Obiwan Kenobi: Use the force, Luke.
Luke Skywalker: Obiwan, coming out of the closet…as a Daoist?

In the final post of this series, we’d like to share our distillations of the Zi Crew’s philosophies on life:

Kongzi (aka. Confucius)
We are simple by nature – by studying the wisdom of the past and applying our own judgment, we can live with integrity. Favorite quote: “Worry not that no one knows of you; seek to be worth knowing.”

Laozi (aka. Lao-Tzu)
We are an innate part of nature – simple, humble, with free will and no need for artificial education. Favorite quote: “Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know.”

Mengzi (aka. Mencius)
We are good by nature, but effort is needed to cultivate ourselves and avoid corrupting environments (orthodox Confucian). Favorite quote: “One who believes everything in a book would be better off without books.”

We live with limited knowledge – our natural dispositions and separate pasts both inform our decisions (anti-Confucian Daoist). Favorite quote: “Am I the one who dreamt of the butterfly, or the butterfly dreaming I’m me?”

We are bad by nature – only by ritual and education can we be saved (anti-Daoist Confucian).

We are naturally evil – irresistible laws are needed to severely punish unwanted action and the emperor must enforce them (Legalism).

We are benevolent beings inclined to universal love towards all, not just family & friends, and learn through adversity (anti-ritual pacifist).

Laozi and Kongzi

Legend has it that Kongzi (Confucius) once met Laozi (Lao-Tzu), a sage 40 years his senior. Nobody suggests Sunzi (Sun-Tzu) was also there, but can you imagine how a heated discussion between these three philosophers might have played out in modern English?

Our meeting of the master thinkers takes us to the state of East Zhou around 550BC somewhere in Shandong. Their table is covered with fried peanuts and empty bottles of bái jiǔ, the famous Chinese white spirit made from grains but often compared with Mexican tequila.

We join the Zi Crew mid-conversation as they ruminate on life:

Kongzi: It’s all about acting with integrity and becoming our best.
Sunzi: While following one’s ruler to the benefit of the State.
Laozi: Laws are only valid when in accordance with…the Way.
Kongzi: My friend, when a ruler lives by example, laws are unnecessary.
Laozi: The more laws, the more thieves.
Kongzi: The solution lies with self-cultivation. Doing first, talking later.
Laozi: There is no need to ‘do’ anything, much less cultivate a ‘self’ already well aware of its natural state.
Kongzi: What about individual goals and personal rituals?
Laozi: Rituals…ugh! (to Sunzi) He’s harping on rituals again.
Sunzi: (to Waitress) More bai jiu!

They clink and empty their glasses.

Kongzi: Would you not agree that morality plays a role in society?
Laozi: Acting moral only draws attention to oneself and diminishes the value of one’s actions.
Kongzi: Ah, but as long as it prevents the twin evils of greed and corruption, then morality does indeed have its place!
Laozi: Misusing the Way for selfish reasons is doomed to failure.
Kongzi: So you would advocate returning to some agrarian utopia where we all sit around hoping nobody starts a war?
Sunzi: War!!! Hell yeah! Finally a topic I’m interested in.
Laozi: If you talk about destruction, baby you can count me out.
Kongzi: Wow…you said that?
Laozi: No…John Lennon.
Sunzi: Waiter, more bai jiu!!

They clink and empty their glasses.

Laozi: The Way…the more you approach it, the further you are away.
Sunzi: Doesn’t that make it hard to sneak up on your enemy?
Kongzi: When seeking revenge, you better dig two graves.
Sunzi: In order to kill the enemy, our men must first be roused to anger and see the advantage in defeating them.
Laozi: You want anger?!? What I hate most are all those “I’m saving the world” people with their “Oh, my work i sooooooooo important” crap. I say, you’re no more important that that cockroach! Welcome to planet Earth – park your ego at the door.

Kongzi & Sunzi stare in shock at his outburst.

Laozi: It’s all his fault.
Kongzi: My fault??
Sunzi: Be honest…you want to kill him.
Laozi: (cracks up) Naw, I’m just messin’ with you guys.
Sunzi: Waiter, more bai jiu!!!

They all empty their glasses.

Kongzi: By the way, how’s your Daodeqing selling these days?
Laozi: Not bad. Your Analects?
Kongzi: I’m gonna fire my agent.
Laozi: Anal-ects? Maybe you need a catchier title.
Sunzi: Art of War baby! Worldwide best seller on!!

Kongzi & Sunzi Waiter, more bai jiu!!!!

For all their differences, Kongzi and Laozi seemed to come to similar conclusions on life as they grew older. Following the middle road, avoiding extremes, reducing material clutter, keeping things simple and “doing what’s in front of you, as well as you can” are all powerful Zi Crew stress-relief prescriptions for the modern age. And besides grumbling words of contempt about greedy and corrupt rulers, the bottom line of their teachings is about increasing our ability to hold onto happiness. Happiness that is independent of our external material living conditions and more about cultivating an attitude to withstand suffering in life.

The Zi masters also remind us that life comes down to our individual choices. It’s the strength of action, not the strength of words. And in “doing nothing,” nothing remains undone.

Stay tuned for more on the Zi Crew coming soon in our new book China Simplified: History’s Greatest Hits. For more Zi Crew, check out our earlier posts:

Part One: Kongzi 孔子 (Confucius) Self-Help Guru
Part Two:
3 Things You Might Not Know About Lao-Tzu 老子 (Laozi)
Part Three:
Sun Tzu 孙子 (Sunzi) the Master of Winning Smart.