Lao Tzu and the Bible

Lao Tzu and the Bible


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ISBN-13: 9781449091088
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 07/06/2010
Pages: 404
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.90(d)

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Lao Tzu and The Bible

A Meeting Transcending Time and Space
By Yuan Zhiming


Copyright © 2010 Yuan Zhiming
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4490-9108-8

Chapter One

The I AM

Those familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures and their translation into what has been called the Greek Septuagint are well aware of the term I AM, the name of the Holy One, who revealed Himself to Moses. This term signifies great power and majesty-and deep simplicity. In this and succeeding chapters, we will learn more about the meaning of the I AM and all that surrounds a profound understanding of the characteristics of the I AM as perceived through the lens of Lao Tzu.

Section A: As Tao Is (Ziran)

1. The Meaning of "Tao As It Is"

One of Lao Tzu's well-known statements has been the source of misinterpretation in two ways: "Human beings emulate earth; the earth emulates the heavens; the heavens emulate Tao; Tao emulates what is as it is" (25:6-7). It frequently has been used to label Lao Tzu as a naturalist, one who treats nature as total reality-without a supreme God-and defines human beings as having no [eternal] spirit. In modern terminology, naturalists treat everything, including human beings, as if they are merely matter and energy.

The first misinterpretation is found in the clause "as it is" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) in "Tao emulates what is as it is," and is often mistakenly interpreted as "nature." That is not Lao Tzu's intended meaning. Nature refers to natural phenomena on the earth and in the sky. In the previous clauses "the earth emulates the heavens; the heavens emulate Tao," Lao Tzu implies that the earth and the heavens reside under Tao. These are below Tao; so, how is it possible for Tao to emulate something below it?

When we come to the second misinterpretation, we find that it revolves around interpreting "Tao emulates what is as it is" as "Tao lets everything be," which does not make sense either. The word emulate in Lao Tzu's original sentence means "model after," rather than "let it be." Lao Tzu says: "Tao of heaven shows no favoritism; he is always with good people" (79:3) and "The net of heaven is vast; its meshes may not be fine yet nothing slips through" (73:4). Without any bias, Tao selects good people, and nothing escapes Tao's inclusive mastery. How, then, can Tao allow everything to exist without guidance and discipline?

The first misinterpretation promotes the prevalent belief that Lao Tzu is a "naturalistic atheist," whereas the second interpretation makes Lao Tzu a "do-nothing naturalist."

According to Lao Tzu's original meaning, the Chinese word ran is an adverb meaning "as," while the word ziran suggests the meaning of self-sufficiency, self-existence, self-sustaining, and self-imaging. Before saying that "Tao emulates what is as it is," Lao Tzu reverently describes Tao as the mother of everything on earth and in heaven. He then points out that Tao, heaven, earth, and human beings are all important, while Tao alone embraces and surpasses everything. Heaven, earth, and human beings "consider" themselves important; each of them, however, must follow Tao.

Lao Tzu taught that human beings come from the earth and return to the earth. Their life and death do not bypass the patterns of the earth; the earth comes from the heavens and blends into the heavens. Earth's existence and disappearance do not escape the dictates of the heavens; Tao created the heavens, which function within the limit of Tao's commands. Tao initiates from nothing, belongs to nothing, and pursues nothing. Tao is as Tao is. That is why Lao Tzu says: Tao models after Tao, or "Tao models after what is as it is" (ziran). Tao makes the ultimate law and creates order for every existence.

In other words, Tao is what Tao is and does what Tao does. This self-sufficient, self-reliant, self-generating, self-functioning Tao is the only self-existent being.

2. The Original Meaning of Jehovah

Lao Tzu's description of Tao brings to mind the Hebrew name for God in the Bible-YHWH, or Jehovah, which is a Hebrew word based on the verb I am. When Moses, the liberator of the Israelites, received God's call to lead his people out of Egypt, Moses had doubts about his own ability. God said to Moses, "I will be with you" (Exodus 3:12). When Moses' doubts persisted, he asked for God's name, and God's response to Moses was: "I AM WHO I AM" (Exodus 3:14).

The Chinese translation of this special name is "I am the self-existent and eternal one." God told Moses: "This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you ...'" (Exodus 3:14-15). Since then, God in the Old Testament has been called YHWH, or Jehovah, a name with a clear and dramatic meaning.

The meaning of "Tao emulates what is as it is" and the meaning of "I AM WHO I AM" match perfectly.


According to textual scholarship, the words Yi, Xi, Wei, which are found in Chapter 14 of Lao Tzu's book, have a pronunciation similar to Jehovah. (Note that V and W are the same letter in Hebrew, and the letter X in Chinese sounds like H in English.)

What can be seen but not comprehended is called "Yi"; what can be heard but not understood is called "Xi"; what can be touched but not grasped is called "Wei." These three qualities are beyond comprehension -together they become one. "Above the One, there is no light; beneath the One, there is no darkness" (14:1-3).

G. W. F. Hegel (1770-1831), the 19th-century German philosopher, once commented on these three words Yi, Xi, Wei. According to him, their three sounds I-hi-wei, or IHW, appear in the Greek term "I-a-o," the short name of a Greek Gnostic deity who helped to create the world. In some African languages, these letters also refer to "God." The Romans called their god of beginnings and endings "Janus," from which we get January-the beginning of the year. In the Hebrew language, God is named "Jehovah."

Also, at the time of Hegel, the French scholar of Chinese culture Jean Pierre Rmusat (1788-1832) pointed out that YiXiWei was the Chinese word for Jehovah. YiXiWei would sound like Yi, Shi, Wee in English. The older pronunciation of Jehovah is "YHWH," which is translated into Chinese as Yewei, or Yawei. The beginning and ending sounds of YHWH are even closer to YiXiWei.

The meaning and the tone in Lao Tzu's original text are intriguing. Let us take a look:

a. "Be seen but not comprehended, heard but not understood, and touched but not grasped" (Tao Te Ching, 14:1). From the text, it is obvious that Lao Tzu wishes to emphasize Yi, Xi, Wei-such an emphasis also indicates that these are enduring words. However, their meaning needs clarification.

b. It should be noted that in the A and B silk manuscripts excavated from Mawangdui, as well as in the widely acknowledged Wang Bi and other manuscripts, the words Yi, Xi, Wei are placed inaccurately, and their sequence is mixed. Nevertheless, this is an indication that while the meaning of these words was not clear, the sounds were articulated in ancient times.

c. Lao Tzu uses the words Yi, Xi, Wei to give an image to the invisible Tao.

A similar description can be found in many Biblical passages; for example, God commands Isaiah: "Go and tell this people: 'Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving'" (Isaiah 6:9).

Jesus also used this expression before quoting Isaiah directly: "Though seeing they do not see; though hearing they do not hear or understand" (Matthew 13:13).

d. Why does Lao Tzu emphasize the ineffable nature of these three distinct words? It would not have been difficult to understand if these three words were not independent and were a phrase with linked pronunciation. One cannot tell the difference between each word; thus, they become one, implying that the three words Yi, Xi, Wei have already blended into one. Lao Tzu only confirms an extraordinary, existing linguistic phenomenon.

e. Lao Tzu continues: "Above the One, there is no light; beneath the One, there is no darkness" (14:1-3).

The Bible says: "The Lord is exalted over all the nations, his glory above the heavens" (Psalm 113:4); and "The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it" (John 1:5).

As we can see, not only is the pronunciation of Yixiwei similar to Jehovah, but so is the meaning.

If it is true that the sound of Yixiwei is Jehovah, then God's name was, indeed, ingrained in the memory of the Chinese language and literature. It is consistent with the words mentioned in the Introduction, such as [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (peace), [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (greed), [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (single), [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (boat), [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (justice), and so on, which also carry a spiritual and supernatural meaning in the Bible.

Actually, many words in Chinese and other languages have meanings with spiritual implications, for example:

[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Shihu): from Persian, Jahud (Israelites).



[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Andeng), other variations, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], appearing in Qu Yuan's Ask Heaven: "Deng was established as the king; who made him so? Nuwa had a body; who created her?" Andeng is the transliteration of Adam.

Hidden in these examples is a profound riddle, which is beyond the power of mere ink and paper to solve. However, we can be sure that Yixiwei not only sounds similar to Jehovah, but also that the implied meaning of Yixiwei points to Jehovah in the Bible, or Tao in Lao Tzu.

4. The One Who Stands Alone

Another characteristic of Tao is independent immutability, which Lao Tzu underscores in Chapter 25, verses 1 and 2:

An integrated being exists before the birth of heaven and earth. How still! How void! Standing by himself and never changing, he moves in and through all and is never weary, worthy to be the mother of heaven and earth. I do not know his name. If I must identify him, I will name him "Tao" and call him "the Great."

Everything in the physical world must transform into something else. The earth sprouts corn; human beings return to dust; the earth will disappear. Only Tao who creates all and surpasses all stands independently, moving in and through everything without ever growing weary. Both Lao Tzu and the Bible are in agreement on this point. For example, the Psalmist in the Bible says:

In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end. (Psalm 102:25-27)

Also, Jesus says, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away" (Matthew 24:35, Mark 13:31, and Luke 21:33).

All things in heaven and earth rely on one another. Birds cannot live without air; human beings cannot survive without food; the earth cannot exist without the sun. Only the supreme Tao who creates everything is self reliant and self sufficient. Lao Tzu expresses this truth by saying: "She is what seems not. She gives and never exhausts" (6:3); and "The most bounty seems lacking, yet his provision is boundless" (45:1). According to Lao Tzu, everything in the universe follows a certain order: human beings live within the order of the earth; the earth revolves in the order of the heavens; and the heavens operate in the order of Tao. Only the supreme Tao creates Tao's own order.

The Bible expresses a similar concept: "For from him and through him and to him are all things" (Romans 11:36), which refers to the eternal Christ, who predates human history.

5. Aristotle's Prime Mover

Lao Tzu's statement about the progressive order of the universe and the self-reliant Tao is similar to Aristotle's metaphysical inference to God, the uncaused Cause.

According to Aristotle, there is a reason for every existence. One event is the result of its previous event, and at the same time, the cause for the next one. The universe functions like a giant chain of causes and effects, one linking to the other, ever generating and ever changing. If we follow this logic, there must be a "first cause," which is self-caused; this first cause is the "Prime Mover." He does not need anyone to move him; there must be an unmoving mover; he is the only one who is not moved by others.

Aristotle believes that this first cause, the Prime Mover, or the Unmoved, is God. As we know, the great scientist Isaac Newton uses the same "logic" to explain the existence of God. (See Newton's General Scholium first published as a section of his Mathematical Principles.)

Of course, Aristotle's self-existing being induced by human logic is a hypothesis at best. Lao Tzu's self-existing being is a spiritual intuition, a direct encounter with the light from God. Aristotle's self-existing being is a dry, rigid, and lifeless being because Aristotle merely touches upon the inevitability of God's existence. On the other hand, Lao Tzu's God is a rich, vivid, and lively being, because Lao Tzu experiences God's reality. Jesus Himself, the self-existing being in the Bible, declares and demonstrates his self-existence. Look at the differences:

1. Aristotle makes a determination according to human wisdom: "There must be a self-existent being";

2. Lao Tzu testifies in the light of the great Tao: "Look at this self-existent being";

3. The Lord in the Bible directly pronounces: "I AM WHO I AM."

Section B. The Infinite Tao: One

1. Tao as One: The Originator, the Unifier, and the Sole Being

The word the One, or One, appears in five chapters of Lao Tzu:

(a) "Who can embrace the One to achieve a seamless union with Tao?" (10:1)

(b) "These three Yi, Xi, Wei are beyond comprehension; together they become the One." (14:1-3)

(c) "Therefore, the Holy One unites with a sage to be the vehicle for showing Tao to all people." (22:2)

(d) "What the ancients attained is the One (Tao)." (39:1-2)

(e) "Tao begat the One." (42:1)

What is Tao the One? One as a number represents Tao. To embrace the One means unification with Tao. The One that the ancients recognized was Tao, who was lost to Confucius and other thinkers in antiquity. "Tao begat the One." The One is Tao itself. Yi, Xi, Wei, the three paradoxically becoming one, as stated previously, are the self-existent Tao.

Why is Tao "the One," or simply "One"? One as a number has three obvious meanings:

The first meaning is that One is the originator, the beginning and the root of all numbers. Tao is the same: "He precedes heaven and earth" (1: 2), and "Tao is the root of heaven and earth" (6:2).


Excerpted from Lao Tzu and The Bible by Yuan Zhiming Copyright © 2010 by Yuan Zhiming. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


Author's Preface....................23
Translator's Note....................27
I. The I AM....................53
II. About the Creator....................76
III. The One Who Transcends....................101
IV. About Life....................124
V. About the Revealer....................148
VI. About the Righteous One....................170
VII. About the Savior....................188
I. The Holy Name....................217
II. Duties....................230
III. The Original Image....................243
IV. The Mission of the Holy One....................254
V. Humility....................265
VI. Sacrifice....................278
VII. The Accomplishments of the Holy One....................283
I. The Principles of Following Tao....................296
II. Choosing between Two Worlds....................311
III. Lesson One: Discarding....................320
IV. Lesson Two: Tranquility....................335
V. Lesson Three: Gentle Humility....................344
VI. Lesson Four: Effortlessness....................356
VII. Lesson Five: Unification....................365
A. The First Metaphor: Light....................375
B. The Second Metaphor: Water....................380
C. The Third Metaphor: Mother and Infant....................385
Selected Bibliography....................393

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