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Lao Tzu’s Four Rules for Living

By Azriel ReShel on Friday September 23rd, 2016

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How to Live an Inspired and Peaceful Life

Many centuries ago, Lao Tzu, spoke of the four cardinal virtues, teaching that when we practice them as a way of life, we come to know the truth of the universe. The ancient Chinese master said that living and practicing these teachings can open you to higher wisdom and greater happiness, as they realign you to the source and enable you to access all the powers that source energy has to offer.

“When you succeed in connecting your energy with the divine realm through high awareness and the practice of undiscriminating virtue, the transmission of the ultimate subtle truths will follow.”  Lao Tzu

Lao Tzu means ‘Old Master,’ and he was believed by some to be a God-realised being. The Four Cardinal Virtues are found in the Tao Te Ching, a collection of sayings expounding the principal Taoist teachings. It has 81 short poetic verses packed full of universal wisdom for politics, society, and personal life, and aims to support personal harmony through the right view and understanding of existence. The Tao (also known as the Way or the Dao) has baffled its readers for centuries with its cryptic and deliberate contradictions, yet it offers a profound contemplation to seekers, lending itself to varied interpretations and inner questioning.

Lao Tzu means ‘Old Master,’ and he was believed by some to be a God-realised being.Lao Tzu means ‘Old Master,’ and he was believed by some to be a God-realised being.

“The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal name. The Tao is both named and nameless. As nameless it is the origin of all things; as named it is the Mother of 10,000 things. Ever desireless, one can see the mystery; ever desiring, one sees only the manifestations. And the mystery itself is the doorway to all understanding.” ― Wayne W. Dyer, Change Your Thoughts – Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao

The Tao Te Ching is the basic text of Taoism, but it has also influenced Confucianism and Chinese Buddhism, and is among some of the most translated works in world literature. This powerful text of the Tao, road or way of life, reflects the force of the universe and even the universe itself. While many have tried to make sense of its mystery, one man immersed himself in this text, literally living its wisdom, and then distilled the essence of these ancient mystery teachings for a modern audience.

In 2006, the late Wayne Dyer was inspired to spend his entire 65th year reading, researching, and meditating on Lao Tzu’s messages, going into retreat to practice them and ultimately write down the insights he felt Lao Ttzu wanted us to know.  Dr Dyer researched ten well respected translations of the text and the result of that life-changing year was his best-selling book Change Your Thoughts—Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao.

Affectionately known as the Father of Motivation, Dr Dyer says Lao Tzu’s four cardinal virtues represent the surest way to leave habits and excuses behind and reconnect to your original nature. “The more your life is harmonised with the four virtues, the less you’re controlled by the uncompromising ego.”

Dr Dyer says Lao Tzu's four cardinal virtues represent the surest way to leave habits and excuses behind.Dr Dyer says Lao Tzu’s four virtues represent the surest way to leave habits and excuses behind.

The Tao encourages us to be in touch with our own selves, particularly our deepest selves, for when you know who you really are, that is when you discover eternal peace. Lao Tzu liked to compare different parts of nature to different virtues. He said, “The best people are like water, which benefits all things and does not compete with them. It stays in lowly places that others reject. This is why it is so similar to the Way (Dao).” Each part of nature can remind us of a quality we admire and should cultivate ourselves—the strength of the mountains, the resilience of trees, the cheerfulness of flowers.

We enter life with a seemingly clean slate, a spectacular pathway ahead of us with unlimited potentials and choices. To navigate our lives and get a handle on the challenges and gifts life will throw at us, it is useful to have some sort of compass so that we don’t end up on the rocks or lost at sea.


For many people this may be religion, morality, or the belief systems passed down by their family, and they may derive a sense of strength and direction through their strongly held inner compass sourced in this integrity. No matter what happens in life, they’ll always fall back on that maxim, whether it be, for example, to lead from the heart, or to be kind.

“To realise the constancy and steadiness in your life is to realise the deep nature of the universe. This realisation is not dependent on any transitory internal or external condition, rather it is an expression of one’s own immutable spiritual nature. The only way to attain the Universal Way is to maintain the integral virtues of the constancy, steadiness and simplicity in one’s daily life.” – Lao Tzu

The four cardinal virtues, or rules for living life, can provide a framework for a life filled with inner peace and purpose.

A framework for a life filled with inner peace and purpose.A framework for a life filled with inner peace and purpose.

1. Reverence for all Life

This virtue manifests as having unconditional love and positive regard for all creatures in the universe, starting with ourselves, then this will naturally flow out to all others. This reverence is for all life, not just some forms. It is honouring all forms of life, and at its core has an innate spiritual understanding of how the universe truly works – that we are all sparks of the one fire. When we live with reverence for all life, we surrender our need to control and to dominate. We naturally come into heartfelt appreciation and gratitude for all of life. This first virtue is the key to diminishing the ego.

“Affirm this as often as you can, for when you see yourself in a loving way, you have nothing but love to extend outward. And the more you love others, the less you need old excuse patterns, particularly those relating to blame.” Wayne Dyer

2. Natural Sincerity

This virtue encompasses kindness and authenticity. To me, it has a feeling of compassion and an all-encompassing love for all beings. When we are sincere and act with integrity, we move towards peace and inner tranquility. Our conscience clear, we don’t have the inner niggles over our dishonest actions that can erode a peaceful mind. Much of these four pillars relate to karma, the law of cause and effect, and maintaining equilibrium and impeccability. This virtue is honesty, simplicity, and faithfulness, says Wayne Dyer. It is about being true to yourself and walking your talk.

According to Dyer, if you find this challenging, try affirming, “I no longer need to be insincere or dishonest. This is who I am, and this is how I feel.”

Having unconditional love and positive regard for all creatures in the universe.Having unconditional love and positive regard for all creatures in the universe.

3. Gentleness

Gentleness is a deeply powerful trait. Often interpreted as weakness, gentleness is sensitivity, respect, and reverence for all life. Perhaps this virtue can be summed up by the Dalai Lama who often says; “my religion is very simple, my religion is kindness.” In life, it is far more important to be kind than to be right, and to be kind rather than important. Gentleness is an umbrella for forgiveness, acceptance and love. It is much like the yogic term ahimsa, or non-violence. When we give up being right and being superior, we start accepting ourselves and others, and so much conflict in our lives drops away.

“Gentleness generally implies that you no longer have a strong ego-inspired desire to dominate or control others, which allows you to move into a rhythm with the universe. You cooperate with it, much like a surfer who rides with the waves instead of trying to overpower them. Gentleness means accepting life and people as they are, rather than insisting that they be as you are. As you practice living this way, blame disappears and you enjoy a peaceful world.” – Wayne Dyer

“My religion is very simple, my religion is kindness.”

4. Supportiveness

When we are supportive of ourselves, with kind words, loving actions and self-care, we are naturally supportive of others. This virtue is the basic tenet of humanity. We are naturally social beings and, at our core, we want to be with others and to help others. Many experiments show how humans are motivated by connection and will move towards this rather than other things. When we give to others, share and support others, we become happy.  Our lives become meaningful and our hearts full. Supportiveness is about service. Open hearted service for the sake of helping others and benefiting others, with no thought to our own gain. Supportiveness is also about holding space for another, listening to another, and being there for others. It is radical loving kindness in action. This quote by the poet, Hafiz, sums it up: “Even after all this time, the sun never says to the earth ‘you owe me.’”

“The greatest joy comes from giving and serving, so replace your habit of focusing exclusively on yourself and what’s in it for you. When you make the shift to supporting others in your life, without expecting anything in return, you’ll think less about what you want and find comfort and joy in the act of giving and serving.” Wayne Dyer

Let these four virtues fragrance your life, and notice the grace and ease that will come your way. For each one of these virtues brings in a way of being that is light, graceful and flowing and will help you shed destructive, self defeating patterns that sabotage your inner peace and happiness.

“The four cardinal virtues are a road map to the simple truth of the universe. To revere all of life, to live with natural sincerity, to practice gentleness, and to be in service to others is to replicate the energy field from which you originated.”  Dr Wayne Dyer

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Azriel ReShel

Writer, Yoga Teacher & Healing Facilitator

 

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  • Moustachiarty

    This waffly stuff might represent what Wayne Dyer believes, and there’s nothing to suggest it isn’t profoundly transformational for some readers … but it has just about nothing to do with Lao Tzu.

    You see, Lao Tzu wasn’t actually Chinese. In fact the Tao Te Ching, didn’t originate with one person in one time and place, but accreted in fits and starts over several centuries from the time its author was first invented by the itinerant Chinese satirist we call Chuang Tzu to the modern day.

    Though Wikipedia has a page on him, historians are generally agreed that there was no historical Lao Tzu. Archaeology shows Lao Tzu’s great poem evolving over a cycle of transmissions between India and China. There’s even circumstantial evidence that some of it came from the West.

    The oldest known edition of the text, unearthed in 1993 at Guo Tian in Hubei province, pre-dates paper and silk. It’s carved on bamboo slips tied together with string. Lacking most of the substance of the later editions, these slips may have been cherry-picked to fit the political sensitivities of the time. Most likely, however, they are all the Lao Tzu there was back then.

    We can’t tell what the poem meant to its first readers because dictionaries weren’t invented until centuries later. Those dictionaries deal with definitions used in agricultural contracts, not philosophical language. Chinese dynastic purges destroyed most of the other books of those times. Only the popular religious interpretation of Lao Tzu saved it from the fire.

    Evolution of the text inevitably resulted from its propagation by manual transcription. Without the printing press, transmission from scribe to scribe caused duplications and omissions that each generation had to reconcile with the books of its own time. The evolution of the great religious movements altered its subtext and broadened the range of interpretation of its words. The Ma Wang Tui and Fu I editions of the Tao clearly show the poem in flux.

    We don’t know how far back this goes. In the 1990s Pennsylvania University Professor Victor Mair, translating the silk edition of Lao Tzu from Ma Wang Tui, discovered clear philological evidence of a relation between the Tao Te Ching and the Sanskrit Bhagavad Gita, the core text of Yoga. Mair concluded that either the one derived from the other, or the two from some lost common ancestor, almost certainly from an oral tradition, quite possibly in a language foreign to both.

    Mair went on to conduct archaeological investigation of the Tarim Basin mummies, remains of a tall, pale-skinned, red-headed people who appeared at the time of the introduction of horse-riding and metallurgy to China in the third millenium BCE. Their influence raises possibility of a Western contribution to Lao Tzu too.

    In any case, as the source of the poem is not confined to China, Chinese speakers enjoy no special insight into its interpretation. Nor should the poem be regarded as representing only some ancient philosophy when it is inextricably linked with the development of our modern, Western civilization.

    The most influential European translation of Lao Tzu is seldom recognized as Lao Tzu. The 17th century “Monadology” of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was inspired by editions of the Tao Te Ching transmitted by the first Jesuit missions to China. It informed Leibniz’s luminary development of the mathematical continuum and his construction of the binary number system which he incorporated into the first mechanical computers.

    These developments found their way to Russia by way of the curriculum of the Academy of Vienna. The curriculum was salvaged by the defamed and fading Leibniz after the Royal Society accused him of plagiarism. He was left with no alternative but to transmit it to Peter the Great, who adopted it as the basis of the famed Russian capability in higher mathematics.

    In the West in the 20th century Leibniz’s binary system further engendered Turing and Von Neumann’s invention of the first electronic computers, and thereby the information revolution and global Internet.

    In a different semiotic strand, Lao Tzu formed the base of Chinese Ch’an Buddhism through reinterpretation by Bodhidharma. Ch’an is best known in the West by its Japanese name, Zen, which went on to influence all Japanese culture from archery to tea. The irreducible problems of translating Lao Tzu into Japanese led to the Zen practice of “Koans”, irrational riddles whose frustrated contemplation is a path to enlightenment.

    Glosses of Tao and Zen in 20th century Kung Fu and Bushido cinema were reinterpreted into Lucas’s Force, the Wachowski’s Matrix, the Coens’ Dude, and the unreconstructed dream space of the Nolans’ Inception. The Tao wove still another thread through Western popular music in the psychedelic tradition pioneered by The Beatles and Grateful Dead.

    In short, Western culture is unrecognizable without the influence of Lao Tzu’s little book. As postmodernism holds that reinterpre- tation of a translation has the effect of a new work even when it merely quotes the words of other translators, tracing the historical influence of Taoism within the Agile movement is like trying to separate the broth from the soup.

    Now silk tears, string rots, bamboo slips are jumbled, copyists make errors and dynasties burn libraries whole. Many traditional features of the Tao Te Ching were only added late in the game for religious purposes. This includes its ordering into 81 chapters. Each pictograph of the Chinese evolved dozens of meanings in a process that places the meaning of both Western and Eastern texts into a state of mystery.

    So Lao Tzu is referred to in China as “The Book Of Riddles” – in senses both of puzzles and koans. First-time readers are frequently surprised to find that translations of Lao Tzu by respectable scholars wildly disagree with one another. This dismay leads some readers to embark on new translations and the cycle continues, a long line of would-be sages each describing an ultimate reality that fits their personal insights. The Tao as a virus.

    Though ancient Chinese bears a more distant relation to modern Chinese than Latin to Italian, most translations treat the lan- guage as stable over time. If the bulk of the riddles in Lao Tzu are interpolations, copying errors, misunderstandings, jumbles and commentaries folded in by mistake, no translation has afforded the book what it most needs: a proper refactoring.

    Leibniz’s transmission means we can think of the Tao Te Ching as the ur-text of all modern software engineering. “Refactoring” is the software engineer’s term for the process of improving the design of an existing source to simplify its representation while keeping its intended behaviour intact.

    Without refactoring, software inevitably decays over time. In the process of its growth and maintenance, programmers naturally create redundancies and interdependencies in code until it becomes so tangled and expensive to maintain that its owners are obliged to junk it and rewrite their system from scratch. Or else freeze the code as a legacy, building new layers on top of it like Schliemann’s Troy.

    The Chinese text of Lao Tzu is regarded by sinologists as just such a legacy. Naive translations, including Dyer’s, imagine its challenges can be met by merely refining word choices and scansion, solving the jigsaw by polishing the pieces while still leaving them scattered on the floor.

    This ignores the historical context. The real challenge isn’t translation so much as integration. Refactoring approaches this by fixing “code smells” in a steady series of small improvements. Reconciling fragments and duplications, stepping back to sketch the relationship of composites to patterns, explicating cycles of dependency, testing the meaning and then backtracking when combinations don’t fit, continuing iteratively and impartially until a parsimonious whole emerges with each element in its place.

    Professor Mair’s realization of the relationship between the Gita and the Tao, as well as the discovery of the abbreviated nature of the early Guo Tian text, provide all the license we need to stop taking the poem as a sacred legacy and dare instead to refactor it this way.

    By this means all the fragments fit neatly together. For the first time a modern reader can see the plan of the poem in Lao Tzu just as there’s a whole pot in the shards of a smashed vase.

    For such a translation, minus all the waffle words and BS orientalism, try leanpub.com/agiletao

    • Furinkazan

      What if datations are false and all the versions discovered were written at the same place, the same day ?

    • Gai Waterlow

      Thanks for all that clarification. Well stated. However, i stopped reading at the introduction of the Jesuits: the most EVIL of all People alive today, still controlling every government and every bank in the world!!! All the philosophising and blubbering about the past is useless when we are all slaves to a consumer-elite-driven-world-of-endless-warring… Sure we can do things to change our own lives intimately but until the day comes that we RISE UP AGAINST THIS OBVIOUS EVIL DICTATOR—THE POPE and all before him and all after him, NOTHING WILL EVER CHANGE. Too many men have lied to the human race to keep the status quo. I look forward to the day when Humans Awaken and we transition into a lifestyle GLOBALLY of a money-less world where everyone lives freely and abundantly as we were meant to. THIS is the bottom line and until we achieve it NO ONE WILL FLOURISH except the elite. We’ve been bamboozled by head wanking elite mongrels who still believe they are entitled, when they are mere mortals like the rest of us despite their megalomanic ideas of royalty.

    • Oscar Achá E

      Typical “i know it all”… Some times they forget the rol of hypothesis and bother with self conclusions…

    • Maybe you both are wrong, more so since the essence of Taoism is against intellectualism & “learning” more so not unlike most religions codified & interpreted by intellectuals over time, despite any mistakes in its interpretation there is enough left, in simple terms like Jesus’ parables, to lead the novice towards the well-spring where books & “masters” are no longer needed.

      Your analysis falls further by the appearance of an update on the Tao Te Ching you are selling at the link, while thankfully most important spiritual texts valued by humanity now have many free translations online & downloadable to E-readers.

      If one can’t be liberated by the tsunami of spiritual & philosophic treatises covering several centuries now available to anyone with a connection to the Internet, all the remakes & gurus in the world probably won’t help either.

      The Western bias of your comment further undermines the vanity that you grasp the Tao at all, the post reeks of over-inflated ego & pedantic knowledge, you might try a smoother marketing attempt to reach New Age types.

  • Great article! Shared with http://www.facebook.com/mindful99

  • Bradford Hatcher

    A few fake Laozi quotes here. Can’t these people even read a 40-page book?

  • etyrnal

    Actually, Lao Tzu had only three things to teach (in his own (translated) words):

    67

    Some say that my teaching is nonsense.
    Others call it lofty but impractical.
    But to those who have looked inside themselves,
    this nonsense makes perfect sense.
    And to those who put it into practice,
    this loftiness has roots that go deep.

    I have just three things to teach: <====
    simplicity, patience, compassion.
    These three are your greatest treasures.
    Simple in actions and in thoughts,
    you return to the source of being.
    Patient with both friends and enemies,
    you accord with the way things are.
    Compassionate toward yourself,
    you reconcile all beings in the world.

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