Minimalists in History: Lao-Tzu (aka Laozi)

red rose - Lao-Tzu

“I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.”

– Lao-Tzu

Lao-Tzu (or Laozi¹) was, at least according to Chinese tradition, a Taoist (or Daoist²) philosopher, who flourished during the sixth century B.C.E. According to some modern scholars, however, there was never a historical Lao-Tzu.

The name Lao-Tzu simply means “Old Master.” Some scholars believe the work attributed to Lao-Tzu is an amalgamation of sayings from various wise men.

At any rate, Lao-Tzu is credited with having written the Tao Te Ching (or Daodejing³) and having founded philosophical Taoism. In religious Taoism, he is considered to be one of the many Taoist deities, but many people appreciate Taoism on a strictly philosophical level and do not believe in these deities.

The term “Tao” means “the way” or “the path.” It’s not a deity or a thing, but a system of guidance. If we follow the Tao, we become good people who live in harmony with all things and people, and this leads to our daily contentment as well as to the world being a better place.

The below quotes are a few of the minimalist sayings attributed to Lao-Tzu.

If you realize that you have enough,
you are truly rich.

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When you are content to be simply yourself
and don’t compare or compete,
everybody will respect you.

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Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people’s approval
and you will be their prisoner.

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If you look to others for fulfillment,
you will never truly be fulfilled.
If your happiness depends on money,
you will never be happy with yourself.

Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.

*****

The Master has no possessions.
The more he does for others,
the happier he is.
The more he gives to others,
the wealthier he is.

Taoism is complex and diverse and, as with other religions and philosophies, there are many sects, so it’s hard to say much more about Taoism in a brief blog post.

Some recommended books on the topic are What Is Tao?, by Alan Watts; Taoism: An Essential Guide by Eva Wong; and Do Nothing and Do Everything: An Illustrated New Taoism, by Qiguang Zhao.

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¹ In case you’re wondering, “Lao-Tzu” is the spelling in the Wade-Giles system of Romanizing Chinese characters, and “Laozi” is the spelling in the newer Pinyin system.

² The Wade-Giles systems spells it “Taoist” and the Pinyin system spells it “Daoist.” If you’re interested in linguistics, read Daoism–Taoism romanization issue for more information.

³ Yep, you guessed it. Wade-Giles versus Pinyin again.