Taoism > Masters

What is a Master?

On reading the description of the Taoist master made by Lao-tzu himself, one cannot help feeling utterly confused. In our mind, a master's image retains something from the Biblical symbolism of Jesus Christ, one of the archetypes of all masters.

The 3 sages
The three Masters: Buddha, Confucius
and Lao-tzu

Christ is presented either as a human being agonizing on the cross - the posture of the sacrificed lamb who has taken upon him our sins - or as the healer and the savior raising people from death.

Moreover, Christ is acknowledged to have defeated the death, while he himself arose from death. He is God's incarnation and that renders to him the attributes of the heavenly Father.

Returning to Lao-tzu, the Taoist master owns nothing of these magical features: he is no savior, no healer, no conqueror of death, and no son of God (even if Master Lao would call him the Son of Heaven). He doesn't have the mission to bring the world on the right path (although he can do things to restore the natural condition of people away from the rightness). Thus, he doesn't try to convince people to follow his way as long as they don't feel the urge to do this!

Lao-tzu offers us this passage with the Taoist master's image penetrating from a painstaking description:

    Shrinking looked they like those who wade through a stream in winter; irresolute like those who are afraid of all around them; grave like a guest (in awe of his host); evanescent like ice that is melting away; unpretentious like wood that has not been fashioned into anything; vacant like a valley, and dull like muddy water. (Tao-te ching, v. 15, Legge version).

Let's notice that features that are least noble of all - shrinking, irresolute, evanescent  - find their place in the personality of a Taoist master! All these characteristics that Lao-tzu finds difficult to describe are food for our thought, like some Zen koans!


Here, on this site we are going to study the Taoist masters' lives and works as well. Still, I advise the reader to keep in mind the lines above, once he is absorbed in reading.

    => Read about:
    Hui Neng - though he combined Taoism and Buddhism, he taught a Way which is Taoist in its very core.

    - Confucius - although he is not a Taoist, he met Lao-tzu (the father of Taoism) to talk about rites and he is the main character of several dialogues of the Taoist philosophy.

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