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Lao Tzu (老子)

Chinese. ‘Old Master’ or ‘old child’. An influential Chinese philosopher in the 4th century BC, founder of Taoism and author of the Tao-te Ching. His name refers to his birth, in which he –according to legend- emerged as a full-grown man, with white hair and a full grey beard. Little is known about the life of Lao Tzu. In legend, it is said that he was conceived when his mother gazed upon a falling star and he stayed in his mother's womb where he matured for several decades (compare with Phra Siwalih). His mother eventually gave birth to a full-grown man, whilst leaning against a plum tree. Tradition says he was born in Ku Xian (苦縣), a prefecture of the state of Chu (楚), today's Luyi County (鹿邑) of the province of Henan (河南), ‘South of the Yellow River’. Some biographies claim that Lao Tzu was a contemporary of Confucius and worked as keeper of the archives in the Imperial Library of the royal court of the Zhou Dynasty (周朝), where he supposedly met with Confucius, but modern scholars place him centuries later. Lao Tzu is said to have married and had a son who was a renowned soldier. His philosophy distinguishes knowledge from wisdom and promotes simplicity, integrity, compassion and modesty. He believed that it was better to adapt oneself spontaneously to the circumstances of life, rather than to worry, to force or to try to get hold on things, claiming that acts without striving will keep things in balance, like reed bending in the wind. Although he never opened a formal school he attracted a large number of loyal apprentices and disciples, and many contacted him for his advice. Traditional accounts state that Lao Tzu grew weary of the moral decay of the kingdom and at the age of 160, he ventured West on his water buffalo through the state of Qin (秦), where he disappeared into the vast desert, leaving China (fig.) and starting his secluded life as a hermit. In this period of his life he allegedly wrote his book, the Tao-te Ching, a record of his wisdom said to be produced on the request of a guard at the westernmost gate of the kingdom. In some versions of the tale, the guard was so impressed by Lao Tzu that he leaves his post to accompany the old master on his journey and was never seen again. In his deified form, he is referred to as Lao Jun (fig.). Lao Tzu is also transcribed Lao Zi.