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D.T. Suzuki & Paul Carus, 1913
This booklet, The Canon of Reason and Virtue, is an extract from the author's larger work, Lao-Tze's Tao Teh King, and has been published for the purpose of making our reading public more familiar with that grand and imposing figure Li Er, who was honored with the posthumous title Poh-Yang, i. e., Prince Positive (representing the male or strong principle); but whom his countrymen simply call Lao-tze, the Old Philosopher.
Sze-Ma Ch‘ien, the Herodotus of China, who lived about 136-85 B. C., has left a short sketch of Lao-tze's life in his Shi Ki (Historical Records) which is here prefixed as the most ancient and only well-attested account to be had of the Old Philosopher.
Born in 604 B. C., Lao-tze was by about half a century the senior of Confucius. He must have attained great fame during his life, for Confucius is reported to have sought an interview with him. But the two greatest sages of China did not understand each other, and they parted mutually disappointed.
Confucius's visit to Lao-tze has been doubted. If it is not historical it certainly is ben trovato, for the contrast between these two leaders of Chinese thought remains to the present day. The disciples of Confucius, the so-called "literati," are tinged with their master's agnosticism and insist on the rules of propriety as the best methods of education, while the Tao Sze, the believers in the Tao, or divine Reason, are given to philosophical speculation and religious mysticism. The two schools are still divided, and have never effected a conciliation of their differences that might be attained on a common higher ground.
Chwang-tze, one of Lao-tze's disciples, who lived about 330 B. C., has preserved another, an older and more elaborate, report of the meeting between Confucius and the Old Philosopher. Sze-Ma Ch‘ien (163-85 B. C.) is sometimes supposed to have derived his account from Chwang-tze, but Chwang-tze's story bears traces of legendary elements which can not but be regarded as fiction, and it is difficult to believe that the historian should have taken his sober sketch from the fantastic tale of a poet-philosopher.
The names of Lao-tze's birthplace, state, province and the locality of his life's work might be considered as invented purposely because of their strange significance if they were not geographically existent. In the first edition of Lao-tze's Tao Teh King we translated Cheu as "the State of Plenty," and will only add that the word is made up of the characters "mouth" and "to use," its original meaning being "to supply everywhere; to make a circuit all around or everywhere; and plenty." The Cheu dynasty was so called because the emperor's power reached all over the civilized world, according to Chinese notions. In the present edition we have preferred to translate the word Cheu by "the State of Everywhere."
It would be easy to say that the Old Philosopher was a citizen of Everywhere, and was born in Good Man's Bend to describe his innate character; that his home was situated in Thistle District of Bramble Province to indicate the poverty and difficulties with which his life was surrounded.
The plum-tree is the symbol of immortality, and the ear might signify the man who was willing to listen. Accordingly Lao-tze's family name Li (plum) seems to be as much justified as his proper name Er (ear). What splendid material with which to change Lao-tze into a mythical figure! It is as good as the life of Napoleon of whom Pérèz made a solar hero, an Apollo, on account of his name and the several events of his career--his final sinking in the west and disappearance on an island in the Atlantic, the ocean of sunset. Nevertheless the historicity of Lao-tze and the authenticity of his book seem to be sufficiently well ascertained.
The historicity of Lao-tze's writing has been doubted only once, but by so great an authority as H. A. Giles. We must, however, remember that the greater part of the Tao Teh King is preserved in quotations in the pre-Christian writings of Lieh-tze, Chwang-tze, and Hwai Nan-tze. (For details see the article in reply to Professor Giles in The Monist, XI, pp. 574-601.)