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Was Lao Zi A Real Historic Human Being?

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Posted (edited)

I've asked this before. But I did not get an answer, so I'll ask again.  Do you feel that Lao Zi was a real, historic human being? As the author of the Dao de Jing (??), I would very much like to discuss this.  If you'd like to give it a go here, please write.  Thanks,  Peace Wayist

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10 hours ago, Wayist said:

I've asked this before. But I did not get an answer, so I'll ask again.  Do you feel that Lao Zi was a real, historic human being? As the author of the Dao de Jing (??), I would very much like to discuss this.  If you'd like to give it a go here, please write.  Thanks,  Peace Wayist

 

There is simply no way of knowing from a historical perspective if Lao Zi might have been an actual person, and whether the content included in the Dao De Jing originated from one single person or not. The Dao De Jing appears to me to be a collection of various sayings and concepts, which are not so well organized, and which may very well have originated from different sources, as opposed to a cohesive single block of text written by one person. 

 

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Posted (edited)
10 hours ago, Iskote said:

 

There is simply no way of knowing from a historical perspective if Lao Zi might have been an actual person, and whether the content included in the Dao De Jing originated from one single person or not. The Dao De Jing appears to me to be a collection of various sayings and concepts, which are not so well organized, and which may very well have originated from different sources, as opposed to a cohesive single block of text written by one person. 

 

Iskote, Yes, many people believe exactly that! That the Dao de Jing is put together from many different people, and sources, even that it was assembled at many different times.  One of the first Daodejing's that I read, was translated by Bill Porter, or as most people like to call him; "Red Pine". He seemed to pretty strongly believe that Lao Zi was a real historical person.  He even showed us where Lao Zi might have have lived, via black and white photos, and the place where the "guard of the Pass" got Lao Zi to spend some time writing down the Daodejing.  I really like Red Pine's translation.  I think that Bill Porter made a believer out of me, to Lao Zi's physical existence, at a certain place, and at a certain time. This maybe is nothing more then wanting to believe in a fairy tale, or to believe in Santa Claus, if you will. I've read a couple of books about the archeological digs where a couple of really ancient copies of the Dao de Jing, were found in burial graves. I know that this isn't much, but it seems to add more historicity to the Dao de Jing.  At least it does for me!  Thanks for writing Iskote!  Peace, Wayist

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11 hours ago, Iskote said:

 

There is simply no way of knowing from a historical perspective if Lao Zi might have been an actual person, and whether the content included in the Dao De Jing originated from one single person or not. The Dao De Jing appears to me to be a collection of various sayings and concepts, which are not so well organized, and which may very well have originated from different sources, as opposed to a cohesive single block of text written by one person. 

 


I recently posted this link in the conspiracy theory thread. It speaks a bit towards what you mention here.

 

https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/507927

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14 hours ago, Bhathen said:

Why do you think he might/might not be real? 

Bhathen, Please see my reply to iskote above.  Peace, Wayist

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If you know the importance in the traditional Chinese culture of the concept of lineage, the point becomes somewhat moot.  A lineage is real, and a particular master down the line who embodies it most fully may become famous, venerated, etc.., without having invented that bicycle.  It's sort of like a collaboration between individual accomplishment and the accomplishments of all masters that went before.  Rarely are they surpassed, but occasionally a sage may come to encompass them all -- to the extent that his or her own personality dissolves into the lineage stream, becomes unimportant.  Alternatively, this sage can add enough of his or her own flavor to all that went before in the lineage to amplify its importance.  I believe Laozi was an example of this kind of fate for teachings, ideas, and in all likelihood practices of a particular stream of proto-taoist shamanism.  Some schools went as far as to deify him as Laojun (Lord Lao), placing him before his lineage and even before creation itself.  That's a very interesting concept too, hinting that time is not linear (there's quite a bit of taoist lore dedicated to that subject).  

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Another source of veneration is if a particular lineage master does something valuable for the integrity of the lineage. They may protect the continuity of transmission or bring together disparate elements, synthesizing them under one banner, and so forth. There are many examples in various lineages of spiritual and philosophical teachings and martial arts. Several examples in the Tibetan Bön tradition.

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16 hours ago, Taomeow said:

If you know the importance in the traditional Chinese culture of the concept of lineage, the point becomes somewhat moot.  A lineage is real, and a particular master down the line who embodies it most fully may become famous, venerated, etc.., without having invented that bicycle.  It's sort of like a collaboration between individual accomplishment and the accomplishments of all masters that went before.  Rarely are they surpassed, but occasionally a sage may come to encompass them all -- to the extent that his or her own personality dissolves into the lineage stream, becomes unimportant.  Alternatively, this sage can add enough of his or her own flavor to all that went before in the lineage to amplify its importance.  I believe Laozi was an example of this kind of fate for teachings, ideas, and in all likelihood practices of a particular stream of proto-taoist shamanism.  Some schools went as far as to deify him as Laojun (Lord Lao), placing him before his lineage and even before creation itself.  That's a very interesting concept too, hinting that time is not linear (there's quite a bit of taoist lore dedicated to that subject).  

Taomeow, and Steve, I've not thought much at all, of this way of looking at Lao Zi. So, I have to try to be open to this new concept (to me). I find it interesting, and perhaps a concept that needs much more thought and meditation. So Lao Zi and his writings might have embodied many more sages,  and/or many more sages might have "sprung" (I can't think of a better word here!) from his lineage. I really appreciate you two sharing this thinking with me, because I'm not sure that I would have arrived there by my self, if you will. Peace,  Wayist 

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On 8/14/2020 at 12:51 AM, Wayist said:

I've asked this before. But I did not get an answer, so I'll ask again.  Do you feel that Lao Zi was a real, historic human being? As the author of the Dao de Jing (??), I would very much like to discuss this.  If you'd like to give it a go here, please write.  Thanks,  Peace Wayist

 

Here is a thread with some additional info and discussion on the topic...

 

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7 hours ago, flowing hands said:

Sorry I'm not joining in:)


:laughs, leans in and whispers in a conspiratorial tone:

 

I think you just did... 

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Posted (edited)
On 8/14/2020 at 7:14 PM, Wayist said:

Iskote, Yes, many people believe exactly that! That the Dao de Jing is put together from many different people, and sources, even that it was assembled at many different times.  One of the first Daodejing's that I read, was translated by Bill Porter, or as most people like to call him; "Red Pine". He seemed to pretty strongly believe that Lao Zi was a real historical person.  He even showed us where Lao Zi might have have lived, via black and white photos, and the place where the "guard of the Pass" got Lao Zi to spend some time writing down the Daodejing.  I really like Red Pine's translation.  I think that Bill Porter made a believer out of me, to Lao Zi's physical existence, at a certain place, and at a certain time. This maybe is nothing more then wanting to believe in a fairy tale, or to believe in Santa Claus, if you will. I've read a couple of books about the archeological digs where a couple of really ancient copies of the Dao de Jing, were found in burial graves. I know that this isn't much, but it seems to add more historicity to the Dao de Jing.  At least it does for me!  Thanks for writing Iskote!  Peace, Wayist

 

Hi Wayist. Just to be clear, I didn't say anything about believing anything in regards to this topic. I just pointed out that there is (likely) no way from a historical perspective to know what the actual origins of that text are, or whether 'Lao Zi' was an actual person or not. It is just too long ago, at a time where little or no accurate or reliable records may have been kept. Even if some very old written text is found in a cave somewhere referring to Lao Zi as a person and describing his life, it still likely wouldn't prove anything. People can write whatever they like, but it doesn't mean it is necessarily accurate or factual. 

 

I just gave my personal impression of the Dao De Jing text based on its content and the way it is written. Belief is belief. Facts and reality can be quite another matter. Some people believe this. Some people believe that. For many people that is enough. What they believe is what they believe, and that is all there is to it for them. That is human nature. However, many things people believe are not necessarily at all even close to the actual truth. All any person can do from a practical point of view is take what makes sense to them at any given point in their life and try to make use of it, if it seems useful to them. Sometimes these assumptions/beliefs may seem to help out at a given point in a person's life, and sometimes they may not. What 'works' for one person may not work at all for another person. It's all part of the human experience. One thing to keep in mind, where strong belief is involved there is usually not much room at all for reasonable discussion. :) People often express their beliefs as if it is solid fact, and they are not really interested in any other perspective, even if they say they are.  Also, people may not even realize to any degree at all they are operating strongly from belief on any given topic. They may insist that their point of view if based solely on experience and fact. Any given person's 'experience' and 'fact' can actually be very very biased by their beliefs however. The more a person understands about how beliefs strongly influence any given person's view of 'reality', the more they realize how little they really know. Well, that's my own personal biased point of view anyway. :lol:

 

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On 8/14/2020 at 5:51 AM, Wayist said:

I've asked this before. But I did not get an answer, so I'll ask again.  Do you feel that Lao Zi was a real, historic human being? As the author of the Dao de Jing (??), I would very much like to discuss this.  If you'd like to give it a go here, please write.  Thanks,  Peace Wayist

 See this

 

 

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I'm reminded again of a well studied Westerner who went to a Daoism conference in China.  In a discussion on Lao Zi, brought up the point on whether he should be considered a real historic figure or not.  She was kicked out of the conference. wah wah.  Thus be careful where you ask the question.

 

There's a famous book, not the TTC, that is credited to Lao Zi, but seems to be written much much later.  Good book, I forget the name, it might be somewhat common for books to get credited with famous sages name. 

 

My view.. don't know.. I assume there is a sage behind the legend.  The wisdom of the book is more important then the unknowable details of its writing.  I just picked up the Heshang Gong Commentary on Lao Zi's Dao De Jing.  Good book with indepth commentary on the philosophy including a historical overview of its meaning.  Willing to cross reference different chapters to draw out subjects. 

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I want to thank everyone who has written so far, to perhaps answer my question(s). Honestly, I feel like I'm a Beginner. I care about Compassion, and being Open to the Dao. That's where I am right now. I've read a lot from the DDJ, some I understand, and some I do not understand (or maybe only a little bit). Perhaps that will come, or it will not. I feel that it is important to acknowledge people trying to communicate with us, and to say "Thank you" to them. I pretty much think that there are very few "accidents", here on this level. We are where we are. I would like to go further, into investigating the Dao, that's why I'm here.  Peace, Wayist

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On 8/17/2020 at 12:07 PM, thelerner said:

I'm reminded again of a well studied Westerner who went to a Daoism conference in China.  In a discussion on Lao Zi, brought up the point on whether he should be considered a real historic figure or not.  She was kicked out of the conference. wah wah.  Thus be careful where you ask the question.

 

There's a famous book, not the TTC, that is credited to Lao Zi, but seems to be written much much later.  Good book, I forget the name, it might be somewhat common for books to get credited with famous sages name. 

 

My view.. don't know.. I assume there is a sage behind the legend.  The wisdom of the book is more important then the unknowable details of its writing.  I just picked up the Heshang Gong Commentary on Lao Zi's Dao De Jing.  Good book with indepth commentary on the philosophy including a historical overview of its meaning.  Willing to cross reference different chapters to draw out subjects. 


The Hua Hu Ching is the other text, preserved through oral transmission after it was banned, and all copies of it were ordered to be burned (according to the introductory material in the Complete Works of Lao Tzu by Hua-Ching Ni).

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This is an interesting subject.  I think most people would not care whether Lao Zi was a true person or not.  They are more interested to know if he became a true immortal afterwards.

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Posted (edited)

I *think* that the Lao Zi might have been *an oral tradition* in the beginning (before it was written down). Yes, I believe that Lao Zi was a real person. I've been intrigued by the idea of him being a Court Librarian during the Warring Years, and simply tiring of his part of the human race, and riding off on a Water Buffalo, towards India (perhaps), when he was met by the person (a border guard?) who convinced him (Lao Zi) to write down what became the Dao de Jing.  I've read a lot of Daoist literature, some of which tells us that there was a purple (the color of majesty, I suppose) "cloud" that was around Lao Zi, as he traveled. I find this interesting, and if he (Lao Zi) WAS a kind of shaman, this might be a kind shamanic manifestation. This is all that's written down about Lao Zi in my opinion, and there is no  kind of history (written, or otherwise), that is for sure about any of this.  Peace,  Wayist

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2 hours ago, Wayist said:

 

I've read a lot of Daoist literature, some of which tells us that there was a purple (the color of majesty, I suppose) "cloud" that was around Lao Zi, as he traveled. 

The color gan, purple, is one of the symbols of the perfectly reverted Elixir. 

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13 minutes ago, Cleansox said:

The color gan, purple, is one of the symbols of the perfectly reverted Elixir. 

 

And of the North Pole Star of Purple Subtlety, aka The Purple Rose. :) 

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22 minutes ago, Taomeow said:

 The Purple Rose.

Is there a backstory for this? 

 

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10 hours ago, Cleansox said:

Is there a backstory for this? 

 

The Four Heavenly Ministers( 四御 Siyu ), including the Great Jade Emperor ( 玉皇大帝 Yuhuang Dadi ), the Middle Heaven Great Emperor of the North Pole Star of Purple Subtlety ( 中天北極紫微大帝 Zhongtian Beiji Ziwei Dadi ), the Great Heavenly Emperor of the Highest Palace of Polaris ( 勾陳上宮天皇大帝 Gouchen Shanggong Tianhuang Dadi ) and the Imperial God of Earth ( 后土皇地祇 Houtu Huang Diqi ), are four deities in charge of all things in Heaven and Earth under the Three Pristine Ones ( 三清 Sanqing ). The Great Jade Emperor is the master of the ten thousand spirits. The Middle Heaven Great Emperor of the North Pole Star of Purple Subtlety, as the Stellar Sovereign ( 星君 Xingjun ) of the Purple Subtlety Constellation, is situated in Middle Heaven ( 中天 Zhongtian ) and is the master of all the stars. The Great Heavenly Emperor of the Highest Palace of Polaris, which is composed of four stars left of the Imperial Polar Constellation, is located at the Pole Star as the pivot of heaven. The Imperial God of Earth is the center of Heaven and Earth; it had a a male form before the Tang dynasty and acquired a female form during Wu Zetian's reign. Queen Pan of the Song Emperor Zhenzong built a temple on Mt Song for the worship of the Great Holy Earth Queen of Mysterious Heaven ( 后土玄天大聖后 Houtu Xuantian Da Sheng Hou ). Emperor Hui, in the seventh year of the Zhenghe Era, honored the spirit with the title "Imperial Earth Queen Who Receives and Follows Heavenly Laws and Promotes Kind Virtue" ( 承天效法厚德光大后土皇地祇 Chengtian Xiaofa Houde Guande Huang Diqi ). Since then, the Earth Goddess has always been depicted as a female. Since the Song dynasty, owing to the promotion of the Jade Emperor in position and function in the Daoist pantheon, he is often classified in some Daoist scriptures outside of the Four Heavenly Ministers, which are then listed as the Heavenly Emperors of the four poles of the cardinal directions. They are called the North Pole Emperor of Purple Subtlety ( 北極紫微大帝 Beiji Ziwei Dadi ), the South Pole Emperor of Longevity ( 南極長生大帝 Nanji Changsheng Dadi ), the Heavenly Emperor of the Supreme Ultimate ( 太極天皇大帝 Taiji Tianhuang Dadi ), and the East Pole Emperor of Blue Essence ( 東極青華大帝 Dongji Qinghua Dadi ). Contemporary Daoism has returned to the pre-Song identification of the Four Heavenly Ministers.

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1 hour ago, Cleansox said:

That was a backstory, but who got the Rose? 

 

It has to do with a 1000-year-old school of feng shui known as Zi Wei Dou Shu.

 

Zi Wei (紫薇) - purple Rosa multiflora(薔薇).  This color is related to spiritual aspiration. 微 is used for 薇 in ancient/simplifed Chinese writing. Noble rose referred to the North Star.

Dou (斗) - 北斗星 Big Dipper constellation, North Star, Pole star. 

Shu (数) - calculation.

 

This system was used chiefly (and for a very long time, exclusively) to chart the fate of emperors.  It is complex, relies heavily on astronomical observations, and is centered around the North Star (the world revolves around it -- just like it revolves around the ruler, the emperor -- so it was interpreted as Emperor star.)  To a cultivated eye, its color is actually purple and it looks like a rose, they asserted in the Tang dynasty.  Modern astronomy seems to corroborate that assertion.

 

image.png.81c732a03fafa7a5fb04d4ccb4234843.png

 

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Posted (edited)
12 hours ago, Taomeow said:

The Four Heavenly Ministers( 四御 Siyu ), including the Great Jade Emperor ( 玉皇大帝 Yuhuang Dadi ), the Middle Heaven Great Emperor of the North Pole Star of Purple Subtlety ( 中天北極紫微大帝 Zhongtian Beiji Ziwei Dadi ), the Great Heavenly Emperor of the Highest Palace of Polaris ( 勾陳上宮天皇大帝 Gouchen Shanggong Tianhuang Dadi ) and the Imperial God of Earth ( 后土皇地祇 Houtu Huang Diqi ), are four deities in charge of all things in Heaven and Earth under the Three Pristine Ones ( 三清 Sanqing ). The Great Jade Emperor is the master of the ten thousand spirits. The Middle Heaven Great Emperor of the North Pole Star of Purple Subtlety, as the Stellar Sovereign ( 星君 Xingjun ) of the Purple Subtlety Constellation, is situated in Middle Heaven ( 中天 Zhongtian ) and is the master of all the stars. The Great Heavenly Emperor of the Highest Palace of Polaris, which is composed of four stars left of the Imperial Polar Constellation, is located at the Pole Star as the pivot of heaven. The Imperial God of Earth is the center of Heaven and Earth; it had a a male form before the Tang dynasty and acquired a female form during Wu Zetian's reign. Queen Pan of the Song Emperor Zhenzong built a temple on Mt Song for the worship of the Great Holy Earth Queen of Mysterious Heaven ( 后土玄天大聖后 Houtu Xuantian Da Sheng Hou ). Emperor Hui, in the seventh year of the Zhenghe Era, honored the spirit with the title "Imperial Earth Queen Who Receives and Follows Heavenly Laws and Promotes Kind Virtue" ( 承天效法厚德光大后土皇地祇 Chengtian Xiaofa Houde Guande Huang Diqi ). Since then, the Earth Goddess has always been depicted as a female. Since the Song dynasty, owing to the promotion of the Jade Emperor in position and function in the Daoist pantheon, he is often classified in some Daoist scriptures outside of the Four Heavenly Ministers, which are then listed as the Heavenly Emperors of the four poles of the cardinal directions. They are called the North Pole Emperor of Purple Subtlety ( 北極紫微大帝 Beiji Ziwei Dadi ), the South Pole Emperor of Longevity ( 南極長生大帝 Nanji Changsheng Dadi ), the Heavenly Emperor of the Supreme Ultimate ( 太極天皇大帝 Taiji Tianhuang Dadi ), and the East Pole Emperor of Blue Essence ( 東極青華大帝 Dongji Qinghua Dadi ). Contemporary Daoism has returned to the pre-Song identification of the Four Heavenly Ministers.

 

Taomeow, It seems like you have been around Daoism for a long while. Had you heard the story before about "the purple cloud" that was surrounding Lao Zi as he traveled to leave China?  Some of what you wrote I understand, some of it, I do not. Do you believe this purple cloud story?  Might you be able to explain it to me, as a beginner, and what it might mean to the Lao Zi/Dao de Jing story. I hope that I'm not trying to simplify this too much!.  Thank you to all who wrote about this!  Peace, Wayist

 

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