Laozi ; also romanized as (Lao Tse, Lao Tu, Lao-Tsu, Laotze, Laosi, Laocius, and other variations) was a philosopher of ancient China, best known as the author of the Tao Te Ching (often simply referred to as Laozi). His association with the Tao Te Ching has led him to be traditionally considered the founder of philosophical Taoism (pronounced as "Daoism").
He is also revered as a deity in most religious forms of Taoist philosophy, which often refers to Laozi as Taishang Laojun, or "One of the Three Pure Ones". According to Chinese traditions, Laozi lived in the 6th century BCE. Historians variously contend that Laozi is a synthesis of multiple historical figures, that he is a mythical figure, or that he actually lived in the 5th–4th century BCE, concurrent with the Hundred Schools of Thought and Warring States Period.
The earliest reliable reference to Laozi is found in the Records of the Grand Historian by Chinese historian Sima Qian, which combines a number of stories. In the first, Laozi was said to be a contemporary of Confucius. His surname was Li, and his personal name was Er, or Dan .He was an official in the imperial archives, and wrote a book in two parts before departing to the West. In the second, Laozi was Lao Laiz, also a contemporary of Confucius, who wrote a book in 15 parts. In the third, Laozi was the Grand Historian and astrologer Lao Dan, who lived during the reign of Duke Xian.
Lao Tzu perceived that the kingdom's affairs were disintegrating , so it was time to leave. He was travelling West on a buffalo when he came to the Han Gu Pass, which was guarded. The keeper of the pass realised Lao Tzu was leaving permanently, so he requested that Lao Tzu write out some of his wisdom so that it could be preserved once he was gone.
Lao Tzu climbed down from his buffalo and immediately wrote the Tao Te Ching. He then left and was never heard of again.
Laozi is an honorific title. Lao means "venerable" or "old", such as modern Mandarin laoshi "teacher". Zi, Wade-Giles transliterationtzu, in this context is typically translated "master". Zi was used in ancient China as an honorific suffix, indicating "Master", or "Sir". In popular biographies, Laozi's given name was Er, his surname was Li and his courtesy name was Boyang. Dan is a posthumous name given to Laozi, and he is sometimes referred to as Li Dan.
According to popular traditional biographies, he worked as the Keeper of the Archives for the royal court of Zhou. This reportedly allowed him broad access to the works of the Yellow Emperor and other classics of the time. The stories assert that Laozi never opened a formal school, but he nonetheless attracted a large number of students and loyal disciples. There are numerous variations of a story depicting Confucius consulting Laozi about rituals and the story is related in Zhuangzi (though the author of Zhuangzi may have invented both the story and the character of Laozi).
The story of Laozi has taken on strong religious overtones since the Han dynasty. As Daoism took root, Laozi was recognized as a god. Belief in the revelation of the Dao from the divine Laozi resulted in the formation of the Way of the Celestial Master, the first organized religious Daoist sect. In later mature Daoist tradition, Laozi came to be seen as a personification of Dao. He is said to have undergone numerous "transformations", or taken on various guises in various incarnations throughout history to initiate the faithful in the Way. Religious Daoism often holds that the "Old Master" did not disappear after writing the Daodejing, but rather spent his life traveling to reveal the Dao.
The most important concept developed in Lao Tzu's Tao te ching is tao. Tao literally means "road" or "way." In the Tao te ching it is portrayed as something that cannot be expressed, a concept beyond definition. "The way ( tao ) that can be told of is not the constant way." Tao is so indescribable that the term itself is often not used and is referred to only indirectly. Tao stands as the force behind the universe. There is even an indication that it is the universe itself.
His death time is unknown