The figure of Lao Tzu is perhaps the most obscure of all religious figures. It is interesting that almost nothing is known about this man, whose book ranks fifth in the world in terms of the number of sales, in honor of whom temples are still erected, considering the founder of Taoism. Except for one thing - he was the author of the book "Tao Te Ching" and lived in Ancient China.
By the way, the title of this book is still more logical to translate as "The Book of Comprehending the Basis of All Things", although it is usually translated as "The Book of the Way and Virtue." However, let's talk about everything in order.
Recent research by linguists has proven that this book was written by one person. However, who he was, where he lived, and, most importantly, what his name was - is still a mystery. Because Lao Tzu is not a name, but a literary pseudonym, which can be translated either as "Wise (aged) child" or as "Mentor child." In ancient China, it was customary to sign any literary works not with your real name, but with a pseudonym. And you understand that anyone could hide behind such a nickname - an official, a hermit, a merchant, an educated peasant and even a ruler of the kingdom. As for, let's say, the non-standard of the pseudonym, then, it should be noted, by the standards of that era, it was not so exotic - what are, for example, “Mr.
There is only one sufficiently intelligible biography of the alleged Lao Tzu, which was recorded by the famous Chinese historian Sima Qian. According to her, the future author of "Tao Te Ching" was born sometime in 604 BC into the family of a landowner from the Quiren village of Li County, Ku County, Chu Kingdom (this is not far from modern Beijing). Nothing is reported about his parents, but it is known that his father's last name was Lee. At first the boy was named Li Er (that is, "the firstborn of the Li family"), but later he changed his name to Li Bo Yan (changing his name when he came of age in China was then commonplace).
According to the legend, cited by the historian, Li Er was unusual in that he was in his mother's womb for 80 years, that is, by the time of birth he was already an old man. Probably, this legend arose due to the literal explanation of the pseudonym of the future philosopher, since, you yourself understand, this is unlikely. The historian does not mention anything about Li Era's childhood and adolescence, but reports that he later served at the court of the ruler of the Zhou kingdom (in Central China, the capital city of Luoyang) as an archive manager (already under the name of Li Bo Yan).
After some time, the service at the court bored Li Bo Yan, and he left the court and settled in the mountains in the middle reaches of the Yellow River. It was then that he met with Confucius, which is described in the treatise Chuang Zhou "Chuang Tzu". According to the author of this work, the great sage, having had a little conversation with the careless hermit, was surprised at his wisdom and then told his disciples that today: “he saw a dragon, but not a man” (this should be regarded as a compliment, since a dragon in China was symbol of the deepest comprehension of the whole essence of the universe). However, Sima Qian doubts that this meeting actually happened. The fact is that there is not a word about her in the writings of Confucius and the writings of his students,and the great sage usually mentioned all the unusual meetings on the pages of his works (the treatise "Chuang Tzu" was written only three hundred years after the alleged event, so it cannot be considered a reliable source).
Soon after, Li Bo Yan decided to leave his place of seclusion and go on a journey. When he rode his old buffalo to the last outpost in the Hangu border region (the territory of modern Henan province, northeastern China), the head of this post, Yin Xi (also known as Guan Yin-tzu) asked the philosopher where he was going. Li Bo Yan replied that he was heading out of the country to the West. It was then that the border guard recognized him as the great sage of the Celestial Empire, and asked the venerable Li to leave China at least a piece of his wisdom. The philosopher agreed and overnight wrote a text of five thousand characters (in fact, there are 5467 there), signing Lao Tzu. Then he said goodbye to the head of the outpost and left in an unknown direction. Since then, nothing else has been heard of him.
So, here is one of the versions of the biography of the great Lao Tzu. It is interesting that Sima Qian himself believes that, perhaps, another person could have been the author of the Tao Te Ching, for example, a contemporary of Confucius, the scholar Lao Lai Tzu, or the Zhou statesman Lao Dan, about whom it is known that he visited the Qin ruler Xian -guna 129 years after the death of Confucius. The historian does not give any additional details about these people, however, he points out that both were chiefs of archives, like Li Bo Yan.
So, as you can see, there is not a lot of facts in all cases. However, this does not mean that Lao Tzu's biography cannot be reconstructed. I invite you to take up the matter right now, using as a basis the story of Li Bo Yan, which seems to be the most complete.
The kingdom of Chu, in which the future philosopher was born, at that time had not yet declared itself as a powerful political union, and was a provincial backwater. The fact that Li Er left his homeland and went to seek his fortune in Luoyang speaks of his intelligence, education (an illiterate then had nothing to do in the cultural capital of China) and ambition. This man clearly could not find application for his abilities in his homeland, however, spending the whole century in the family estate did not seem to him an enviable fate either. Well, since he was educated, then, probably, his parents were rich, because in those days there were no public schools yet, and individual lessons with a teacher were very expensive.
The fact that he became the chief of archives speaks of a very successful career at court. In those days, this was a very important position - the official occupying it was not just a court librarian, he also performed the function of a censor, and not only of works of art, but also of laws, decrees of rulers and historical chronicles.
The chiefs of archives were among those who could enter the ruler without a report. So, as you can see, Li Bo Yang was a very important person.
It is logical to assume that at that time the life of Lao Tzu was typical for a court official, and it included participation in social receptions, and parties in the circle of "golden youth", and poetic and philosophical disputes, and hunting, and visiting "cheerful houses", which in ancient China were a hybrid of a brothel and a theater. According to later sources, Li Bo Yan was married, he had a son named Zong, who later became a famous commander. Apparently, then the philosopher was rich and did not need anything.
In addition, Li Bo Yang was apparently a talented poet. His book speaks about it - if you read "Tao Te Ching" in the original language (and the author of these lines did it), then it becomes clear that it is a magnificent poem. Her language is very rich and metaphorical, her poems have a clear rhythm, the lines are rhymed very elegantly - this is hardly within the power of someone who does not have poetic talent at all. The book also testifies that the author was well acquainted with oral folk legends, ancient annals and contemporary philosophical treatises, since he quotes them quite naturally. That is, it is also another evidence of the mind and education of Lao Tzu
What made him leave his post at an age that is very far from advanced? Most likely, palace intrigues and intrigues of enemies. However, apparently, he was not a hermit, since he did not lose touch with the court. Otherwise, how could Confucius find Lao Tzu among the mountains, because there was no GPS then, and there were no guidebooks with the addresses of residence of famous philosophers either.
In addition, the philosopher did not go on his last journey on foot, but in a cart, which was carried by a buffalo. The late notions that he was riding his four-legged friend, based on several miniatures, are erroneous - you must admit that the back of a buffalo is not the most convenient way for an elderly official to travel. But a cart with a buffalo in those days was not cheap, and only rich people could afford it.
So where was Lao Tzu heading? Some modern esotericists interpret his words that he is going to the West literally, they believe that he decided to visit Tibet, India and, possibly, Persia. However, Lao Tzu hardly wanted this. Rather, he simply expressed himself allegorically - in the West, according to the ideas of the Chinese, there is a country where a person goes after death. So this phrase, apparently, should be understood as: "I am going home to die." In addition, the Hangu outpost, as mentioned above, was located in the northeast of China - why go west through the northeast, moreover, in a desert area. But it is quite easy to get to the Chu kingdom from Zhou through it.
So, Lao Tzu, having written his book, mysteriously disappeared into the whirlpool of Chinese history. And what is the story of his treatise, which the adherents of Taoism consider their sacred scripture? This is not so easy to explain, since the Tao Te Ching is a very multifaceted work. I can only state my point of view - the main idea of this book is that a person should not obey the will of circumstances, but always remain himself. Only then will he be able to find harmony with the world and achieve supreme bliss.
Reading the lines of the Tao Te Ching, you begin to understand that this book was written by someone who is not by hearsay familiar with court life. The author of the treatises is familiar with intrigues, careerism and behind-the-scenes struggle - however, he considers all this to be just an unnecessary fuss. It is not needed, because the person himself initially has everything that he needs for happiness. And if a person prefers “non-action” to action, and the inner one to the outer one, then he will be able to merge with the great Tao, “the basis of all things,” that is, to see his real “I”, without which happiness is impossible.
Perhaps that is why The Book of the Way and Virtue is still very popular all over the world. It has been translated into 250 languages, second only to the Bible on this list. Everyone who is busy looking for their "I" must have read it at least once, and thought about the questions that the mysterious philosopher-intellectual from Ancient China, the mysterious Teacher-child asks the readers.
With regard to Taoism, then as a religion, this philosophical trend took shape only in the II century AD, that is, five hundred years after the writing of the Tao Te Ching. It is interesting that Lao Tzu is revered by Taoists not only as a founder, but also as a deity Lao Jun, who occupies the second place in the heavenly hierarchy after the Lord of the world, the Jade Emperor. However, this does not mean at all that the philosopher was deified over time - the cult of Lao Jun was known in China three hundred years before his birth. It's just that Lao Tzu is considered one of the earthly incarnations of this deity. And by the way, according to the ideas of the adherents of Taoism, he promised to visit our world again. But when is unknown …