Lao Tzu was a Chinese philosopher who lived in the 6th century BC. He is the reputed author of the Tao Te Ching, the work which exemplifies his thought.
Philosopher was born in what is now China’s Henan Province. He may have been a contemporary of Confucius (551–479 BC), although their lives overlapped by only a few years. In fact, Lao Tzu’s mother was said to be a princess and his father an official; he was also related to Confucius by marriage. It is possible that Lao Tzu served as prime minister to one or more kings of the Chou Dynasty (1050–256 BC), but this is not certain.
The main source for our knowledge of Lao Tzu is from The Way and Its Power (also known as Tao Te Ching), his most famous work, written around 500 BCE. Lao Tzu wrote this book during his retirement from public life; it contains the philosophical thoughts he had developed during his long career as an advisor to various rulers of China over a period of sixty years or more.
In addition, Lao Tzu’s life and work are shrouded in legend and myth. His name translates as “Old Master,” which suggests that he was an older man when he became famous. It is possible that Lao Tzu was one of several writers who contributed to the Tao Te Ching, or that he was simply a later editor of older material.
The Tao Te Ching is an anthology of poems and aphorisms on how to live a good life by following nature’s way instead of society’s rules. It has had a tremendous influence on Eastern philosophy, religion, and literature.