing that is

about knowing. It is said that you will know more if you do not go

outside. And it is said that the more you experience, the less you

know. It is said in chapter forty seven that ‘The sage wanders without

knowing, sees without looking, and accomplishes without acting. Lao

said that man even he does nothing he accomplishes everything in

which nothing remains undone. According to Lao Tzu you can

conquer man by doing nothing or by inaction. Chapter fifty seven

states that ‘Do not control the people with laws, Nor violence nor

espionage, but conquer them with inaction.’ He is trying to tell us that

the more laws we have the more problem we encounter it is here

where the simplicity of Lao Tzu enters into action. The government

for Lao Tzu must be a simple government he states that ‘The more

laws and taxes there are, the more theft corrupts people.’ According

to Lao Tzu the large state and the small state must both submit to

each other. He said in the sixty first chapter that ‘It is in the interest of

a large country to unite and gain service, And in the interest of a

small country to unite and gain patronage; If both would serve their

interests, Both must submit.’

According to Lao Tzu Compassion is the finest weapon and

best defense. If you would establish harmony, Compassion must

surround you like a fortress. If you have compassion you can win the

cooperation of the people. A person must recognize his own limitation

and not pretend that he has no limitations at all. Because those who

accept their limitations are a good person but those who do not

accept their own limitations are a sick person. Lao Tzu also talked

about rebellion and how to prevent it. If you do not want rebellion to

happen in your state then you must treat your people with respect.

Does rulers that are selfish and kills their subjects are the ones who

are being overthrown by the people.

Lao Tzu has a conception of utopia in the Dao De Jing. He says

that it is better that your society is just small and with only few people.

The people must not be dependent on their tools, they must also

appreciate their lives and be contended with what they have.

Simplicity is utopia for Lao Tzu and no other else.

The Dao De Jing contains many events in the human life. No

wonder that it is a very famous selection in ancient China and up to

the present time. There are many things that one can learn in the Dao

De Jing. Morality, politics and social life are all together engraved in

this marvelous classic of Chinese selection. Lao Tzu may not exist or

may exist at all but the fact remains that the Dao De Jing is a great

selection of poetry that can be related to every aspect of our lives.

Nature is the end of all things and nothing is more important but

nature alone. The pursuit for knowledge and development makes

man corrupt. To avoid being corrupt he must submit himself to nature

and that is the way of the Dao.

1. Muller, Max. The Sacred Books of the East volume 39. Oxford

University Press.

2. Co, Alfredo P. Philosophy of Ancient China. University of Santo

Tomas publishing house.

3. Kaltenmark, Max. Lao Tzu and Taoism.

4. Jaspers, Karl. Anaximander, Heraclitus, Parmenides, Plotinus,

Lao-Tzu, Nagarjuna.