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The “Ten Epistles From the Tao Te Chin”, Written by Lao Tzu Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Jan 7th, 2022

The ten epistles are believed to have been the written thoughts and perceptions about humanity and the life of a Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. They were penned around the sixth century when he was approached by a city guard, who saw that Lao may be leaving the city for good. Tao, then a renowned philosopher aside from Confucius, took his time to write the script that is widely referred to as the “Ten epistles”. That was the last that was heard of him by his statesmen, and it was his word and wisdom that has stood the test of time to be taught in classes to date. He had been angered by the political turmoil rocking his kingdom so he opted to leave. Lau and Confucius were mostly seen to engage in public arguments about humanity, wisdom, and the various aspects that govern human life. In these arguments, Lau almost always emerged as the winner except on some few incidences when Confucius outsmarted him. Even then, he was revered, feared, and respected thought the kingdom, and this earned him a place in their society. He curved a niche for himself due to his vast knowledge and wits and was one of the people who would be consulted in times of calamity (Derricks 16).

One aspect that associates him and links him to his other native thinkers is his style of writing. His flare in using paradox, comparison, using antique quotes, phrases, and sayings, use of poetic styles to pass across his messages is unquestioned. Thought his life he advocated for a peaceful approach to issues and a gentle attitude towards everything his people came across.

Lao’s writings’ are unique in that they touch on all aspects of life, both ancient and recent on matters affecting both individual and whole states. The thoughts and opinion passed over from then are still significant to the modern systems of government, since the wisdom has stayed on after the founders are long gone. In this article, therefore, we shall analyze some of Lao’s writings and try to relate them to the present-day governorship of South Korea. We shall recap a part of the writing (9 epistles) that is relevant to the course of our studies today. These are epistle one (the way), epistle two (abstraction), epistle eleven (tools), epistle fourteen (mystery), epistle 22 (home), and epistle twenty seven (Perfection). Others epistles are epistle 30 (violence) and eventually epistle 46, which talks about horses. We shall explore these epistles individually and connecting them to the present South Korea, in order to bring out the meanings of all this.

Epistle one talks about change. It claims that a character that is walked upon or trampled is neither persevering nor ageless. The Lau goes further to assert that the founder of heaven and earth has no name, and that only the mother of creation has a name (Heider 12). He further cautions us against desire, claiming that it’s always shrouded in mystery and that whatever we see is beauty, only feeding the eyes. We cannot fathom what lies beneath. He goes further to claim that the whole world knows or has an idea of what is beautiful, and it’s through understanding this extremity that we know there the other extreme that is the ugly. The beauty is there because of the ugly. He says that one element gives birth to the other, and with this they create the parameter or the boundaries within which life operates.

On tools he goes ahead to lay on some of the things we ignore in the day to day life, the things we assume to be obvious. He gives them a touch of importance by claiming that all these vessels like the axle, the pot, the door and windows all depend on the void they occupy. He claims that the pot would be something else without the void, and would subsequently lose meaning. It is the void that gives it its usefulness.

He personifies mystery; describing it in the various forms the different mindsets perceive it. He claims mystery is equable, due to our inability to see it, the inaudible because we cannot hear it. It becomes subtle when we try to grasp, only to be defeated in the process. When put together, they define mystery. He explains that mystery in nature is fleeting and is hard to determine, that we are living this life in itself is a mystery yet we are clueless about its destiny (Kohn and LaFargue 1998). We only grasp what life brings our way, elongating the mystery hence perpetuating its continuity.

He castigates the perfectionist, that in his quest to perfection, he would want to do things differently. He is always unorthodox, even when there’s just one way out of a situation. He claims that for this man, whoever doesn’t have the skill would look up to him; he would also be his servant. On war and violence, his advice to the commanders is to strike only when necessary, not in order to dominate the other party. He should also stand guard, but the Tao will not exude his mastery through the use of force. His counsel to them is to stay according to the doctrines of the Tao, lest all becomes in-vain. He cautions the Tao that when he rules the world, if he ever would, then his horses would remain in the land and pull their carts. In the process that he is trampled on, then he would only watch as his horses and people breed from across the border as slaves (Heider 34).He encourages him to be contented with what lies within his border. This is the wisdom of Tao Tzu, the last that could be heard of him and what was documented about him before he left the country, never to be heard from again.

Works cited

Heider, John (1998). The Tao of Leadership: Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching Adapted for a New Age.Atlanta: Humanics New Age. Atlanta Usniversity press.

Derricks, Lau. (1963) Lao Tzu: Tao Te Chin. Baltimore: Penguin Books.

Kohn, Livia, and LaFargue, Michael. (1998). Lao-Tzu and the Tao-Te-Ching. Albany: State University of New York Press.

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