Who Was Lao Tzu?

Holden QiGong
3 min readAug 1, 2023

You may have heard of Lao Tzu as the insightful author of the ancient Chinese text, the Tao Te Ching, but who exactly was this esteemed character? Despite the profound wisdom and influence of the Tao Te Ching, little is known about its revered author. Did he even exist? Was he even a he? There are many compelling theories about who Lao Tzu really was.

In this blog, we’ll explore a couple of likely theories about the existence of Lao Tzu. We will also discuss some of the fundamental lessons and wisdom of the Tao Te Ching.

Royal Imperial Gardener Turned Philosopher

One of the most widely held beliefs about Lao Tzu is that he was a simple man who oversaw the Chinese emperor’s royal garden in the sixth century B.C. His official title was Royal Imperial Gardener, and he spent his days nurturing the many plants in the expansive royal garden.

As the Royal Imperial Gardner, Lao Tzu occupied two different worlds. When he worked in the garden, he soaked up the beauty of nature and listened carefully to the wisdom of the natural world. Surrounded by plants, he learned how to connect deeply to the forces of the universe and channel its wisdom.

When he wasn’t in his garden, Lao Tzu rubbed shoulders with members of the royal court. His social circle included powerful individuals who often operated with corrupt and self-serving agendas. This caused Lao Tzu to realize that much of society lives out of harmony with the natural flow of the universe.

Disgusted by what he saw in politics, Lao Tzu left the royal garden and traveled the world. He rode away on the back of a water buffalo to escape the corruption and immorality of his social environment.

As Lao Tzu was leaving the city, he was stopped by a royal guard. They started talking and the guard was quickly inspired by Lao Tzu’s wisdom. He asked Lao Tzu if he would write down his most important lessons, and the wise traveler quickly agreed.

When Lao Tzu’s pen hit the paper, he poured out all of the insights and lessons he had gathered as a gardener. What transpired was a poetic and insightful text that helped reveal the true nature of the cosmos. It discussed the importance of living in harmony with nature and finding flow with the universe.

The lessons that Lao Tzu shared presented a stark contrast from the common values of the time, but his approach resonated deeply with many. His work was called The Tao Te Ching.

Another Theory: Was Lao Tzu A Group Of Sages?

Although the story of the Imperial Gardner is the most widely-held theory, some believe that Lao Tzu wasn’t an individual. Instead, Lao Tzu is simply a pen name that was given by the anonymous authors of the Tao Te Ching.

According to this theory, the Tao To Ching was written by a group of wise sages who came together to share their collective wisdom. Each of these sages offered their own unique perspectives that evolved from years of observing nature and learning from the universe. Together, they discussed their ideas and contributed their greatest insights.

This theory is supported by the fact that Lao Tzu means “old wise child.” One of the core lessons in the Tao Te Ching is about merging the playfulness of a child with the wisdom of an elder. This suggests that perhaps the name ‘Lao Tzu’ was chosen as the pen name because it embodies the text’s wisdom.

Although it’s fun to explore different possible existences of Lao Tze, we’re sure that Lao Tzu himself wouldn’t believe it’s important to arrive at a conclusive answer. After all, true words don’t depend on who said them. The same can be said about the Tao Te Ching.

Qi Gong is a practice that is largely based on the principles of the Tao Te Ching. Check out our Free Two-Week Qi Gong Trial to learn more and give it a try today.