The Tao (Suzuki & Carus)

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Lao-tze's book on Reason and Virtue first bore the title Tao Teh. It was in all outward appearances a mere collection of aphoristic utterances, but full of noble morals and deep meditation. It met the reward which it fully deserved, having by imperial decree been raised to the dignity of canonical authority; hence the name King or "canon," completing the title Tao Teh King, as now commonly used, which we translate "Canon of Reason and Virtue."

Although Confucian philosophy has become the guiding star of the Chinese government Lao-tze has taken a firm hold on the hearts of the people, and in the progress of time his figure has grown in significance into the stature of a Christ-like superhuman personality. So it happened that later traditions added to Sze-Ma Chien's brief report various details which became more and more fantastic. We learn that Yin Hi, the officer of the frontier, was warned beforehand by astrological science of the sage's coming. He is further reputed to have accompanied his master into the deserts of the west, traveling in a car drawn by black oxen.

Still later legends add to these fables the story of Lao-tze's miraculous conception through the influence of a star, and claim that he was the incarnation of the supreme celestial essence; that he had repeatedly been incarnate, once in the village of the state of Tzu. This latter birth is represented in analogy with Buddha's nativity, for his mother brought forth the divine child from her left side, and her delivery took place under a tree--in Lao-tze's case it was a plum-tree. The infant at his very birth pointed to the tree saying, "I shall take my surname Li (plum) from this tree." His head was white, and his countenance that of an aged man, whence it is said he derived his name Lao-tze, which not only means the Old Philosopher but also the Ancient Child. He is said to have wandered to the farthest extremities of the earth, including the countries Ta Tsin (which seems to have represented the Roman Empire) and Tu Kien, where he preached his doctrine and converted the people to the truth. In China he is reported to have helped Wu Wang, the founder of the famous Cheu dynasty, in the year 112 B. C.

Lao-tze's various disciples developed more and more the mystical elements of Taoism, the practical application of which terminated in a belief in alchemy, especially in an elixir of life.

The Emperor Wu Ti and the emperors of the Tang dynasty were staunch believers in the Old Philosopher. When in the year 666 A. D. Emperor Kao Tsung canonized him he gave him a rank among the gods as the Great Supreme (Tai Shang), as the Emperor-God of the Dark First Cause. Han Tsung honored him in 1013 A. D. with the title Tai Shang Lao Chin, the Great Exalted One, the Ancient Master.

We regret to say that the Taoism of China is a religion which, powerful though it is, little accords with the venerable old philosopher, and without danger of doing its priests an injustice may be branded as a system of superstitions and superstitious practices.

The Taoist church is governed by a Taoist pope who lives in the splendor of a palace surrounded by extensive parks near Lung Hu Shan, scarcely less beautiful than the garden of the Vatican at Rome.

Lao-tze's Tao Teh King contains so many surprising analogies with Christian thought and sentiment, that were its pre-Christian origin not established beyond the shadow of a doubt, one would be inclined to discover in it traces of Christian influence. Not only does the term Tao (word, reason) correspond quite closely to the Greek term Logos, but Lao-tze preaches the ethics of requiting hatred with goodness. He insists on the necessity of becoming like unto a little child, of returning to primitive simplicity and purity, of non-assertion and non-resistance, and promises that the crooked shall be straight.

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