Exposed to the story in a wonderful book by Benjamin Hoff called ‘The Tao of Pooh’, the story of the Vinegar Tasters has become one of my favorites. It is a Taoist story representing Taoist tenets, but any one of us can learn something from this short, meaningful tale.
I am about to paraphrase the story, telling it as I see it. If you would like to read Benjamin Hoff’s (more serious) version, I would really suggest taking a look at ‘The Tao of Pooh’. Not only will you learn something about Taoism, an ancient Chinese philosophy, through the characters in Winnie the Pooh, but anyone can gain greater wisdom on how to live by reading just that one, small book. Highly recommended.
Now then, to the story.
As you will see above, there is a painting. This particular painting is an artist’s interpretation of the original, and one of my favorites at that. In the painting, there are three men standing around what looks to be a container — each of them baring vastly different expressions.
In this iteration, Confucius is on the right. He is the founder of a philosophical tradition called ‘Confucianism’ (clearly he wasn’t creative with titles), which established a lot of the rules of conduct, manners, and the manner in which you are meant to live your life. Many of these same rules are followed in China to this day.
In the middle, there is Buddha. Though, it is actually only the representation of Buddha. Siddhartha Gautama was likely more… well, he was far less… Okay, let’s put it this way. The real Buddha made habit of fasting and you don’t get so voluptuous as the iconic Buddha (seen above) eating nothing but air. And, why did he fast? To endure, to abstain — in order to escape the world of suffering and enter into Nirvana. I’m guessing he might have been Kurt Cobain’s drummer when Dave Grohl was too busy.
And, on the left, stands Lao Tzu — the man of mystery who wrote the first Taoist text, the Tao Te Ching. While Confucius directly saw to finding all the answers and informing everyone when he did, and Buddha chose to suffer and endure in an effort to transcend all suffering, Lao Tzu was different. In fact, he never intended to teach anyone anything. The only reason he ever wrote down a word was because he wanted to pass over a bridge and live as a hermit for the rest of his days, but a guard asked him to write a book first. But, that is another story for another time.
So, in the painting, we see them come together. The story goes that they each take a drink from the container, finding vinegar swimming in their mouths.
Confucius immediately spits it out and is all like, “Holy shit, man. That stuff is terrible. Someone really ought to be fired for making that. Where’s the manager?” Note his obviously perturbed body language, it looks like he’s just eaten a lemon and is worried about lemon seeds wading through his colon.
Buddha, however, manages to swallow. But, he doesn’t like it. He doesn’t say anything, his face does all the talking. He doesn’t say anything because he has chosen to endure, to suffer through it, in his attempts to attain Nirvana. He didn’t realize at the time that grunge rock wasn’t going to last, so he was going all in.
But, you’ll notice that Lao Tzu neither makes a sour nor bitter face, and he swallows the vinegar right down. Why? Did he somehow manage to turn the vinegar into Gatorade, a la Jesus with the water and wine? Nope. In fact, he noted that the vinegar was both bitter and sour. Yet, you will notice he is smiling. Again, this is not because he tricked the other two into drinking vinegar while he drank top grade Chardonnay. He is smiling because he realizes that what he is tasting is exactly as vinegar is supposed to taste.
While Confucius wants it fixed and banned and Buddha suffers through it for the sake of the band… Lao Tzu just enjoys vinegar for being what it is.
The vinegar (if you’re having a brain vacation and don’t know) is a representation of life. Confucius represents those that want it controlled and stripped down to a science. Buddha represents those that put on a brave face but end up with a shit load of stress lines because all they ever do is work, and endure, and persevere — but they never enjoy. Lao Tzu shows that the greatest way to enjoy vinegar, and thus the greatest way to enjoy life, is to accept it as is. You would think Buddha would know that after co-writing “Come As You Are” with his buddy Kurt.
This has been story time with Cody Storyteller.