The primary religious figures in Taoism (dào jiào 道教) are Lao–Tzu (lǎo zǐ 老子) and Chuang-Tzu (zhuāng zǐ 庄子), two scholars who dedicated their lives two balancing their inner spirits. Classical Taoist philosophy (dào jiā zhé xué 道家哲学), formulated by Lao-Tzu (the Old Master, 5th century B.C.), the anonymous editor of the Daodejing (Classic of the Way and its Power dào dé jīng 道德经), and Chuang-Tzu (3rd century B.C.), was a reinterpretation and development of an ancient nameless tradition of nature worship and divination.
Lao-Tzu and Chuang-Tzu, living at a time of social disorder and great religious skepticism, developed the notion of the Dao (Tao – way, or path dào 道) as the origin of all creation and the force, unknowable in its essence but observable in its manifestations, that lies behind the functioning’s and changes of the natural world. They saw in Dao and nature the basis of a spiritual approach to living. This, they believed, was the answer to the burning issue of the day: what is the basis of a stable, unified, and enduring social order?
The order and harmony of nature, they said, was far more stable and enduring than either the power of the state or the civilized institutions constructed by human learning. Healthy human life could flourish only in accord with Dao which is a natural, simple, and free-and-easy approach to life. The early Taoists taught the art of living and surviving by conforming to the natural way of things; they called their approach to action wu wei (no-action wú wéi 无为), action modeled on nature.
Their sages were wise, but not in the way the Confucian teacher was wise, learned and a moral paragon. Chuang-Tzu’s sages were often artisans, butchers or woodcarvers. The lowly artisans understood the secret of art and the art of living. To be skillful and creative, they had to have inner spiritual concentration and put aside concern with externals, such as monetary rewards, fame, and praise. Art, like life, followed the creative path of nature, not the values of human society.
Lao-Tzu and Chuang-Tzu had reinterpreted the ancient nature worship and esoteric arts, but they crept back into the tradition as ways of using knowledge of the Dao to enhance and prolong life.
Lao-Tzu was a philosopher of ancient China and is a central figure in Taoism (also spelled “Daoism”). Lao-Tzu literally means “Old Master” and is generally considered an honorific. Lao-Tzu is revered as a god in religious forms of Taoism. According to Chinese tradition, Lao-Tzu lived in the 6th century BC. Historians variously contend that Lao-Tzu is a synthesis of multiple historical figures, that he is a mythical figure, or that he actually lived in the 4th century BC, concurrent with the Hundred Schools of Thought (bǎi jiā zhēng míng 百家争鸣) and Warring States Period (zhàn guó shí qī 战国时期). A central figure in Chinese culture, both nobility and common people claim Lao-Tzu in their lineage. Throughout history, Lao-Tzu’s work was embraced by various anti-authoritarian movements.
Lao-Tzu’s magnum opus, the Daodejing, is one of the most significant treatises in Chinese cosmogony. As with most other ancient Chinese philosophers, Lao-Tzu often explains his ideas by way of paradox, analogy, appropriation of ancient sayings, repetition, symmetry, rhyme, and rhythm.
The Daodejing, often called simply the Lao-Tzu after its reputed author, describes the Dao (or Tao) as the mystical source and ideal of all existence: it is unseen, but not transcendent, immensely powerful yet supremely humble, being the root of all things. The Tao Te Ching, or Daodejing, is widely considered to be the most influential Taoist text. It is a foundational scripture of central importance in Taoism. It has been used as a ritual text throughout the history of religious Taoism.
The opening verse, with literal translation, is:
The Tao that can be trodden is not the enduring and unchanging Tao.
The name that can be named is not the enduring and unchanging name.
(Conceived of as) having no name, it is the Originator of heaven and earth;
(Conceived of as) having a name, it is the Mother of all things.
Always without desire we must be found,
If its deep mystery we would sound;
But if desire always within us be,
Its outer fringe is all that we shall see.
Under these two aspects, it is really the same; but as development takes place,
it receives the different names.
Together we call them the Mystery.
Where the Mystery is the deepest is the gate of all that is subtle and wonderful.
Tao literally means “path” or “way” and can figuratively mean “essential nature”, “destiny”, “principle”, or “true path”. The philosophical and religious “Tao” is infinite, without limitation. One view states that the paradoxical opening is intended to prepare the reader for teachings about the unteachable Tao. Tao is believed to be transcendent, indistinct and without form. Hence, it cannot be named or categorized. Even the word “Tao” can be considered a dangerous temptation to make Tao a limiting “name”.
According to the Daodejing, humans have no special place within the Dao, being just one of its many (“ten thousand”) manifestations. People have desires and free will (and thus are able to alter their own nature). Many act “unnaturally”, upsetting the natural balance of the Dao. The Daodejing intends to lead students to a “return” to their natural state, in harmony with Dao. Language and conventional wisdom are critically assessed. Taoism views them as inherently biased and artificial, widely using paradoxes to sharpen the point.
Here is a famous verse:
All in the world know the beauty of the beautiful,
and in doing this they have (the idea of) what ugliness is;
they all know the skill of the skilful,
and in doing this they have (the idea of) what the want of skill is.
So it is that existence and non-existence give birth the one to (the idea of) the other;
that difficulty and ease produce the one (the idea of) the other;
that length and shortness fashion out the one the figure of the other;
that (the ideas of) height and lowness arise from the contrast of the one with the other;
that the musical notes and tones become harmonious through the relation of one with another; and that being before and behind give the idea of one following another.
Therefore the sage manages affairs without doing anything,
and conveys his instructions without the use of speech.
All things spring up, and there is not one which declines to show itself;
they grow, and there is no claim made for their ownership;
they go through their processes, and there is no expectation (of a reward for the results).
The work is accomplished, and there is no resting in it (as an achievement).
The work is done, but how no one can see;
It’s this that makes the power not cease to be.
Wu wei, literally “non-action” or “not acting”, is a central concept of the Daodejing. The concept of wu wei is very complex and reflected in the words’ multiple meanings, even in English translation; it can mean “not doing anything”, “not forcing”, “not acting” in the theatrical sense, “creating nothingness”, “acting spontaneously”, and “flowing with the moment.”
It is a concept used to explain nature, or harmony with the Dao. It includes the concepts that value distinctions are ideological and seeing ambition of all sorts as originating from the same source. Lao-Tzu used the term broadly with simplicity and humility as key virtues, often in contrast to selfish action. On a political level, it means avoiding such circumstances as war, harsh laws and heavy taxes. Some Taoists see a connection between wu wei and esoteric practices, such as the “sitting in oblivion” (emptying the mind of bodily awareness and thought) found in the Chuang-Tzu.
Chuang-Tzu was an influential Chinese philosopher who lived around the 4th century BCE during the Warring States Period, corresponding to the Hundred Schools of Thought philosophical summit of Chinese thought.
Chuang-Tzu, widely considered the intellectual and spiritual successor of Lao-Tzu, had a notable impact on Chinese literature, culture and spirituality.
In general, Chuang-Tzu’s philosophy is mildly skeptical, arguing that life is limited and the amount of things to know is unlimited. To use the limited to pursue the unlimited, he said, was foolish. Our language and cognition in general presuppose a Dao to which each of us is committed by our separate past—our paths. Consequently, we should be aware that our most carefully considered conclusions might seem misguided had we experienced a different past. “Our heart-minds are completed along with our bodies.” Natural dispositions to behavior combine with acquired ones—including dispositions to use names of things, to approve/disapprove based on those names and to act in accordance to the embodied standards. Thinking about and choosing our next step down our Dao or path is conditioned by this unique set of natural acquisitions.
“The Happiness of Fish”
(yú zhī lè 鱼之乐):
Chuang-Tzu and Huizi were strolling along the dam of the Hao Waterfall when Chuang-Tzu said, “See how the minnows come out and dart around where they please! That’s what fish really enjoy!”Huizi said, “You’re not a fish — how do you know what fish enjoy?” Chuang-Tzu said, “You’re not me, so how do you know I don’t know what fish enjoy?” Huizi said, “I’m not you, so I certainly don’t know what you know. On the other hand, you’re certainly not a fish — so that still proves you don’t know what fish enjoy!” Chuang-Tzu said, “Let’s go back to your original question, please. You asked me how I know what fish enjoy — so you already knew I knew it when you asked the question. I know it by standing here beside the Hao.”
老子，我国古代伟大的哲学家和思想家，道家学派创始人，世界文化名人。老子在函谷关前著有五千言的《老子》一书，又名《道德经》或《道德真经》。《道德 经》、《易经》和《论语》被认为是对中国人影响最深远的三部思想巨著。《道德经》是后来的称谓，最初老子书称为《老子》而无《道德经》之名。 其成书年代过去多有争论，至今仍无法确定，不过根据1993年出土的郭店楚简“老子”年代推算，成书年代至少在战国中前期。
老子的思想主张是”无为”，老子的理想政治境界是“邻国相望，鸡犬之声相闻，民至老死不相往来”。《老子》以“道”解释宇宙万物的演变，以为“道生一，一 生二，二生三，三生万物”，“道”乃“夫莫之命（命令）而常自然”，因而“人法地，地法天，天法道，道法自然”。“道”为客观自然规律，同时又具有“独立 不改，周行而不殆”的永恒意义。《老子》书中包括大量朴素辩证法观点，如以为一切事物均具有正反两面，“反者道之动”，并能由对立而转化，“正复为奇，反 复为妖”，“祸兮福之所倚，福兮祸之所伏”。又以为世间事物均为“有”与“无”之统一，“有、无相生”，而“无”为基础，“天下万物生于有，有生于无”。 “天之道，损有余而补不足，人之道则不然，损不足以奉有馀”；“民之饥，以其上食税之多”；“民之轻死，以其上求生之厚”；“民不畏死，奈何以死惧 之？”。其学说对中国哲学发展具有深刻影响，其内容主要见《老子》这本书。他的哲学思想和由他创立的道家学派，不但对我国古代思想文化的发展作出了重要贡 献，而且对我国2000多年来思想文化的发展产生了深远的影响。
庄子，战国时期宋国蒙(今安徽省蒙城县,又说今河南省商丘县东北民权县境内）人。著名的思想家、哲学家、文学家，是道家学派的代表人物，老子哲学思想的继 承者和发展者，先秦庄子学派的创始人。他的学说涵盖着当时社会生活的方方面面，但根本精神还是归依于老子的哲学。后世将他与老子并称为“老庄”，他们的哲 学为“老庄哲学”。
“仁义”二字被视为儒家思想的标志，“道德”一词却是道家思想的精华。庄子的“道”是天道，是效法自然的“道”，而不是人为的残生伤性的。庄子的哲学主要 接受并发展了老子的思想。他认为“道”是超越时空的无限本体，它生于天地万物之，而又无所不包，无所不在，表现在一切事物之中。然而它又是自然无为的，在 本质上是虚无的。在庄子的哲学中，“天”是与“人”相对立的两个概念，“天”代表着自然，而“人”指的就是“人为”的一切，与自然相背离的一切。“人为” 两字合起来，就是一个“伪”字。庄子主张顺从天道，而摒弃“人为”，摒弃人性中那些“伪”的杂质。顺从“天道”，从而与天地相通的，就是庄子所提倡的 “德”。在庄子看来，真正的生活是自然而然的，因此不需要去教导什么，规定什么，而是要去掉什么，忘掉什么，忘掉成心、机心、分别心。既然如此，还用得着 政治宣传、礼乐教化、仁义劝导？这些宣传、教化、劝导，庄子认为都是人性中的“伪”，所以要摒弃它。庄子的文章，想像力丰富，文笔变化多端，具有浓厚的浪 漫主义色彩，并采用寓言故事形式，富有幽默讽刺的意味，对后世文学语言有很大影响。
庄子与惠子游于濠梁之上。庄子曰；“儵鱼出游从容，是鱼之乐也。” 惠子曰：“子非鱼，安知鱼之乐？”庄子曰：“子非我，安知我不知鱼之乐？”惠子曰：“我非子，固不知子矣；子固非鱼也，子知不知鱼之乐全矣。”庄子曰： “请循其本。子曰‘汝安知鱼乐’云者，既已知吾知之而问我，我知之濠上也。”