He was a philosopher and a poet and a lover and a man and a god. Born in the Zhou Dynasty, it's difficult to know who or what Lao Tzu or Laozi or Lao Dan or Boyang exactly was, but it's very plain to see the impact his words have had - simply read them to understand them.
"Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage."
"Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them - that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like."
"Silence is a source of great strength."
"If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading."
"A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving."
"Fill your bowl to the brim and it will spill. Keep sharpening your knife and it will be blunt."
"If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present."
Many scholars have likened him to an all encompassing mythic figure pushing the teachings and words of Taoism. His famed work Tao Teh Ching has been believed by many scholars to be more of a compilation, a work drafted by many different hands. Perhaps, the many different hands make this man, Lao Tzu…perhaps, the many different hands have helped to sculpt this man into a god. Immortal. Wise beyond the confines of one man. The deity of a religion. The teacher of a thought. It's much more romantic to think that a single man, a mortal with with such wisdom and enlightenment lived…it's much more beautiful to think that one man dreamt with such vision and wrote with such pulse…rather than a group of people working together to construct a myth. It's much simpler that way, to be believe it was a single mortal…That's what he preached, to live life simply.
It's said that Lao Tzu was chiefly a combination of three different men. The first was a man named Li Erh or Li Tan, from the Chinese imperial capital, Loyang. This man was a contemporary of the Chinese Philosopher Confuscius (559-471 BCE) and it is written that Confucius came to Loyang to learn from Li Tan the ancient Zhou ritual.
The second man was a man called Lao Lai Tzu, and he has also been credited as the founder of Taoism. He is credited with a fifteen-chapter book explaining the teachings of the Taoist School. He was the same age as Confucius. Nothing more is known about this man.
The third man…the third Lao Tzu lived one-hundred and twenty nine years after the death of Confucius. This third man was called Tan and served as the historian of the Zhou Dynasty.
Confucius is a common thread between the three of these men…the three Lao Tzus. It seems that there it never one man who embodied the legendary Lao Tzu, the legendary philosopher, the contemporary of Confucius, the adversary, the enlightened, and the man whom Confucius looked to for advice and wisdom and counsel. It seems that Lao Tzu is but a name and a myth…a name that adds legitimacy to any scattered thought.
Lao Tzu operated much the same way that the Dred Pirate Roberts did. The Dred Pirate Roberts was not one man, rather he was many different men…it was the name that held the power, it was not the man behind the name. It was passed down through generations, fanning the flames of fear as it went, stacking the logs of legend. Lao Tzu did the same, and probably better…it was an outlet for rogue thoughts of brilliance to be remembered for a lifetime. It's amazing that these thoughts and these ideas are still relevant, or at least still available today. Lao Tzu will always live on, and we will always wonder who this man was…who was Lao Tzu?
Hard to say, but he's still around today.