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Collier's New Encyclopedia (1921)/Lâo-tsze

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LÂO-TSZE (lä-o-tsā′), a celebrated philosopher of China; generally reputed to have been the founder of Tâoism; which at the present day shares the allegiance of the Chinese with Confucianism and Buddhism under the appellation of San Chiào, born probably in 604 B. C. He was curator of the royal library in the capital city of Loh, not far from the present city of Loh-yang in Ho-nan. The designation Lâo-tsze means the “old philosopher.” Nothing certain can be said of the length of Lao's life. Szema-Ch'ien, the historian of ancient China, tells us that he cultivated “the Tâo and its characteristics,” his chief aim being to keep himself unknown; that he resided long at the capital, and then seeing the decay of the dynasty of Châu went away to the gate which led out of the royal domain toward the regions of the N. W.; that there he was recognized by Yin Hsi, the keeper of the gate, the place of which is shown in the present Shan Châu of Ho-nan, and was prevailed on to write out for him the treatise called the “Tâo Teh King,” which has come down to us as the only record of his teaching. It is not easy, however, to say what he meant by his Tâo. “It was the originator of heaven and earth: it is the mother of all things.” At the same time it is not a personal being. “It might appear,” he says, “to have been before God.” “It gave,” says Chwang-tsze, the ablest of all Lâo's followers, “their mysterious existence to spirits and to God (or to gods).” The character Tâo properly means “path,” “course,” or “way”; and it is in this sense that Lâo uses it. His “great way” is but a metaphorical expression for the way in which things came at first into being out of the primal nothingness. Of the same kind should be the influence of the Tâo in the conduct of individuals and of government. The secret of good government is to let men alone. The appeal to arms is hateful. All learning is injurious. The wisdom of men defeats its own ends. Tâo works by contraries, and the secret of its strength is its weakness. In many of these teachings Lao-tsze may seem to be only a visionary dreamer, but he enunciates many lessons of a very high morality. Its fundamental quality is humility. He even rises to the greatest of all moral principles, the returning of good for evil, and enunciates “recompensing injury with kindness.” He nowhere speaks clearly of the state of man after death.