Who was Lao Zi?
Lao Zi plays a central role in Daoism. Lao Zi and his writings, the Dao De Jing, are important whether one is interested in the religious, philosophical, nourishing life or any of the other aspects of Daoism.
Some people think of Lao Zi as the creator of Daoism due to the impact of the Dao De Jing. The “religion of Daoism” actually started later, but all traditions of Daoism have reverence for Lao Zi and the writings that legendarily came from him.
Lao Zi literally means “Old Child” or “Old Teacher” and he is thought to have lived at the end of the Spring & Autumn period (770-476 BCE) or some say that he lived in the Warring States period (475-221 BCE).
His given name was Li Er 李耳and a posthumous name given to him wasLi Dan 李聃. In religious writings he is referred to as Taishang Laojun, aka Dao De. This signifies his place as one of the 3 Pure Ones- San Qing 三清, along with Yuanshi Tianzun 元始天尊, and Lingbao Tianzun 靈寶天尊.
The 3 Pure Ones are a trinity of Celestial deities that are at the top of the hierarchy of Immortals.
Lao Zi does have a documented history of living in ancient China.
One story of Lao Zi’s birth is that one of the San Qing- 3 Purities, Dao De, came to Lao Zi’s mother. She was a princess and dreamt that a god entered her body. 36 months later she gave birth through her armpit to Lao Zi. He was born with white hair and was already very knowledgeable. He immediately grew tall and started to teach about the Heavenly Way.
Later in life Lao Zi was an Imperial archivist (librarian). He left his post due to his seeing that the Zhou Dynasty was disintegrating with moral decay and also that society was not open to his philosophy.
Lao Zi was a contemporary of Kong Fu Zi- Confucius and Confucius actually consulted with Lao Zi.
After he left the post of Imperial archivist Lao Zi went westward.
As the story goes, the guardian of the western pass was Yinxi. YInxi looked up one day and saw a purple light coming from the east. Yinxi knew that an Immortal must be coming. He cleared a path for 30 Li (around 9 ½ miles).
Laozi stayed here for 3 years imparting the Dao to Yinxi. The place where this happened is Lou Tai Guan 楼观台寺 (Tower Platform Temple) west of Xian in Shaanxi province.
He then traveled to India and infused the teachings of the Dao into other cultures.
The Dao De Jing is composed of 5000 characters and arranged in 81 chapters.