Lao Tzu (also rendered as Laozi and Lao Tsu, literally “Old Master”) was an ancient Chinese philosopher and writer who lived between the 4th and 6th century BCE. He is credited as being the author of the Tao Te Ching, the founder of philosophical Taoism, and is a deity in religious Taoism and traditional Chinese religions.
Much like pantheism, philosophical Taoism does not have a God in the way that the Abrahamic religions do. There is no omnipotent being beyond the cosmos, who created and controls the universe. In Taoism the universe springs from the Tao, and the Tao impersonally guides things on their way. The Tao is considered the absolute principle underlying the universe, combining within itself the principles of yin and yang and signifying the way, or code of behavior, that is in harmony with the natural order.
The Tao itself, however, is not God, nor is it a (small) god, nor is it worshipped by Taoists. Similar to pantheists who interchange “God” with “Universe,” Taoists may use ‘God-talk’ to refer to the Tao:
“The Venerable Lord, the Tao, was at rest in open mystery, beyond silent desolation, in mysterious emptiness… Say it/he is there and do not see a shape; say it/he is not there, yet all beings follow him for life.”
Adding to the confusion, Taoists conventionally revere to Lao Tzu as both the first god of Taoism and as the personification of the Tao. Despite the disavowal of a God in the Abrahamic sense, religious Taoists have many gods, most of them borrowed from other cultures. These deities are within this universe and are themselves subject to the Tao. Many of these deities are gods of a particular role, rather than a personal divine being, with titles rather than names.
It is clear from Lao Tzu’s own words, however, that his ancient philosophy is in line with a modern day pantheist’s:
“Ordinary men hate solitude. But the Master makes use of it, embracing his aloneness, realizing he is one with the whole universe.”
“The words of truth are always paradoxical. To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.”
“The key to growth is the introduction of higher dimensions of consciousness into our awareness.”
“If you’re depressed, then you are living in the past. If you’re anxious, then you are living in the future. If you’re at peace, you are living in the present.”
“Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”
“If you want to awaken all of humanity, then awaken all of yourself. If you want to eliminate the suffering in the world, then eliminate all that is dark and negative in yourself. Truly, the greatest gift you have to give is that of your own self-transformation.”