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Lao Tzu - Philosophy, Ethics and SuccessLao 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?

 Lao Tzu - Philosophy, 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:

  • perfect and wonderful.
  • gives you total peace.

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 universe.

 Lao Tzu - Philosophy, Ethics and Success

c) the perfect way of life

The principles leading to happiness and peace of mind (listed below).


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 shoes).

So Lao Tzu distinguished between:Lao Tzu - Philosophy, Ethics and Success

  • “doing” (action) and
  • “being” (peace within yourself).

To do well, you must get the “being” right by:

  • knowing yourself.
  • having the courage and self-discipline to conquer your weaknesses and vices.

 Lao Tzu - Philosophy, Ethics and Success

3. Learn and be creative


  • wu-wei (see point 2).
  • 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.

 Lao Tzu - Philosophy, Ethics and Success

4. “Yin” and “Yang”

These are life’s opposites, and a happy life is a mixture of both opposites - for example:

  • good-evil. 
  • active-passive. 
  • pleasure-pain. 
  • positive-negative. 
  • masculine-feminine. 
  • life-death. 
  • success-failure.

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).

Lao Tzu - Philosophy, Ethics and Success

 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”.

 Lao Tzu - Philosophy, Ethics and Success

6. Reflection and meditation

Wonderful thoughts and peace come from:

  • quiet reflection with a blank mind.
  • the right posture (e.g. the lotus position)

  • controlled breathing 

Power and virtue come from within you.

“Silence is the greatest revelation”, he said.


7. Simplicity and humility

 Lao Tzu - Philosophy, Ethics and Success

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:Lao Tzu - Philosophy, Ethics and Success

  • give up their desires (“desirelessness”)
  • become great by making other people great and winning their trust.
  • serve others
  • give people praise and the limelight
  • get people to say “we did this ourselves”
  • don't impose ideas and rules without agreement.

 Lao Tzu - Philosophy, Ethics and Success

9. Love nature, hate violence

Nature is our friend to be loved and preserved, not our enemy to be conquered and destroyed.

Violence and war are totally wrong.



10. Be flexibleLao Tzu - Philosophy, Ethics and Success

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 happiness

Life is an opportunity not an obligation.


Key quote on success

A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.


Key quote on peace of mind

Silence is the greatest revelation.

Seek without expecting. Find without taking.


Key quote on learning and wisdom

Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom.


Key quote on influencing people

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 management

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 ethics

Simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.


Key quote on stress and pain

If you want to be free, live simply.


Key quote on fear and anxiety

If you measure success in terms of praise and criticism, your anxiety will be endless.

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