Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Perception according to "The tao of Pooh"

The Vinegar Tasters painting is the most popular painting related to taoism. It was made even more famous when the book "Tao of Pooh" mentioned this piece of art.

Three men are standing around a vat of vinegar. Each one has dipped his finger into the vinegar and has tasted it. The expression on each man's face shows his individual reaction. The vinegar they are sampling represents the Essence of Life. The three masters are Confucius, Buddha, and Lao Zi. The first has a sour look on his face, the second wears a bitter expression, but the third man is smiling.

To Confucius, life seemed rather sour. He believed that the present was out step with the past, and that the government of man on earth was out of harmony with the Way of Heaven, the government of, the universe. Therefore, he emphasized reverence for the Ancestors, as well as for the ancient rituals and ceremonies in which the emperor, as the Son of Heaven, acted as intermediary between limitless heaven and limited earth. Under Confucianism, the use of precisely measured court music, prescribed steps, actions, and phrases all added up to an extremely complex system of rituals, each used for a particular purpose at a particular time. A saying was recorded about Confucius: "If the mat was not straight, the Master would not sit."

To Buddha, life on earth was bitter, filled with attachments and desires that led to suffering. The world was seen as a setter of traps, a generator of illusions. In order to find peace, the Buddhist considered it necessary to transcend "the world of dust" and reach Nirvana, literally a state of "no wind." the devout Buddhist often saw the way to Nirvana interrupted all the same by the bitter wind of everyday existence.

To Lao Zi, the harmony that naturally existed between heaven and earth from the very beginning could be found by anyone at any time, but not by following the rules of the Confucianists. As he stated, "earth was in essence a reflection of heaven, run by the same laws - not by the laws of men. These laws affected not only the spinning of distant planets, but the activities of the birds in the forest and the fish in the sea. According to him, the more man interfered with the natural balance produced and governed by the universal laws, the further away the harmony retreated into the distance. The more forcing, the more trouble. Whether heavy or light, wet or dry, fast or slow, everything had its own nature already within it, which could not be violated without causing difficulties. When abstract and arbitrary rules were imposed from the outside, struggle was inevitable. Only then did life become sour.

To Lao, the world was not a setter of traps but a teacher of valuable lessons. Its lessons needed to be learned, just as its laws needed to be followed; then all would go well. Rather than turn away from "the world of dust," he advised others to "join the dust of the world." What he saw operating behind everything in heaven and earth he called Tao, "the Way".

Vinegar certainly have an unpleasant taste, as the expressions on the faces of the other two men indicate. But, through working in harmony with life's circumstances, Taoist understanding changes what others may perceive as negative into something positive. From the Taoist point of view, sourness and bitterness come from the interfering and unappreciative mind. Life itself, when understood and utilized for what it is, is sweet.


girlontape said...

the interfering true. the Way is the way forward!
no veo el link con tu nota....

Anonymous said...

gingatao, woohoo

Mariana Soffer said...

STefff: here you are my darling
txs for checking

It is an honor to hear that from you

Harmonie22 said...

Well, you've transformed vinager into honey with this post ha ha. This was a lovely read.

Yes, life is sweet, even when it feels like the skies are raining vinager.

Mariana Soffer said...

This hole post was inspired in the book that somehow came up in the conversation about math and art.
Guess you never know where life is going to lead you to.

Uncle Tree said...

Hundreds of years separate the vinegar from these great sages. Victims of their times, they were not. The mat was mobile, and thus they set the trends. They would deny any such distinction or label. The trendsetters were their disciples who spread the word, but only if it was a sincere request coming from an honest seeker.

Grapes will sour, eventually, and the water will be turned to wine in a smashing display of the miraculous. The Great Ones cannot be stained, nor are they easily moved. They activate and accelerate a progress, devoid of any notion to the contrary. Evolution does not promise progress, only change. It is easy to see which is the most humane approach.

Christopher Robin saves
Christ-offer robbin' graves

From the Pooh in me, Uncle Tree

Mark said...

This is a great and important lesson in both history and in wisdom. Thank you so much for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Such a lovely and thought provoking post mariana. Indeed, the Taoist philosophy promotes the value of the positive choice rather than the negative.

"If I had two roads
on which to ponder
I would choose the path
that leads to wonder."

My gift of verse to you mariana for being the chooser of the positive path. :)

Mariana Soffer said...

Uncle Tree: I knew you had a Pooh in you (it becomes evident in the spirit of your poems), now I see why we get along so well.
Interesting post-inspired tale, made me reflect.
Just one comment for now:It's true that evolution does not promise progress but I am not sure that it only promises change, because at least it has to seek for species survival. We should think about this more (at least I).

Pigglet sends his love to the tree.

Mariana Soffer said...

Mark:makes me happy sharing this with people who appreciate it. Thanks for stepping by

Valbrusell: Thank you so so much, your poem is moving and beautifully written.
This is a really encouraging commentary for me Makes me want to go on doing good things.

ojo said...

"Nobody goes so far, as whom doesn´t know where he`s going..."

Well, I`ve read some Tao stuff anytime, bur I didn´t know the story. Thank´s for sharing.

I think relativity is present y every way of thinking, and in everiy way to bear any form of filosophy.

The taste of vinegar may be not unpleasant for whom give it the right use.

In a direct example: It is very good for chilli, in the right mesure.
And swetness can became cloying... All may appear relative...

Man can see the world as a place full of traps; a a place to his own domain; a place where he itself is an interacting part...

I think that nature an universe have its laws, and man is part o them. Then men´s low are part o nature´s law. I´ts a dinamic feed-back.
Anyway, is desirable that men don´t forget to maintain harmony in his acts, as a part of nature, and, of cousrse, pay atention in order to understand the laws of life in that global way..

Sometimes I see life as a fight/interaction of forces. Harmony dosn´t must be out of it.

Wel, I also use this comment to say that Uncle Tree surely deserves the recognition. The word "lucky" was unhappy.
And to tell him that the teacher´s incident doesn´t cost me so much.
I make a free examination succesfully with another trial, and all ok.


Mariana Soffer said...

Good reflections about the story, thank you very much for enhancing it with your comments.

The parts when you say "I think that nature an universe have its laws.....": completely do, but we do not want to accept them many times, causing lots of unnecessarily trouble, acceptance is missing. Acceptance does not mean reassignment, not many understand this.

This paragraph: "Sometimes I see life as a fight/interaction of forces. Harmony doesn´t must be out of it." it is kind of confusing, or you might be using another paradigm than the one I use.

Loved what you said about uncle tree, and also makes me happy that the incident was not that harmful for you.
I would like it very much if you keep coming.

Anonymous said...

thank you for creating this positive space here, and sharing your insights .

ojo said...

Tanks for your response.
Well, lets try be most clear:

"Harmony dosn´t NECESARY must be out of it", should be the right expresion


Mariana Soffer said...

Utopian:Thank you very much for your visit.

Ojo:I see what you mean now. Thaks for the aclaration, I asked because your reflections bring new places for my mind to go, so I did not want to lose the meaning of the sentence.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Loa Zi on this. Life itself is a beautiful thing. It's generally only when people start messing wth it that it gets bad.

If we are healthy, have a roof over our heads and enough to eat, we are very lucky. (we are all on this internet thingy, so we're doing okay). Many people have nothing.

Life should be good for eveyone. It is terrible for some. Why? That is the question. What on earth is the answer?

Mariana Soffer said...

I always think that I have nothing to complain about. And that I have all I need to have.
The last part of your comment moved me. I always think about that, not in those terms, I usually think from where comes evil, specially the evil done by human beings?I would also love to understand why. I think about Ego's, wrong ideas about happiness (like buying a car will provide it) and mental mechanisms gone ashtray

~otto~ said...

So, let me make sure I understand: I need to drink more vinegar -- and like it.

I'm cool with that. I like vinegar on pork bbq and Italian sandwiches.

But let's not give Buddha or the other dude such a bad rap. We can't smile about everything that happens to us in life, and I’m not sure we’re supposed to. Grief is unavoidable, no matter how much you tell yourself vinegar isn’t sour and bitter.

And isn't the premise of this whole thing a little bit of a trick? Vinegar isn't sweet, so why pretend it is? You can't make ice cream with it. (I don’t, mayb you can, but you know what I mean.) Making a sour or bitter face seems a more honest reaction.

It’s our interpretation of their reactions that is in question. Just because they make those faces doesn’t necessarily mean that they perceive the vinegar as “negative.” It’s just an honest reaction. Maybe the next thing they did was slather it some fish and chips. Mmmmmmmm.


Robb Todd said...

"Tao of Pooh" kicks ass

Mariana Soffer said...

otto:I guess drinking vinegar is up to you, maybe it becomes an acquired taste.
You are right that we can't smile at everything, people suffer, but we
can avoid a great deal of this suffering, that is the idea, for example, as the story says, by avoiding arbitrary rules .
What you say about the premise makes sense, but I think you should try to see the story
with a broader perspective, and bear in mind vinegar is representing something else.
This is a story that needs a special kind of interpretation (or maybe I saw something there and invented to myself its meaning)
Notice that in the story it never says "it is better to smile after ingesting vinegar"
Have you read any Buddhist stuff? maybe an introduction to their main ideas can guide you (this is if you want to be guided)
I love that you question this harshly, its challenging.
Take care man


Anonymous said...

In college I took a class on the world's religions and came away thinking that Taoism was beautiful. Thank you for reminding me why.

~otto~ said...

I have read up on my chubby friend, Buddha. That's what makes me question question whether his reaction to the vinegar/life is fairly represented in this story. Buddha says the meaning of life is to be happy. I think Buddha likes vinegar/life just as much as Lao, even if his face doesn't show it.


Mariana Soffer said...

Otto:It sounds funny my "chubby friend".
I understood that Buddhist purpose is to end suffering, which I am not sure is exactly the same thing as happiness, I think it is more towards a life in harmony.

Maybe that drinking vinegar represent a challenge/difficulty to Lao and he is suppose to embrace it, cause you learn from challenges.
About the Buddha smiling from the inside, I do not know, It is interesting what you said, my own explanation is that given what I explain before about Buddhist does not mean that he is going to feel good about unpleasant things. But I have some doubts.
here are some interesting comparisons among the 3: religions/disciplines:
You can see there that the 3 of them mix and have different branches so it is not that easy. You made me realize I did not understand what I thought I did.
Bring a monk to enlighten us!
Thanks for keeping these challenging otto

Anonymous said...

Oooooh The Tao of Pooh! ^^
One of my favorites.

I don't have time to read this whole thread right now but I'll be back!


Mariana Soffer said...

Please do, you are more than welcome, I just discovered your blog and I am having the same time issue.