Szuma Ch’ien is the main source for our knowledge about Lao-Tzu. According to his account, Lao-Tzu was the curator of the Royal Library of Chou and, disgusted by the ineptitude and cruelty of the politicians of the time, and the endless suffering of the people, resolved to leave China completely and find a place of peace and solitude.
On his way through the western pass of the frontier, he encountered the gate-keeper, Yin Hsi, who said to him, “So you are going into retirement. I beg you to write a book for me.” Lao-Tzu promptly sat down, wrote the Tao-Te-Ching, handed it to Yin Hsi, and walked on through the pass, disappearing into the mists. THE TAO-TE-CHINGThe Tao-Te-Ching (Book of the Way) is an anti-intellectual, anti-authoritarian treatise which posits that the way of virtue lies in simplicity and a recognition of a natural, universal force known as the Tao.
“When we renounce learning we have no troubles…The ancients who showed their skill in practising the Tao did so not to enlighten people, but to make them simple and ignorant.” By `ignorant’ Lao-Tzu did not mean uninformed but, rather, purposefully focused on the present rather than accumulating knowledge which leads to idle speculation and complications in one’s own life and in the larger community.
The intellectual man is a danger to the state because he thinks in terms of regulations and laws; he wishes to construct a society like geometry, and does not realize that such regulation destroys the living freedom and vigor of the parts. The simpler man, who knows from his own experience the pleasure and efficacy of work, conceived and carried out in liberty, is less of a peril when he is in power, for he does not have to be told that a law is a dangerous thing, and may injure more than it may help. Such a ruler regulates men as little as possible. (654)
TAOISM According to Taoism, all human beings are naturally good but are corrupted by law and an incorrect belief in how they are supposed to behave in society. If one observes the Tao, and submits to the natural flow of energy in the universe, one will be at peace.
Resistance to the Tao is exemplified through the creation of laws which keep people from behaving in accordance with their natures which, if left unregulated and unrestricted, would tend toward goodness and peace. Lao-Tzu maintained, as did Teng Shih (his contemporary or elder), that people behaved badly because they were forced to through poor government and unjust laws.
If you do not quarrel, no one on earth will be able to quarrel with you. Recompense injury with kindness. To those who are good I am good, and to those who are not good I am also good; thus all get to be good. To those who are sincere I am sincere, and to those who are not sincere I am also sincere; and thus all get to be sincere…The softest thing in the world dashes against and overcomes the hardest. There is nothing in the world softer or weaker than water, and yet for attacking things that are firm and strong there is nothing that can take precedence of it. This path of passive influence is most clearly articulated in one of the most famous passages of the Tao-Te-Ching:“Yield and overcome, Empty and become full, Bend and become straight.”