Confucianism and Taoism Have the Same Root: (V) Hiding His Name

Gu Zhang

PureInsight | January 13, 2003

[] Lao Zi is also known as Li Er and Li Dan, and he chose the name Boyang as he entered adulthood. He was a resident of Ku County of the Song State during the Spring and Autumn periods (770-476 B.C.). Ku County is the same as Luyi County in Henan Province in modern China. Lao Zi's birth date is unknown. In historical books, Lao Zi was said to be a library official, which is the equivalent of a modern librarian. He worked in Luoyang City, which was the capital city of the Zhou Dynasty.

Shi Ji ("Records of History") states, "Lao Zi cultivates Dao and De. He was an unusual Taoist cultivator. His field of specialty is being an unknown person in society; what he worked on was being a common man." Now, one would think this to be an odd statement. How can it be that hard to be a common person? You would think that one could be an unknown commoner at any time, as there is no need to learn to become an everyday person. So, how can being an unknown person in society became a person's specialty?

This is indeed hard to explain. After working as a librarian for several years, Lao Zi suddenly quit in 484 B.C., and traveled westward. As he approached Hanguguan, a fortress along the Chinese border, the official in charge there, Yi Xi, who had seen "purple qi coming from the east," came out to greet Lao Zi. In response to Yi Xi's repeated begging, Lao Zi wrote the five-thousand-word essay that is known around the world as Dao De Jing. Afterwards, he left Mainland China and was not heard from again. Yet, these five thousand words have had a profound impact on the Chinese.

In fact, Yi Xi was not the only one who saw the purple qi. The great Confucius also paid him a visit and learned from this hermit. After a brief encounter between the two monumental historic figures, Confucius vividly described the feeling he had after seeing Lao Zi to his students. Lao Zi said, "I know a bird flies, a fish swims, and an animal wanders around. A net can catch the wanderer, a line with bait can catch the swimmer, and a bow can catch the one who flies. As for the dragon, I am not able to know how he rides the wind into the sky. Today I've met Lao Zi, who is like the dragon!"

Confucius felt that he had seen the heavenly dragon, and that there were no words to describe this feeling. Lao Zi was a supernormal body of energy, although he tried to hide the "brilliance of the Dao" that he possessed. This is why Si Maqian, the writer of Shi Ji, said, "His learnedness was in his curbing himself, and his work was to be a common person."

On the surface, it seems Confucius had a cordial meeting with Lao Zi, but in fact it is the meeting between two souls. Later scholars only studied the surface words of the exchange and ignored the inner meanings behind the words. What had transpired was the display of the energy field of a great cultivator and not an ordinary emotional response. I have had similar experiences. When I listened to Master Li's Fa lecture in close proximity, I felt that my mind was so peaceful and harmonious that all thinking gave way to a feeling of well being unlike any other. It is an indescribable feeling that only a person who experienced it can understand. Confucius obviously entered Lao Zi's energy field, and had the indescribable feeling, so he left this profound and seemingly confusing description.

Only from the perspective of cultivation can we understand that this meeting between Confucius and Lao Zi, some 2,500 years ago, determined Confucius' mission as an idealistic politician, outstanding educator, and more importantly, a thinker who influenced Chinese culture. He is ultimately a cultivator, and that is why Confucius made this self observation: "To relate and not to invent, to believe in and to be devoted to antiquity. Permit me to compare myself to Lao Peng" (Ch. 7 of Lun Yu by Confucious). (Lao Peng was a virtuous official of the Yin-Shang Dynasty who had great respect for antiquity.)

Confucianism originated from Taoism. Together with Sakyamuni's Buddhism, which was spread into China, these three schools comprised the rich Chinese culture. The inner meaning of these three schools can be expressed in the two words, cultivation and practice.

If we understand cultivation practice, we will naturally appreciate many interesting things in Chinese culture!

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