Thursday, December 31, 2009

Lao Who?

I've spent the better part of the last 6 months or so sharing passages and offering commentary -- both my own and from others -- of the mythic father of philosophical Taoism, Lao Tzu. I've also shared with you all my opinion that Lao Tzu probably never existed. In response to a recent post, The Crow had this to say on this overall subject:
Can you see the absurdity, though, of dedicating an entire blog to the writings of a man who you believe never existed, and who probably didn't write them?

Absurdity isn't quite the right word.
Python-esque might be better.
The very nature of the blog is an exercise in abstraction...

"The man we are here to discuss, didn't actually exist, and so the words we are discussing don't exist either. But we will discuss them anyway, as if he did exist, and as if he did write them."
To my way of thinking, it's really immaterial who wrote most or all of the Tao Te Ching, Hua Hu Ching and Wen Tzu! Supposedly, each represents the thoughts of a man named Lao Tzu. However, that moniker doesn't tell us much of anything since it often is translated to mean "Old Master Lao". That's about as nondescript as suggesting some ancient work was written by someone named John, James or Bartholomew.

What is far more likely is that the works attributed to this legendary figure represent a generalized school of thought developed by many people over many generations. As is not uncommon in the annals of history, a myth was created to merge these congruent ideas together into a belief system. As more information was added to the overall school of thought, it provided the authors with a better sense of legitimacy by ascribing it to the mythic founder.

Consequently, whenever I write I believe that Lao Tzu's point is this or his main focus is that, I don't mean so literally. If nothing else, it's a form of shorthand. I'm merely trying to highlight a specific idea that I feel is congruent with this overall school of thought.

For me, deciding whether Lao Tzu ever walked the earth or he is solely a mythic figure is silly. The point cannot be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt one way or the other. What matters to me are the ideas that congealed over several centuries in antiquity and still find much resonance today.

So, I will continue over the next month or two to focus on the words ascribed to Lao Tzu -- whether or not a solitary person by that name ever existed at all.


  1. I've been enjoying watching my Christmas present, DVDs of the AMC series, Mad Men, about advertising in ~1960. (Boomer nostalgia and I have a connection with the industry.)

    In one scene, an uppity young account executive wants to bring down the creative director (whose identity is questionable) in the eyes of the agency head.

    "He's not who he says he is," the AE says indignantly.

    The old exec just smirks and says, "So what."

    He recognized that the value of the creative director was in what he accomplished, not who he is, and that people's attention span is short anyway.

    Lao Tzu, the creative director of Taoism...

  2. Lol :)
    See what I meant by "Python-esque" ?
    Great post, RT.
    Good shot, BR.

  3. Good luck with your research! It was really nice to read this story here.

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