Confucius Asking Lao Zi about Etiquette

Zhang Cuiying

PureInsight | November 11, 2002

Confucius once asked Lao Zi about etiquette in past dynasties in history. This encounter of theirs is well-known in history. People can find records of this not only in official historical books like Shiji but also in Colorful Portrait of Lao Zi (dated back to the end of Spring and Autumn Period), the relic of the silk book Lao Zi, and on picture bricks of the Han Dynasty. There is a stone tablet building on the north side of Dongguan street in Luoyang City in China, and it is believed that this is where Confucius met Lao Zi and asked about etiquette.

This painting is titled Confucius Asking Lao Zi about Etiquette and it tells the following story: Lao Zi sits with crossed legs on a stone stool, with his long gray hair bound at the back. His mustache and eyebrows are all white. Confucius stands with cap in hand showing great respect and modesty, with both hands folded together in front and bowing to Lao Zi.

For more than two thousand years, Confucius's teaching of taking the middle road and his emphasis on "kindness, justice, courtesy, wisdom and trust," and Lao Zi's philosophy of maintaining a tranquil mind and letting things take their natural course have served as the guiding principles of Chinese people. They were the moral standards for Chinese people, one governing their interaction with the outside world and the other governing the way that they handle things internally. The two played an important role in maintaining the stability of society and the harmony of the family. In addition, it made a selected few people who had a good foundation and capability for succeeding in cultivation able to reach high levels. Confucius and Lao Zi's lectures benefited not only Chinese people, but were also introduced to Japan, Korea, amongst Southeast Asian countries and other places all over the world.

From ancient times, Chinese people have held onto "Confucianism on the outside and Taoism inside" as a principle. In other words, a truly knowledgeable person has Confucianism on the outside and uses Taoist principles on the inside; he talks about Confucius in society, but follows the Tao in individual moral cultivation.

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