The Vinegar Tasters

The battle for ideological supremacy is perhaps as old as mankind itself.

In this ancient Taoist painting, Confucius, Buddha and Loa Tzu (founder of Taoism) are seen tasting vinegar from the barrel.

As the story goes, Confucius balks at the sour taste as in his mind human life was constantly out of step with the heavens and strict enforcement of laws and regulations were essential to bring earthly life in conjunction to its counterpart – the heavens.

For Buddha, life was essentially filled with suffering and therefore his expression is one of stoicism. The bitterness of the vinegar is just another instance of the suffering that humans need to transcend through wisdom and compassion.

Loa Tzu is the only one seen rejoicing despite the bitter sour taste of the vinegar. To him all of life’s difficulties and challenges had to be embraced with joy and a sense of humor. In his mind there was no imbalance in the universe and everything that occurred was harmonious and natural.

Of course it’s a Taoist painting and therefore it upholds his truth as the one that brings ultimate happiness. For in essence as humans we all crave wellbeing and wish to avoid suffering.

Its funny however that in the Chinese culture where these three ideologies reside side by side, most often blended and undifferentiated, they should still compete with each other for the slightest bit of supremacy if possible.

In my own mind they are all right and they are all necessary for harmony and balance. After all Confucius’s regulations are necessary for a society to operate successfully, Loa’s Taoist sense of good humor and acceptance is necessary for myriad personalities within a family to thrive and get along and Buddha’s sense of training the mind in order that it may avert itself from excessive attachment is the ultimate self-help guidance available to humans.