A genuine historical figure, LAO-ZI was born in Henan Province in the year 604 B.C. — having been conceived by a shooting star and carried in his mother’s womb for 83 years before being born as an old man with flowing white beard. You can’t get more historically genuine than that.
Legend tells that LAO-ZI was employed as a keeper of government records. Unfortunately he didn’t keep his own record very well, and virtually nothing is known of him. Even his name is a nom-de-plume, meaning simply ‘old master’.
But in the interests of biography, we can picture him sitting at a desk surrounded by boring parchments. His mind begins to wander and suddenly the Secret of the Universe is revealed to him. (A similar thing happened to Einstein while he was working at the Swiss Patent Office, but that’s another story.)
Things get more interesting when, at the end of his life, LAO-ZI decided to emigrate to Tibet for a little peace and quiet. He climbed aboard a water buffalo and got as far as the western gate of the city, where he stopped for a cup of tea with the gatekeeper.
According to legend, the gatekeeper was so stunned at LAO-ZI’s wisdom that he begged him to jot down a few revelations for posterity. LAO-ZI grabbed a brush and dashed off a few ultimate truths before heading on his way.
He was never seen again (at least on Earth), but left behind the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) for future generations to ponder over. This slim volume consists of a few simple, but deeply meaningful, poems in which DAO (‘The Way’) is expounded. If you can’t understand the delicate nuances of his writing, there’s an entire industry of authors, websites and organizations out there who will be more than happy to explain it to you.
As for the reclusive LAO-ZI, he ended up in Heaven. Now deified as one of the SAN-QING under the name LAO-JUN, he advises the JADE-EMPEROR on do-nothing policy and spends long eons refining doctrine. He also makes immortality pills for a hobby. Visits are strictly by appointment only.