In early times the Chinese people had retained the knowledge and worship of God as the supreme being Known as Shang Ti. As time past their view of God degenerated into ancestor worship, the gods of hunting and agriculture, the spirits of the sky, sun and moon, etc. To discover the will of Heaven, they practiced divination. So they began to ask, "What is the Way of Heaven?"
Lao Tzu (c. 600 BC) was born in the Chinese kingdom of Ch'u. He spent his later years first at the Chinese imperial capital at Loyang as the palace secretary and later as keeper of the archives at the court of Chou. In his old age he became disgusted with the decay of the Chou Dynasty and decided to retire outside the kingdom. Moving westward, he arrived at the Han-Ku pass where he was asked by Yin Hsi, the keeper of the Gate, to write down his wisdom before he retired. He wrote a short book of 5,000 characters which we call the Tao Te Ching, meaning the Way and Its Virtue. Lao Tzu climbed his chariot drawn by a black water buffalo and was never heard of again.
Lao Tzu sought the reality underlying the world of nature not by reasoning but by intuition. Hieromonk Damascene well expressed the approach of Lao Tsu as follows:
Before the Word came into
They found Him in living
beings, in mountain crags and flowing streams, in seas and winds.
Therefore the sage called
Him also by His other name:
Lao Tzu saw in water a symbol of the Tao because it gives life without striving and flows to the lowest places men reject indicating humility. This is why in Chinese painting water is always present in some form, e.g. as a waterfall, river, lake, mist or clouds.
Lao Tzu gives this reality the name Tao (Way), but he realized that this was not the eternal name because as he wrote, "The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth". God here revealed himself in the contemplation of nature but remains unknown.
Painting by Li Pei (1920-1930)
He is the great mystery underlying all of reality and here no image is made of the Tao except as a written Chinese character. Chinese music even today is a means of seeing and hearing the Way in the realm of nature. ."Please click the character to hear "Autum Moon on Calm Lake".
God in this mystical view is unknown and is not a God that you can pray to simply because the communication here is at an impersonal level. Lao Tzu lived by intuiting and following the Way or the nature of things.