The Vinegar Tasters

‘Sometimes in life, there’s no problem and sometimes in life, there is no solution.

In this space – between these apparent poles – life flows.’

― Rasheed Ogunlaru


There is an ancient painting of three men standing around a vat of vinegar. Each man has dipped his finger into the vat and has tasted it.

These three men represent the three teachings of China and the vinegar represents the Essence of Life.

The three Masters are K’ung Fu-tse (Confucius), Buddha, and Lao-Tzu, author of Taoism. Each man’s facial expression shows an individual reaction to the vinegar.

To K’ung Fu-tse, life seemed rather difficult and sour. He believed there needed to be strict, complex rituals and control at certain times of each day, for life to work and flow. He would often say, if the mat on the floor was not straight, he would not sit on it.

To Buddha, the second figure in the painting, life on earth was bitter, filled with attachments and desires that led to suffering. In order to find peace, the Buddhists considered it necessary to transcend the daily attachments of the world, which often caused suffering, if they were to reach Nirvana.

To Lao-Tzu, who is the only one smiling, he said there was a natural harmony and flow in life at all times and this existed between heaven and earth from the very beginning. He believed this could be found by anyone at any time. He said that this natural balance and harmony is only compromised and complicated when we impose strict rules, resistance, or force from the outside.

‘The Taoists believe that life itself when understood and utilized for what it is, is sweet.’

What’s your reaction to life?

The Tao of Pooh – A.A. Milne and E.H. Shepard

22 thoughts on “The Vinegar Tasters

  1. In the beginning I thought life was indeed bitter. But as life went by I tasted sweet spots among that bitterness. This made me question why wasn’t it there all the time. And then I understood…it wasn’t the world that changed…I did. So I went digging to find why I was bitter. It was there that I found my fear that made everything feel as if bitter. So I healed that fear by understanding it, and the moment I did truly understand my fear, the sweetness and aroma of love that my fear had been blocking brought that balance that had always been there but I had got in its way. But to understand our fear, first the bitterness so that when that sweetness arrives I did indeed appreciate it so much more because of what went before. It’s like happiness, it truly cannot be appreciated unless we experience sadness too. May we experience it all, as life will indeed share both sides of everything so that we can ‘know’ both sides of us and ‘know’ that balance that love is…the unconditional love as we understand and let it all go.
    Great post Karen, may we all find that balance, wherever we are inside 😀❤️🙏🏽

    1. Thanks for sharing Mark. And what you say is so true for many of us. I think we move through all these reactions at different phases in life. There is no ‘one way’ or ‘right way’ but I like Lao Tzu’s approach to life, as I’ve tried the other two ways and that was hard work ha!! 😅

    1. Exactly Kelly. 😊
      However, I think Lao-Tzu might be saying, that when we become the ‘observer’ of life and do not see it as ‘good or bad,’ we will find this natural sweet harmony.

  2. What a great allegory. No way is wrong…just different. I’m reminded as I read this that we are all different in our approaches to and interpretations of our human experience. “The only way out is through,” and there are many paths. A most enjoyable read. Woke up my heart and mind this morning. Thank you. 🙏🏻💜

  3. An insightful and thought-provoking post, Karen. I started out my journey with Confucius, spent several of my mature years with the Buddha, and now, in the twilight of my years, have found a new companion in Lao-Tzu. It’s never too late to find new ways of achieving balance and harmony in a bitter-sweet world 🙂

  4. I’m just going to say that I just asked for a sign to make a final decision on something big. I’ll say reading this is my sign. Lao-Tzu it is.
    Thank you Karen ❤️

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