Historical Perspective

 According to legend, Lao Tzu was the keeper of the Imperial Archives at Loyang in the 6th century B.C. Sick at heart at the ways of men he decided to ride off on the back of an ox into the desert to die. He was persuaded by a gatekeeper in Northwestern China to write down his teachings for posterity. The writings were in the form of 81 poems which amounted to an open letter to a king. Today the reader can be a king and the poems are directed towards him.

The prevailing philosophy at the time was Confucism. To Lao Tzu the philosophy of Confucism was artificial and there are frequent implications in the poems to the harmful effects of religious and civil rituals. In later years Taoism fell into disrepute and became associated with an amalgam of alchemy, magic and health-culture.

We are living in a different society from that of the Middle Kingdom of China in 300 B.C. when these proverbs, hymns and instructional pieces were probably collected. However, these poems remain the 'white dwarfs' of philosophical literature and continue to give insights into man's place in the Universe.