The Story of Confucius and Lao Tzu

Cheryl Guess
Cheryl Guess

In the time of Confucius there lived a man who in many respects was just his opposite, an antithesis to just about everything that Confucius taught. Yet he too was wise. To feel the contradiction between these two great sages, consider the following famous story about a meeting between Confucius and Lao Tzu that supposedly took place in Chu (present day Honan), a province in the South China.

Lao Tzu was a little-known teacher-priest. He had gotten into trouble with the authorities for teaching the Yin people, who lived under the suppressive authority of the ruling people of Chou, the method of “inaction” as a way of becoming free. Lao Tzu happened to be the custodian of old documents that Confucius, who was working hard at the time trying to promote the disintegrating culture of the Chou people, went to consult about certain rituals. Lao Tzu was an old man at the time. Confucius was 20 or 30 years younger. Lao Tzu means “the old guy.” Nobody knew his real name and he simply went by that. Supposedly, the topic of morality came up.

Confucius was someone who, as you can quickly gather from the passages from his Analects, talked a great deal about how to become a superior human being. He taught us how to attain moral excellence and virtue through cultivating correct principles of action to which one must always be true, to follow rules from which one must never veer… Lao Tzu, on the other hand, taught just the opposite: “If you are immoral,” he supposedly said to Confucius, “only then the question of morality arises. And if you don’t have any character, only then you think about character. A man of character is absolutely oblivious to the fact that anything like character exists. A man of morality does not know what the word ‘moral’ means. So don’t be foolish! And don’t try to cultivate. Just be natural.” The analogy of this story is do you listen to the world to determine what is right and wrong? Or do you listen to the beautiful intuition that is the Spirit within you?

Spirit always knows the Truth, so sometimes what the world says is wrong, your intuition knows is right. Trust yourself. Examine your beliefs. And decide what is right for your life.

Namaste

Excerpt from: The Lovers of Wisdom: An Introduction to Philosophy with Integrated Readings; Daniel Kolak; Second Edition; Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, Belmont, CA; page 25

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