What World Religions Teach

By E. G. Parrinder | Go to book overview

Chapter 9
LAO TSE AND THE WAY

Taoism (pronounced Dowism) is the most distinctive Chinese contribution to the religious thought of mankind. Although its early history is obscure, and its later developments often magical and degenerate, yet its classical writings are of abiding value and are still treasured by many people.


LAO TSE

For over two thousand years the name of Lao Tse has been associated with the chief classic of Taoism, and he has often been hailed as one of the world's great religious teachers, from the golden sixth century B.C. Yet today many scholars question all the stories of the traditional life of Lao Tse, and some doubt whether he ever existed. In fact it is not the man but the book that is important. However, something may be said of the traditions of his life.

Lao Tse means 'Old Master,' Master Lao, and this notion of his great age is reflected in the legends. He is said to have been born in 604 B.C. and to have lived 160 years or more; but before that he is believed to have spent sixty years in his mother's womb. So at birth his hair was already white, and he was saluted as "Old Master." Be that as it may, Lao Tse is said to have been an archivist at the court of Chou and to have met Confucius several times. These stories are obvious inventions of Taoists who were opposed to Confucianists. Lao Tse told Confucius, "Abandon your arrogant ways and your countless desires," and Confucius went away saying, "Today I have seen Lao Tse and can only liken him to a dragon." This is unfair and unlikely.

Towards the end of his life Lao Tse set out for the mysterious

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