Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Supreme Venerable Sovereign (Laozi)

The Supreme Venerable Sovereign, also known as Laozi (Lao-tzu)
(Image: Source unknown)

According to the Taoist tradition, the Birthday of the Supreme Venerable Sovereign (太上老君聖誕) is observed on the 15th day of the 2nd Chinese lunar month. The Supreme Venerable Sovereign refers to Laozi (老子), also spelled Lao-tzu according to the older Wade-Giles romanization system. He is a semi-historical semi-mythical figure of Chinese culture who is said to have lived in the 6th century BCE and is sometimes popularly referred to as the founder of Taoism, although strictly speaking, Taoism can be traced even further back to an earlier period in China’s prehistory. He is traditionally regarded as the author of the Daodejing (also spelled Tao Te Ching) (道德經 Scripture of the Way and its Virtues), a famous classic on Taoist philosophy. Laozi is also considered as a divine avatar of the Dao (also spelled Tao) ( Way) which can be defined as the undifferentiated ground or origin of all universal phenomena. As a divine manifestation, his honorific religious titles are The Supreme Venerable Sovereign (太上老君 Taishang Laojun), and Heavenly Venerable of the Way and its Virtues (道德天尊 Daode Tianzun). He forms a part of the sacred Taoist trinity of supreme deities known as the Three Pure Ones (三清 Sanqing) and is also known as the Grand Purity (太清 Taiqing). He is always seated to the left (from our vantage point) of the Celestial Venerable of Primordial Beginning who is the central figure of the Three Pure Ones (mentioned here).

Porcelain statue of Laozi

Some scholars and academics are of the opinion that the figure of Laozi may be an amalgamation of several different persons and that the Daodejing may be the combined work of many different authors. However, according to popular legend, Laozi was born to a virgin mother who carried him in pregnancy for 62 (or 81) years. He was born under a plum tree and his name was Li Er (李耳) or Li Dan (). When he was finally born, he was already an old man with a white beard and eyebrows. The name Laozi can be translated as Old Child. He is said to have been a contemporary of Confucius and was either an official in the Imperial Archives or a grand historian and astrologer. Later in life, he grew tired of the moral corruption in the world and decided to leave China to live as a hermit. He traveled west riding on a water buffalo and when he met the sentry guard at the frontier border, he left with him a copy of the Daodejing. Some tales elaborate that he went west to teach in India and that he became a teacher of the Buddha or that he even became the Buddha himself.

Laozi riding on a water buffalo and carrying the Daodejing

Laozi in meditation
(Image: Unknown source)

Text © 2011 Harry Leong

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