Taoism > Masters

The Striking Features of Taoist Master
According to Lao-tzu

Picture by Eskild Tjalve

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.

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.* He doesn't have the mission to bring the world on the right path. 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, chapter 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 and I advise the reader to keep in mind the lines above, once he is absorbed in reading.

*And yet there were persons in Chinese history who claimed to possess magical powers and healing abilities, calling themselves Heavenly Masters. They created messianic movements but we don't deal with them here. We mainly follow the Lao-tzu's opinion on how sages looks like.


Read about:

  • Lao-tzu
  • Chuang-tzu
  • Lieh-tzu
  • Yang-tzu
  • Hui Neng - he blended the Taoist and Buddhist believes in a new one, the so-called Ch'an (Meditation) School. The study of his Dharma is a must for Taoists.
  • Confucius - although he was not a Taoist, he met Lao-tzu to talk about rites only to find that everything in the universe is ruled by the low of change, so there are no fixed rules. He is also a character of many Chuang-tzu's and Lieh-tzu's stories.
  • Master Lu - commentaries and dialogues (edited by Jhian).

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