Lao Tzu - Philosophy, Ethics and Success
Lao Tzu (c604-c531 BC)
Chinese philosopher and founder of Taoism.
Pictured right is a likeness but nobody knows what he really looked like.
What did he teach about ethics and success?
1. Tao (the path or way)
This has three different forms:
a) spiritual perfection
Something beyond our bodies and senses (i.e. transcendent) that is:
In Christianity the equivalent is being with God but Lao Tzu didn’t believe in God.
b) mother of the universe
The loving spirit and driving force of nature and the
c) the perfect way of life
The principles leading to happiness and peace of mind (listed
2. “Wu-wei” and peace of mnd
This is effortless creative action through:
- being creative and effective
(without forcing or striving to do something).
- relaxation (you work best, if you’re relaxed and at peace with yourself).
- doing things naturally and automatically (e.g. tying your
So Lao Tzu distinguished between:
- “being” (peace within yourself).
To do well, you must get the “being” right by:
- having the courage and self-discipline to conquer your weaknesses and
3. Learn and be creative
- be an “uncarved block” capable of becoming anything.
- be open to new ideas and new ways of looking at things.
- make the most of your opportunities.
“Life is an opportunity not an obligation”, Lao Tzu said.
4. “Yin” and “Yang”
These are life’s opposites, and a happy life is a mixture of both
opposites - for example:
So you must remember:
- death shouldn’t be feared because it’s a part of life.
- nothing is totally good or totally evil.
- success can easily turn into failure (so treat success and
failure the same and “seek without expecting. Find without taking”).
- life isn’t all fun, but pain as well.
- be tough and kind (see point 5).
5. Be tough-minded but kind-hearted
These are the feminine-masculine opposites of the yin and yang (see point 4):
- Feminine sensitivity, kindness and empathy (yin).
- Masculine toughness and aggression, (yang).
To be the best person or leader, you need a mixture of the two:
- strong enough to make difficult decisions.
- sensitive enough to care about people.
But Lao Tzu said yin was more important than yang and rejected aggressive competition.
This is what he meant when he said:
“The softest things in the world overcome the hardest things in the world”.
6. Reflection and meditation
Wonderful thoughts and peace come
- quiet reflection with a
Power and virtue come from within you.
“Silence is the greatest revelation”, he said.
7. Simplicity and humility
a) reduce your spending and desires
(so that you don’t have to work so much).
b) seek simplicity
Don’t overcomplicate your life.
c) be humble
- humility is a great virtue.
- never be arrogant or superior.
8. Generosity, empowerment and leadership
The best people and leaders:
- give up their desires (“desirelessness”)
- become great by making other people great and winning their
- give people praise and the limelight
- get people to say “we did this ourselves”.
- don't impose ideas and rules without agreement.
9. Love nature, hate violence
Nature is our friend to be loved and preserved, not our enemy to be conquered and
Violence and war are totally wrong.
10. Be flexible
You must change and adapt to different situations.
“An unbending tree will break”, Lao Tzu said.
Key quote on leadership
A leader is best when people barely know that he exists...when his work is done, his aims fulfilled, they will
all say, ‘We did this ourselves’.
To lead people walk behind them.
Key quote on
Life is an opportunity not an obligation.
Key quote on
A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.
Key quote on peace of
Silence is the greatest revelation.
Seek without expecting. Find without taking.
Key quote on learning and
Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Key quote on influencing
He who conquers others is strong; he who conquers himself is mighty.
When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everybody will respect you.
Key quotes on
He who does not trust enough, will not be trusted.
The inferior man seeks to put the blame on other persons, the superior man seeks the error within himself.
Key quote on
Simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.
Key quote on stress and
If you want to be free, live simply.
Key quote on fear and
If you measure success in terms of praise and criticism, your anxiety will be endless.