Walking into the playroom one day just after the New Year, lo and behold, the whole gang of grand kids were sprawled around a cup of balsamic vinegar and an opened scroll.
One grandson was pulling his index finger out of his mouth and heroically trying not to grimace. His expression turned out to be a hysterically grumpy pseudo-smile which had all of us instantly chuckling.
Highly intrigued, because I seldom see all 6 of them doing something together that doesn’t involve sports, a family or school event or some type of electronic device, I ask what’s up with the vinegar.
Seems one of them received a gift from a friend who visited China over the Christmas holidays. It was a scroll with a print of the “Three Vinegar Tasters” given along with a tale that held a mysterious promise of knowing the future by a simple test. The gift giver said if they dipped their finger in the vinegar and tasted it and smiled like one of the figures in the scroll, then they would live a happy, long and prosperous life.
The kids told me to try it, attempting to hide their smirks in keen anticipation of Grandma’s reaction.
I’m game. Anything to be one of them even if for a few minutes. Suffice to say, a happy, long and prosperous life is not in the cards for me as a result of the vinegar tasting test.
If you haven’t ever encountered this picture, it represents the three great figures of the Teachings or Ways of Chinese spiritual life, each having just tasted the vinegar in the vat: Confucius (on the left), with a “sour” expression, Buddha’s (in the middle) face is “bitter,” and Lao Tzu (on the right) is “smiling.” And the vinegar represents life, everyday life.
So, wanting to find out more, one of the kids Googled around the Net and read their findings to the rest of us which I’ll summarize below. We had quite a rousing, funny and poignant discussion about the figures represented in this famous depiction.
Lao Tzu wrote a series of Teachings on the beauty and mystery of the Tao (the “Way”) called Tao Te Ching which means–Walking The Path That Leads Straight From The Heart. To Lao Tzu, the world was not a setter of traps but a teacher of valuable lessons.
Basically Taoism is simply a particular way of appreciating, learning from, and working with whatever happens in everyday life. From the Taoist point of view, the natural result of this harmonious way of living is happiness.
Lao Tzu smiles because he finds the vinegar sweet. He smiles because he knows that things in their original simplicity contain their own natural power, power that is easily spoiled and lost when simplicity is changed. This basic Tao principle applies to things AND people. When one discard’s arrogance, complexity and a few other things that gets in the way, they discover this simple, mysterious secret…Life is Fun.
Taoist philosophy says that everything has its own place and function. When one knows and respects their Inner Nature, they know where they belong. They also know where they don’t belong.
One of the most noticeable qualities of the Taoist personality is happy serenity. A subtle sense of humor is apparent even in the most profound Taoist writings as well as laughter bubbling up like water from a fountain.
And, so the six kids and I are having this unanticipated jewel of a discussion. You know… one of those times in life when one’s awareness is on full alert…saying this is it…pay attention now…and one is soaking in everything as time feels as if is standing still… and one is simply cherishing every iota of that significant “moment” of connection.
As our discussion winds down, I notice one of the granddaughters hasn’t said much. She is flopped on the floor on her stomach, head propped up on her hands cradling her face gazing at the “Three Vinegar Tasters.” I call her name several times with no answer. She is in a deep, deep brown study. So I gently fluff her hair to get her attention.
She peeps up at me with her chocolate brown, cinnamon flecked eyes, brimming with a dreamy, faraway look, and, says:
“The smiling one, Grandma. That’s David. He smiles when he tastes vinegar.”
Ahhhhhhhh……Ding, Ding, Ding! Yes! Yes! Yes! Sha’zam! Home Run! Touch Down!
The other 5 grand kids, ages 4 – 16, look down at the scroll on the floor and nod their heads in unison……
The Tao of David