How has taosim (Lao-Tzu) influenced western cultures? I’m writing an extended essay for the International Baccalaureate (IB) and am finding it hard to find resources. Could you also link websites or books if you have any to help answer the question?
Answer by Jürgen Lawrenz
Having an interest in classical Chinese thought, I once set out on the same road as you and found the same dearth of source materials. I’m afraid if this is your target, you are going to be disappointed. A few Westerners over the last 200 years have delved into, and translated, Lao-tse’s philosophical wisdom; but they are few and motivated by a private, rather than academic interest.
Among sources sources translated into English, the classic is still Fung-Yu Lan, “A Short History of Chinese Philosophy” which I believe has more recently been enlarged to 2 volumes. There is also Dirk Bodde: “Chinese Thought, Science and Society” (1991). Of course, Lao-tse is relatively briefly dealt with. So you may find, as I did, that Lao-tse’s influence on western culture is nil.
Sorry to be so discouraging, but you still have two choices available. One involves refocusing the essay you wish to write to the question of “Why is Lao-Tse almost totally unknown to Westerners?” It is difficult, but possible if you pit the sentences of the old Sage against a few Western mystics (e.g. Meister Eckart, Angelus Silelius), because they never “got through” with their message either, except on a very small scale. The other choice is to pursue your question through the merger of Taoism with Buddhism and western interest in Zen Buddhism. I concede that this is a far cry from what you set out to do. For all I know, Lao-tse himself (if there was such a man) might not have felt that this alliance has anything to with him.