Confucius once asked the sage Lao Zi, who wrote the Tao Te Ching, about etiquette in past dynasties. This encounter of theirs was well-known in ancient times, and people can find records of it, not only in official historical books such as Shiji, but also in a colorful portrait of Lao Zi. This painting, entitled Confucius Asking Lao Zi About Etiquette, tells the story of how Lao Zi sat with crossed legs on a stone as Confucius stood with his cap in his hand showing great respect and modesty, with both hands folded together in front, bowing to Lao Zi.
There is also a stone tablet building on the north side of Dongguan Street in Luoyang City, Henan Province, and it is believed that this is where Confucius met Lao Zi and asked about etiquette.
For more than 2,000 years, the teachings of Confucius about taking the middle path and his emphasis on “kindness and justice, courtesy, wisdom, and trust,” as well as Lao Zi’s philosophy of maintaining a tranquil mind and letting things take their natural course, served as the guiding principles for Chinese people. They were the moral standards for Chinese people, one governing their interaction with the outside world, and the other governing how they handled things internally.
The two principles played an important role in maintaining the stability of society and harmony in the family. In addition, their teachings enabled a select few people who had a good moral foundation and the capability of succeeding in spiritual cultivation to reach high levels in their spiritual quests.
Confucianism, together with Lao Zi’s lectures, benefited not only Chinese people, but they were also introduced to Japan, Korea, and Southeast Asian countries, along with other places throughout the world.
From ancient times, Chinese people have held onto the dictum “Confucianism on the outside and Taoism on the inside” as a principle to live by. In other words, a truly knowledgeable person serves Confucianism on the outside while adhering to Taoist principles on the inside. He talks about Confucius in society, but follows the Tao in individual moral cultivation.