81 Chapter Translations & Interpretations

Lao Tsu

According to legend Lao Tsu, a mystic philosopher in 6th century BCE of ancient China was keeper of the archives at the imperial court. Saddened and disillusioned that citizens were unwilling to follow the path to natural goodness, when he was 80 years old he set out for the western border of China, towards Tibet.

At the border (Hank Pass), a guard, Yin Xi (Yin Hsi), asked Lao Tsu to record his teachings before he left. For three days Lao Tsu composed a book of all his wisdom in 5,000 characters and 81 Chapters now called the Tao Te Ching (The Way and Its Power). Afterwards he disappeared into the wilderness and was never seen again.

Lao Tsu spellings have many variations: Laozi, 老子; Lǎozǐ; Lao Tse, Lao Tu, Lao-Tzu, Lao-Tsu, Laotze, Laosi, Lao Zi, and Laocius. Lao means “venerable” or “old”. Zi, or tzu, means “master”. Zi was used in ancient China like a social prefix, indicating “Master”

Some scholars believe he was a slightly older contemporary of Confucius (Kung-Fu Tzu, born Chiu Chung-Ni). Other scholars feel that the Tao Te Ching is really a compilation of paradoxical poems written by several Taoists using the pen-name, Lao Tsu. There is also a close association between Lao Tsu and the legendary Yellow Emperor, Huang-ti. His association with the Tao Te Ching has led him to be traditionally considered the founder of Taoism (also spelled “Daoism”). He is also revered as a deity in most religious forms of the Taoist religion, which often refers to Laozi as Taishang Laojun, or “One of the Three Pure Ones”. Laozi translated literally from Chinese means “old master” or “old one.”

He was a native of Ch’u, a large state situated in the lower Yangtze valley. There was no exact date of his birth, but it is know that he was an older contemporary (some assume 50 years older) of Confucius (551-479 B.C.). Lao Tsu lived mostly in Loyang, then capital of China. Tradition states that Lao Tsu was married and had a son called Tsung, who became a well-known soldier. Lao Tsu never started a proper school, but students came to him and he ended with a fair number of loyal disciples.

In a historic event described as “the meeting of two giants,” Confucius asked Lao Tsu in detail on his rituals. Confucius asked Lao Tsu, “Please instruct me on the proper rites for behavior” Lao Tsu answered, “A person may have all the outward appearances of a gentleman when times are good. But if he encounters hard times, will drift like the wind. A true gentleman hides his wealth; the man of superior virtue has the outward appearance of a fool! Throw away your arrogant rituals! None of them have any relevance to our true self. That is my advice to you!” Confucius was impressed. He said, “The dragon is beyond my knowledge; it ascends into the heaven on the cloud and the wind. Today I have seen Lao Tsu and he is like a dragon!”

Search through all chapters to find a copy for yourself or you can find various translations we recommend here.

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