Lao Tzu, the author, is the initiator of Taoism. It is difficult to pinpoint a life story of Lao Tzu, which was between 570-490 BC. There are many myths about him. Some think he never existed at all, while historians can identify numerous potential historical characteristics for him. In spite of this, these legends provide the book with an appealing, human face. In the book, Tao Te Ching’, Lao Tzu reflects on the various different school of thought. The western and eastern cultures and approaches to various things including nature have always been different. One of the many striking differences between the western and eastern cultures reflected in this text is the issue of the population and size of the state. For example in verse 193a-c of the book, Lao- Tzu indicates the prevalence of the eastern culture to small populations by stating that ‘reduce the size and the population of the state’ (Lao- Tzu 80). This proclamation demonstrates how the eastern cultures prefer some sort of rural life that is both simple and uncomplicated. This is unlike the western cultures that prefer the populous complicated life of the urban cities. To the eastern cultures, such things as weapons, carts, and ships are usually not that useful. This is because such things are just kept ready for such times when they will be needed, without being of use at the present moment. This shows that the eastern cultures still prefer to live their lives traditionally and in accordance to nature unlike the western cultures.
In verse 72 of the 32nd chapter, the author says ‘heaven and earth will unite and sweet dew will fall’ to reflect the eastern culture belief in nature (Lao- Tzu 23). This verse indicates that the eastern culture still depends on nature to bring forth goodness in their lives. The Tao Te Ching was printed in China approximately 2,500 years ago at almost the equivalent period when Buddha developed the Dharma in India and Pythagoras taught in Greece. It is a hint that those who practice this culture believe that miraculous outcomes will be awarded to them by Mother Nature from ‘Not Doing’, so long as they live in harmony with the Tao; that nature will provide all of their needs even good weather and good fortune. This however is very different from the western culture that depends and believes in ‘Doing’ in order to be happy and prosperous in life. The western cultures do not believe that nature could provide for them unless they worked hard enough to get what they want as it can be seen in Ben Carson’s book’ think big”.
Verses 39- 41 of the 17th chapter, describe a ruler in the eastern culture who is very different from the western culture. The writer says that ‘the best of all rulers is but a shadowy presence…’ (Lao- Tzu 11) it seems that the eastern culture values a ruler who is all action and who is not noticeable. They prefer rulers who cannot be distinguished from natural events because such rulers are the ones who are in line with the Tao. This is unlike the western cultures who do not value nature so much and therefore, do not mind if their rulers go in line with, or are distinguishable from natural events or not. Most western cultures prefer leaders who use force, and are pushy to obtain obedience and power. Such rulers are seen as the most efficient ones in the western cultures. Shadowy leaders do not have the respect of their people unlike the rulers with big presence in the western cultures. In the eastern cultures however, such shadowy leaders are presumed to be full of character, and wisdom endowed to them by nature.
Matsuo Basho's ‘Narrow Road to the Deep North’
One of the most common principles of the Zen philosophy is that life must be spend in the present moment and never on the past. The book by Basho is an account of his life that is written within a common poetry prose called the Haiku. The Zen philosophy has influenced this book immensely. For example, it has transformed the prose form of the text into a method or way that creates a picture or imagination with a description of words. This influence of the Zen philosophy has influenced this text to make it much more capturing to the feeling of the author and the events described in the text. For example, in page 19 of his book, Basho describes a journey in which he ‘spent wandering along the seacoast. In autumn, I returned to my cottage on the river and swept away the cobwebs…. When spring came there was mist in the air…I patched my torn trousers and changed the cord on my bamboo hat…’ (Basho 20) this as inspired by Zen, creates an image that is both vivid and clear to the audience of the events that transpired in the journey taken by Basho.
The Zen philosophy, as already seen is based on the principle of living life in the moment. As Basho says in his text ‘every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.’ (Basho 4) Zen teaches that one must live in the present and not in the past. This can only be achieved by completely being aware of oneself through constantly wanting to know of whom one is. Therefore, the book ‘the Narrow Road to the Deep North’ through this quote gives us an example of how we should be living our lives, and in accordance with Zen’s philosophy. One should think of life as a journey, with things to discover and places to go; things we have not yet discovered and things we have not yet seen. Therefore we must dwell in the future and not in the past, which we have already discovered and familiarized ourselves with everything. We must focus ourselves with the moment, and when done with the moment then we should concentrate on the next moment. This kind of living makes life look like a journey.
Zen philosophy is also reflected in this text when Basho says ‘ had been casting away earthly attachments….and now he had nothing to cast away but his own self….for otherwise he would not be able to restore his own everlasting self…’ (Basho 29-30). This quote reflects how self identity is important in Zen philosophy. So important such that one can cast away everything they own for the purposes of regaining their self worth and identity. This therefore, tells us that self worth, and identity is everything in Zen philosophy. It is much more important to the followers of the philosophy than material wealth, and that one would rather live without wealth, than live without self-identity.