Thursday, December 30, 2010

Laozi and Confucius (老子與孔子)

Twenty-five hundred years ago, Confucius once went to Luoyang to consult with Laozi. Their conversation illustrates the difference between the two legends.

So, Confucius went to Laozi and asked him, "Sir, can you tell us how to establish moral values in the society? Can you tell me how to develop character in the people?".

Hearing this, Laozi laughed for a long time. Then he said,  
Only an immoral person goes looking for moral values. Only a characterless person will search for the ways of developing the character. One having morals in him does not go looking for it outside. One having character in him does not go around trying to develop it.
It is enough to be natural with what one has.
Laozi asked Confucius, "Have you attained Tao?" Confucius said, "I have been seeking it for 27 years. I have not yet attained it." Laozi said, 
If Tao were something tangible that could be gifted to others, people would have struggled to dedicate it to the king. If Tao could be gifted to others, people would have wanted to gift it to their relatives. If Tao could be told clearly, everyone would have told his brothers. If Tao could be taught to others, people would have struggled to teach it to their children. All of the above are impossible. The reason is simple. When a person doesn't have the correct understanding of Tao, Tao will not come to his heart.
At the farewell party held at the city gate, Laozi said to him in a soft and clear voice,
Men of wealth give money as a gift on such an occasion while men of virtue and knowledge give advice. I had neither money nor virtue. Let me pretend as a man of knowledge only for the moment to say a few words to you, our honourable guest, Confucius. Firstly, what you are studying and teaching now is all from ancient men, who died a long time ago and even their bones have rotted away. Those written words are in fact only their footprints, neither their shoes nor their feet, let alone what was in their minds. Don’t regard their words as some sort of unbreakable dogma. Secondly, as a man of virtue and knowledge, you can have your own cart and live a luxurious life. If the time does not permit, it will be perfectly okay as long as you can manage to survive. Thirdly, once I was told of an old saying: a good merchant does not show his goods and a man of utmost virtue is always simple. It will do you good if you cut off your pride, get rid of your greed, reduce your haughtiness, throw away some of your ambitions. It will serve your family better, and it will serve your state better if you are not too stubborn no matter whenever, wherever, and whatever.
After Confucius returned home, he didn't speak for three days.  One of Confucius' students, Zigong, felt it was strange and asked what was going on. Confucius said,   
Birds can fly but will fall at the hunter’s arrow. Fish can swim but will be hooked by the fisherman. Beasts can run but will drop into people’s nets and traps. There is only one thing that is out of man’s reach. That’s the legendary dragon. A dragon can fly into the sky, ride on clouds, dive into the ocean. A dragon is powerful yet so intangible to us. Laozi is a dragon, and I’ll never understand him.

In his Tao Te Ching, Laozi said, 
After losing Tao, there is virtue. After losing virtue, there is humanity. After losing humanity, there is justice. After losing justice, there is courtesy.
Laozi was very clear about the source of the humanity and justice that Confucius taught. However, Confucius couldn't understand the Tao that Laozi talked about.

Confucius Meets Lao Tzu
Stories of Lao Tzu, Confucius, and Chuang Tzu

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