Little-Known Stories from History: Lao Zi, Confucius and Sakyamuni

Bu Ming

PureInsight | May 28, 2006

[] During the
more than two thousand five hundred years since the Spring and Autumn
era, except for theBuddha school, nothing influenced Chinese culture
more deeply than Confucianism and Tao school. Therefore, the founders
of the three schools, Sakyamuni, Confucius and Lao Zi, have long been
respected and worshiped by succeeding generations.

Interestingly, the birthdays of these three people were within twenty
years. Viewing these in a historical way, they belonged to same era.
Lao Zi was born on February 15 of 571 B.C. in Qu Ren Li, Ku County, Chu
Country (now Luyi County, Henan Province). Five years later on April 8
in 566 B.C., Sakyamuni was born in today's Nepal. Another fifteen years
later, Confucius was born in Qufu, Shandong Province on August 27, 551

The three saints came to the world in the same era, was it a historical coincidence or an arrangement by the gods?

Lao Zi

Lao Zi's family name is Li, his given name is Er and his style name was
Bo Yang. "Lao Zi" is how people call him with respect. "Lao" means old
age and great virtue, and "Zi" is a laudatory title for man in ancient
time. According to legends, his countenance and natural gifts were
extraordinary. He was familiar with historical anecdotes and proficient
with the system of ceremonial observation. He was the "Shou Cang Shi
Shi" (the chief curator of the National Library or the Museum of
History) and a Zhu Xia Shi (imperial historian) Lao Zi lived in Luo
Yang, the capitol of Zhou, for a long time and witnessed the decline of
the Zhou dynasty. In 520 B. C., Lao Zi was implicated in an internal
power struggle among officials in the Emperor's court, and was
dismissed from his position. Lao Zi deeply felt the evilness of the
human world and left the secular world. He traveled to many parts of
the country without letting people know who he was.

One day in September, 478 B. C., the 93-year-old Lao Zi went west to
Qin country. When he was about to go through Han Gu Pass, the chief
guard, Yin Xi, learned through fortune-telling that an immortal was
going to pass and so he ordered to have the road length of 40 Li
cleaned and got ready to welcome the person. As expected, Lao Zi came.
Yin Xi said, "Master, you are going to live in seclusion and we won't
be able to listen to your teaching anymore. Please write a book and
teach the future generations." Lao Zi had never taught anything in the
central land and he knew that Yin Xi was predestined to obtain the Tao,
so he stayed for a short period of time and wrote down the famous "Tao
De Jing". After that, Lao Zi went west out of Han Gu pass and passed
"flowing sand" (referring to the desert in Xinjiang Province). No one
knew where he eventually went.

Confucius once visited the capital of Zhou and learned the system of
ceremonial observations from Lao Zi. One day around 500 B.C., Confucius
rode on an old cart pulled by a cow to Luo Yang , the capital of Zhou.
The purposes of this trip were to observe the systems of previous
emperors,  study the source of ceremonial music, and learn the
rule of morality. He therefore visited Lao Zi who was the person in
charge of the imperial library and familiar with the ceremonial system.
After completing tour, Confucius said one sentence that has been passed
down for many generations, "In an abundance of theories, I would follow
the Zhou State." The system of ceremonial observation of Zhou was
established while taking those of Xia and Shang as references.
Confucius' promotion the system of Zhou is an indication that he indeed
had learned a lot during the trip.

During the visit, Lao Zi asked Confucius what book he was reading. Confucius replied that he was reading Zhou Yi (The Book of Changes)
as all the saints had read the book. Lao Zi said, "It is ok for saints
to read it, but why do you want to read it? What is the essence of this
book?" Confucius replied: "Its essence is to promote benevolence and
justice." Lao Zi then said, "The so-called benevolence and justice are
things that confuse people's heart, like those mosquitoes stinging
people at night and making them unable to sleep. They can only add
confusion and trouble for people. Look, a large swan's feather
naturally stays snow white with no need of washing every day, and a
crow is naturally pitch black with no need of dying with ink. The sky
is naturally high, the earth is naturally deep, the sun and moon are
naturally brilliant, stars are naturally lined up in certain pattern,
and the trees and grass are naturally different from each other. If you
want to cultivate the Tao, you should just follow the existing natural
law, and you will then obtain the Tao naturally. What is the use of
promoting those things such as benevolence and justice? Isn't that as
ridiculous as looking for a lost sheep while beating a drum?

Lao Zi again asked Confucius, "Do you think you have obtained the Tao?"
Confucius answered, "I have been seeking for it for 27 years, but still
haven't obtained it." Lao Zi said, "If Tao were something you could use
to give to others, people would try hard to present it to emperors. If
Tao could be given to others, people would give it to their relatives.
If Tao could be clearly related, people would tell it to their
brothers. If Tao could be passed down to others, people would struggle
hard to pass it down to their children. However, all these are
impossible. The reason is very simple and that is if a person does not
have a correct understanding of the Tao in his heart, the Tao will
never come to his heart."

Confucius said, "I have been studying the six ancient classics and
trying to understand the ways our ancestors governed the country. I
understand the successful path of good emperors such as Zhou Gong and
Zhao Gong. I visited more than seventy dukes of different warring
states; however, none of them wanted to accept my ideas. It seems that
people are really difficult to persuade!" Lao Zi said, "The six
classics you mentioned are all the old stuff of previous dynasties.
What is the use of your mentioning them? What you are cultivating now
is something old too."


After learning the ceremony system of Zhou, Confucius was determined to
go back to the Lu Country and promote the recovery of Zhou's ceremony
system wholeheartedly, but Lao Zi had some reservations on that. To
him, although a ceremony system was necessary, totally recovering
Zhou's system was impossible. With time and the world changed, some of
the Zhou's systems were no longer appropriate for the situation of that
time. Therefore, Lao Zi said to Confucius, "As for those you have
mentioned, their bodies have rotten away with only their words left.
Besides, a gentleman would get into government service when the
political environment was suitable, and reconcile to living like a weed
when it wasn't. I have heard that people who are good businessmen will
hide their wealth from others. A gentleman of high virtue often looks
like a foolish person who doesn't have any inner strength. You should
get rid of your pride and desire, get rid of the attitude and the air,
and get rid of those ambitions you are so passionate about, because
these things are no good for you at all. That's all that I want to tell

Confucius did not know how to answer, but he did not give up his
ambition: "a great man will do what he knows is difficult." After
finishing his visits to other places, Confucius said goodbye to Lao Zi
and left Luo Yang, Zhou's capital, feeling somewhat excited yet
somewhat lost. He was excited about learning the ceremonial system but
disappointed because of Lao Zi's advice. Behind him, a stone tablet was
erected which read "Confucius visited Zhou to learn the ceremonial
observance system."

After coming back from visiting Lao Zi, Confucius did not speak for
three days. Zi Gong (one of Confucius' students) felt strange and asked
his teacher what had happened. Confucius said: "I know birds can fly, I
know fish can swim, and I know beasts can run. For those that can run,
I can catch them with a net, for those that can swim, I can catch them
with a line; for those that can fly, I can catch them with arrows. As
for dragons, I do not know how they ride on wind and cloud, and go to
heaven. I met with Lao Zi, today, and he is exactly like a dragon and
too deep to be fathomable!"

This is exactly the difference between an enlightened being who can
save sentient beings and a philosopher in the human world. The saying,
"There is little common ground for understanding between persons of
different principles" refers to this difference. Lao Zi's Tao,
mysterious and hard to understand, is the teaching of gods, while
Confucius's words were just human theories and the moral standard for
defining human behavior.


Confucius' family name is Kong, his given name is Qiu. His style name
is Zhongni. He was born in 551 B.C. in Zou Yi of Chang Ping, in Lu
Country. After he grew up, Confucius was once a minor official in
charge of warehouse management where he was fair and accurate when
handling money and grain. He was also once a manager of a livestock
farm and tended his animals well. Because of that, he was promoted to
be an official managing construction projects. Confucius was as tall as
9 feet 4 inches in the Chinese measurement system, so people called him
"long person" and felt that he was different from others.

After he returned to Lu Country after visiting Zhou and learning Zhou's
ceremonial observance system, more and more students came to study with
Confucius. It can be said that Confucius was the first person in
China's history of education who taught privately to students. Before
him, schools were run by the government. Confucius promoted his private
school, received students of various kinds, and popularized education
to ordinary people. He spread knowledge to society and contributed a
great deal to ancient education.

When Confucius was 35 years old, he went to the Qi State. Duke Jing of
Qi consulted Confucius about the way of governing the country.
Confucius said, "The emperor should act like an emperor, officials
should act like officials, fathers should act like fathers, and sons
should act like sons." Upon hearing this, Duke Jing replied, "You are
absolutely right! If the emperor does not act like an emperor,
officials do not act like officials, fathers do not act like fathers,
and sons do not act like sons. Even if there is plenty of food, how can
I get them to eat it?" On a different date, Duke Jing consulted
Confucius again about the principles of governing the country,
Confucius said: "The most important thing in governing a country is to
be thrifty with the budget and eliminate any waste."

Duke Jing was happy about the advice and planned to grant Confucius
some land in Ni Xi. His advisor Yan Ying dissuaded him from doing so by
saying, "This kind of scholar is very good at talking. You cannot
control them with laws. They are proud, willful and opinionated. They
care a lot about funeral arrangements and are willing to exhaust all
their possessions for grand funerals. They lobby everywhere and seek
for positions and pay. Therefore, you cannot use them to govern the
country. Now, Confucius stresses appearance, dress and personal
adornments, defines complicated ceremonial etiquette for going to and
leaving the court, and painstakingly promotes the rule of manners. Even
after several generations, we won't be able to master and be fluent
with these unnecessary and overly elaborate formalities. If you hope to
change Qi's customs, I am afraid that it's not a good idea." Yan Ying's
advice took effect. From then on, although Duke Jing still politely met
with Confucius, he no longer asked for any advice on ceremony.
Confucius heard that some officials of Qi country were planning to harm
him. Duke Jing said to Confucius, "I am old and can't give you a post
any more." So Confucius left Qi and returned to the state of Lu.

Back in Lu, although Confucius achieved a great deal in politics and
had several important accomplishments, his path as a government
official was not smooth. One time during a ceremony held by the duke to
offer sacrifices to Heaven, Royal Counselor San Huan intentionally did
not offer Confucius a piece of meat, which was one of the most severe
punishments in Zhou's system of etiquette. Confucius knew that he
wouldn't have much future in the government of Lu anymore, so he left
his country, wondering around to give lectures to promote his ideas.

At that point Confucius was about 50 years old. He worked tirelessly,
taking his students to travel to different countries to promote his
ideas. However, none of the countries would accept his ideas. When he
was 63 years old, Confucius returned to Lu. But Lu did not give him an
important position either. After that, Confucius stopped seeking any
official position.

Even though he was getting very old, Confucius's thoughts gave out the
most brilliant flare in the last nine years of his life. During that
time, Confucius devoted himself to teaching students and writing books.
Finally as a philosophical system, Confucianism was established in
those last nine years.

In the time of Confucius, the Zhou's court was declining, and the
ceremonial observance system and music were all corrupted. Even the
"Shi (poem)" and "Shu (book)" were incomplete. Confucius studied the
ceremonial observance systems of Xia, Shang and West Zhou dynasties and
edited them into "Shang Shu" and "Li Ji". After returning to Lu from
Wei, Confucius started to restore poems and music, and he restored "Ya"
and "Song" back to their original tunes. At that time, there were more
than three thousand poems passed down from ancient times. Confucius
deleted the duplicates and chose those with appropriate content for the
teaching of propriety and justice. The beginning of the collection of
the poems was a poem about affections between man and woman. Confucius
could play and sing all 305 poems in order to the tunes of "Shao",
"Wu", "Ya" and "Song". Thus, the music systems of previous dynasties
was restored and appropriately passed on.

In his later years, Confucius was interested in studying The Book of
. Confucius was so diligent in studying the book that he had
worn out the thread of cow ligament that tied the book together,
several times. He said, "Let me live several years longer, so I will be
able to fully understand and master the words and principles in the

Confucius said, "What a gentleman worries is to not leave a good
reputation after his death. If my proposal can not be applied, what
contribution do I have to leave a good name for the society?"
Therefore, he wrote "Spring and Autumn" based on the history books of
Lu, starting from the first year of Yin Lu Gong (722 B. C.) and ending
with the year fourteen of Lu Ai Gong (481 B. C.), which included twelve
dukes of Lu. It centered on Lu, and promoted inheriting the tradition
of Xia, Shang and Zhou Dynasties. The book's words are simple, yet the
meaning is broad. In the book, the Dukes of Wu and Chu Country were
downgraded and called "noblemen." At the end of the Zhou Dynasty, the
emperor had lost all power. The dukes from the warring states forced
the emperor to join them in a meeting. In the book, the event was
recorded as "Emperor Xiang of Zhou Dynasty came to He Yang for
hunting." There are many such examples. "Spring and Autumn" portrayed
historical events based on the writer's own ideas, and that is known as
the "Spring and Autumn" technique of writing.

Finally, Confucius completed the editing of "Shi (Poem)," "Shu (Book)
," "Li (Ceremony) ," "Yue (Music)," "Yi (Changes)," and "Spring and
Autumn," that are called "Liu Yi (Six Arts)." Confucius used "Shi
(Poem) ," "Shu (Book) ," "Li (Ceremony) ," and "Yue (Music)" as
textbooks to teach his students. He had about three thousand students
(out of which 72 of them were known as able and virtuous). There were
even more who received Confucius's teaching in various aspects but
were  not formally registered as his students.

When he was about to die, his student Zi Gong came to see him.
Confucius sighed and sang: "Mount Tai is going to collapse! The main
post is going to break and the philosopher is going to die!" Tears came
out of Confucius' eyes while he was singing and he said to Zi Gong,
"The world has lost common Tao for a long time. No one will follow my
proposal ..." Seven days later, Confucius died at the age of 73. It was
on the day of Ji Chou, April, 479 B. C.

Based on his words and behavior, Confucius' students edited his
"Statement," and it has become the most direct and reliable material by
which we understand Confucius today. Confucius has told people what the
Middle Way is, thus laying the foundation of the standard for being a
human, which is benevolence, justice, courtesy, wisdom and trust. It
has had tremendous influence on the history and culture of China and
even Southeast Asia.

The famous historian Sima Qian once said, "'The Poem' has the following
lines, 'Tall as a mountain to be respected by people and great as Tao
to be followed by people.' Ever since the ancient time, there are many
emperors and virtuous men, who were influential officials and glorious
when alive, but left nothing when they died. Confucius was an ordinary
man but scholars called him a great teacher. From emperors, dukes to
ordinary people who talked about the 'Six Arts,' they all take
Confucius' theories as the highest principle. It can be said that
Confucius is the supreme saint." Sima Qian's appraisal is considered
quite accurate.



When the great Tao was spreading in the land of China, in another
ancient country, India, Sakyamuni's Buddha law had started to spread at
the same time.

Sakyamuni was born in Kapilavastu of ancient India. His mother Queen
Mayadevi gave birth to Sakyamuni at Lumbini (today's southern Nepal) on
the way back to her mother's house. It was said in later generations
that when Sakyamuni was born, he walked seven steps forward, and with
each step walked, a lotus flower was created, and he said with one
finger pointing to the sky and one finger pointing to the earth: "Above
the heaven and under the earth, I am the most important." This was
actually made up by later generations. In this universe, there are
numerous Gods and Buddhas of different heavens. Who dares to be so
arrogant and boastful? Sakyamuni would never have done so. This story
is actually the result of fanatical religious sentiment. A Buddha would
be happier to see people to cultivate according to his teaching rather
than extolling out of nothing.

Sakyamuni held compassionate feelings for all mankind from a very young
age and liked to ponder on the truth of life. When he was 19 years old,
Sakyamuni abandoned his throne to cultivate. Back then in India, there
were different sects for cultivation. First, Sakyamuni cultivated "Wu
Xiang Ding (nothingness, thought, Samadi)" for three years and finally
succeeded, but he thought that it was not the Tao and the ultimate
truth, so he abandoned it. Then, Sakyamuni cultivated "Fei Xiang Fei
Fei Xiang Ding (No thought, Not No thought, Samadi)" for three years
and finally reached this realm. However, he found that wasn't the Tao
either, so he abandoned it too. Twice, Sakyamuni abandoned what he knew
was not the Tao. Then he couldn't find any real master, so he went to a
snowy mountain where it was severely cold to be a complete ascetic and
cultivate. He ate only one dried fruit and starved to the point where
he no longer looked like a human. He suffered this way in order to find
the truth. But six years later, he found that being an ascetic was not
the Tao either, so he came down from the mountain.

Sakyamuni came to the Ganges River where he fell over and lost
consciousness because he was so thin and couldn't endure starvation any
more. A woman goatherd happened to pass there and offered him some good
cheese. Sakyamuni got good nutrition and recovered his strength. But he
had no way to find a real master to guide him, so he crossed Ganges
River and came to a Bohdi tree on the bank of Ganges River and sat down
for meditation. He vowed to become the "supreme enlightened being" or
else he would die there.

Sakyamuni meditated under the Bohdi tree for 49 days. In the early
morning of the 49th day, he lifted his head and looked at the bright
stars in the sky. With this one look, his divine and supernormal powers
instantly got unlocked and his thought was opened at that moment. He
then suddenly remembered everything he cultivated before and knew his
current and previous lives, and all the things he should know after
reaching enlightenment. Because of the impact of the energy released
from Sakyamuni's enlightenment, a shock occurred over a very large
geographic area at the moment of his enlightenment. People regarded it
as a light earthquake, mountains collapsing and Tsunami, but it was
actually caused by Sakyamuni's enlightenment. Of course, Buddha's
energy is compassionate and won't harm people. Sakyamuni knew he had
attained the Tao, because he already possessed wisdom and ability after
enlightenment. After twelve years of arduous cultivation, Buddha
Sakyamuni finally reached enlightenment. Since then, Sakyamuni started
his 49 years' of preaching his Fa.


The characteristics of Sakyamuni's school are "precept, samadhi,
wisdom". Precepts are for giving up all everyday people's desires and
attachments; samadhi refers to sitting in meditation for actual
cultivation, and wisdom refers to that one becomes enlightened with
great wisdom. The many thousands of volumes of scriptures are all
surrounding these three characteristics. Of course, the details of the
expressions of these are very complicated when speaking broadly, but at
the core are these three characteristics.

Back then, eight religions prevailed in that society at the same time.
The Dharma Sakyamuni taught battled ideologically with seven other
religions all the time. At that time, Brahmanism was very strong and
competed with Sakyamuni the most. Mr. Li Hongzhi has told us in his
work: "Everyone knows that Brahmanism is the one Sakyamuni opposed
most. He thought it was a religion that had become evil and it was the
opposite of Sakyamuni's Buddhism. Actually I tell everyone that what
Sakyamuni opposed was Brahmanism but not the God of Brahmins, and the
Gods Brahmanism believed in during its original period were all Buddhas
that were much earlier than Sakaymuni. However as time went by, people
abandoned the righteous faith in Buddha and made the religion evil,
even killing living beings to worship Buddha. Eventually, the gods they
worshipped were not in Buddha's image and they started to worship some
demons and devils of strange shapes. People made the religion evil."
(unofficial translation, "Teaching the Fa at the Houston Fa

People's words and behavior had the Buddhas' teachings from prehistory,
so Brahmanism entered the Dharma ending period. At that time,
Sakyamuni's Dharma started to spread in India. Because what Sakyamuni
taught was the righteous Fa and he continuously out-argued other
religions' taught principles, there were always people from other
religions who abandoned their religion and became converted to
Buddhism. For example, one of his students who later became the She Li
Buddha and achieved the highest wisdom among all students was once a
practitioner of Brahmanism. He argued with Sakyamuni and came to know
that Sakyamuni was teaching the righteous Fa, so he left Brahmanism and
became the wisest disciple of Buddha Sakyamuni. In this way,
Sakyamuni's Fa became stronger and stronger while other religions
gradually declined. Buddhism gradually became not acceptable to the
other religions. The conflicts between religions were finally
intensified to the extent that Luo Xing religious people openly killed
Buddhists. Mu Jian Lian, who was Sakyamuni's number one student in
possessing supernormal power, was killed by a rock pushed down from the
top of a mountain by Luo Xing religious people and became the first
Buddhist martyr. People from other religions also captured Buddhists
and threw them into fires, or tied them onto posts and killed them with
arrows. Buddhists had been beheaded in groups of five hundred people.
All these persecutions are truly sad!

After Sakyamuni reached Nirvana, other religions became prosperous
again. Buddhism went through many reforms and it eventually
incorporated something from Brahmanism and became a new religion called
Hunduism. Hinduism no longer believes in Sakyamuni, nor does it worship
any Buddha. Buddhism started in India, but it disappeared from India in
the end. However, Buddhist Dharma became wide spread in other regions
such as Southeast Asia and China and deeply influenced the cultures of
these countries.


1"Teaching the Fa at the European Fa Conference" By Master Li Hongzhi

Zhuan Falun by Master Li Hongzhi

3"Teaching the Fa at the Houston Fa Conference" by Master Li Hongzhi

Translated from:

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