Lau-tzu is simply Chinese for Old Master and the man who bore this title was Li Erh who was born around 604 B.C. and lived a long and good life as the royal court librarian and historian. As the story goes, when he retired he was asked to write down his thoughts and thus became the founder of Taoism, which began not as a religion but as a philosophy. The best translation for Tao is the way which means that Taoism is both the path and the method for enlightenment.
The words he gave us all are filled with wisdom and ambiguity---because life is neither simple nor obvious. They are the ideas of a mature and thoughtful person who has lived a full life and understood what works and what doesnt work. As librarian and historian he was able to sit back and explore life and gave us a wonderful gift with his culminating thoughts that he drew together at the end. The following are some of those thoughts.
Not to honor men of worth will keep the people from contention; not to value goods which are hard to come by will keep them from theft; not to display what is desirable will keep them from being unsettled of mind.
Although these sayings are over 2,500 years old, to my ear they are as fresh as a newborn child. These two sayings, the one above and below, strike at the heart of what is wrong with American society today just as the words were relevant to Chinese society 2,500 years ago.
There is no crime greater than having too many desires;
There is no disaster greater than not being content;
There is no misfortune greater than being covetous.
Hence in being content, one will always have enough.
So what can you do to become content in a nonmaterialistic manner? What can you nurture in your life that is unrelated to things that will bring you deep and meaningful contentment?
Those who are good I treat as good. Those who are not good I also treat as good. In so doing I gain in goodness. Those who are of good faith I have faith in. Those who are lacking in good faith I also have faith in. In so doing I gain in good faith.
This saying is a wonderful one that will bring great personal contentment to you if you practice it. However, do so thoughtfully. By that I mean that you should know that some that you treat as good are not good and some that you have faith in will fail you. Lao-tzu is not asking you to be naïve or stupid. He is asking you to be open, caring, accepting of everyone while knowing that some may not respond in kind. The Golden Rule of doing to others as you would have them do unto you has no exceptions. It doesnt say: Do unto those who are good and faithful . It is an inclusive concept. The others are everyone. Lao-tzu alerts you to the fact that the accepting of others pays great dividends to you.
Other quotes by him are:
Knowing others is to be clever.
Knowing yourself is to be enlightened.
Overcoming others requires force.
Overcoming yourself requires strength.
To know that you have enough is to be rich.
There is a time to breathe easy and a time to breathe hard.
There is a time to be vigorous and a time to be gentle.
There is a time to gather and a time to release.
Therefore, the True Person avoids extremes, self-indulgence, and extravagance.
Other quotes from other great minds that may help you understand Lao-tzu's ideas are these:
My storehouse having been burnt down,
Nothing obstructs the view of the bright moon. ----Masahide
Not even a hat---
and cold rain falling on me?
Tut-tut! Think of that! ----Basho
Sitting quietly, doing nothing,
Spring comes, and the grass grows by itself. ---Zenrin Kushu
Things are in the saddle,
And ride mankind. ---Emerson