Lao Tzu (“Old Master”) was a mystic philosopher of ancient China, believed to have lived in the 6th century BCE. He is best known as the author of the Tao Te Ching which was his only work.
The most definitive source of information regarding Lao Tzu comes from a biography found in Record of the Historian written by Ssu-ma Ch’ien (145-86 BCE). However, even this historical record is sparse. Therein, Lao Tzu is described as having possibly been three different men, including a contemporary of and adviser to Confucious. He is believed to have been an archivist in the Royal Court of the Chou Dynasty which would have allowed him rare access to the treatises of the day.
Though Lao Tzu never opened a formal school, he nevertheless attracted a large number of students and disciples. However, he grew weary of the state of political affairs and decided to travel to the Western Frontier to live as a hermit at the age of 160. The legend holds that while traveling on a water buffalo through the Hanku Pass west of Loyang, he was recognized by a gatekeeper named Yinxi. The sentry urged Lao Tzu to write down his teachings so that his wisdom might be preserved for later generations. Lao Tzu agreed and thus retreated to the solitude of the mountain pass where he wrote the Tao Te Ching (tao meaning way or path; te meaning virtue; and ching meaning scripture or classic). Only the Holy Bible has been translated more times than the Tao Te Ching. After writing this masterpiece, Lao Tzu continued westward through the pass and was never seen or heard from again.