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Who was Laozi?

Laozi (Lao Tzu) is considered to be the author of the Dao De Jing. He is also considered to be the father of Daoism, since he was the first person to use the term "Dao" as the basis of his philosophy. Sima Qian, the Grand Historian (ca. 145-86 B.C.E.), was the first person to write an account of Laozi's life, and there are many theories surrounding the mystical personage of Laozi, includung the idea that he was born as an old man with a long white beard. Although the historians don't agree on who Laozi was, as there is no actual record of his birth or death, he has been honored as the father of Daoism and as a deity by religious Daoists.

Since there is no evidence that a person named Laozi actually existed, there is likewise no evidence that he wrote any or all of the chapters in the Dao De Jing.

One theory of the history of the Dao De Jing is that it was passed down orally for centuries, and that it was recited in a rhyming manner so that it could be easily remembered. The spoken Chinese language in ancient times was much different than the spoken Chinese that is in use today. Over the centuries, some of the verses were expanded on or new ones were added until the versions of the Dao De Jing which were finally written down are the ones we find popularly in use today. (Those versions are more thoroughly described in the section entitled: "Versions of the Dao De Jing used in this book.") Since ancient texts or philosophies in China were taken more seriously if they were attributed to an ancestor from the past, the name Laozi (which translates to "Old and Venerable Sage") was adopted, and the Dao De Jing was claimed to be his writing.

Various theories which claim that Laozi was an actual person have come up with many ideas about who he was. Laozi has been given a year of birth ranging from 600 BCE to 250 BCE. He was a native of Ch'u (in modern Honan Province). His family name was Li, private name Er, and posthumous name Dan. He was a custodian of the imperial archives, which made him a type of librarian. It is also claimed that he had an audience with Confucius about 518 BCE. The legend states that he became discouraged with the political climate in China at the time, so he packed up a few of his books on the back of an ox and headed alone toward the west, which was known as the "wilderness" (the direction of the Himalayas, Tibet and India). A gatekeeper, Yin Xi, recognizing him as a great sage, asked Laozi not to leave without writing down his ideas and knowledge. Laozi sat under a tree and wrote what we now call the Dao De Jing, then vanished into the wilderness. Modern Taoists still celebrate Laozi's birthday on the fifteenth day of the second lunar month (usually March 15).

The name "Laozi" consists of these two Chinese characters:

老 lǎo (lao) get old, an old person, aged

子 zǐ (tzu) infant, child

An extended meaning for 子 zǐ is "master, sage", due to the fact that the ancient rulers honored the sages by calling them sons. Thus, we find the addition of zǐ to Laozi. 老子 "Old and Venerable Sage".

There is much information about Laozi in books and on the internet. I've included just a brief synopsis of Laozi in this book.

-Your Dao De Jing by Nina Correa

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