The book starts with a description of the vinegar tasters, which is an actual painting portraying the three great eastern thinkers, Confucius, the Buddha, and Laozi
over a vat of vinegar. Each tasting the vinegar of "life," Confucius
finds it sour, the Buddha finds it bitter, but Laozi, the traditional
founder of Taoism, finds it satisfying. Then the story unfolds backing
up this analogy.
Hoff presents Winnie-the-Pooh and related others from A. A. Milne's stories as characters that interact with him while he writes The Tao of Pooh, but also quotes excerpts of their tales from Milne's actual books Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner,
in order to exemplify his points. Hoff uses many of Milne's characters
to symbolize ideas that differ from or accentuate Taoist tenets. Winnie-the-Pooh himself, for example, personifies the principles of wei wu wei, the Taoist concept of "effortless doing," and pu,
the concept of being open to but unburdened by experience. In contrast,
characters like Owl and Rabbit over-complicate problems, often over-thinking to the point of confusion, and Eeyore pessimistically complains and frets about existence, unable to just be.
Hoff regards Pooh's simpleminded nature, unsophisticated worldview and
instinctive problem-solving methods as conveniently representative of
the Taoist philosophical foundation. The book also incorporates
translated excerpts from various prominent Taoist texts, from authors
such as Laozi and Zhuangzi.
The Parable of the Vinegar Tasters Summary: 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. Since the painting is
allegorical, we are to understand that these are no ordinary vinegar
tasters, but are instead representatives of the "Three Teachings" of
China, and that the vinegar they are sampling represents the Essence
of Life. The three masters are Confucius, Buddha, and
Lao Zi, author of the oldest existing book of Taoism. 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."
This ought to give an indication of the extent to which things were
carried out under Confucianism.
To Buddha, the second figure in the painting, 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, a
revolving wheel of pain for all creatures. 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." Although the
essentially optimistic attitude of the Chinese altered Buddhism
considerably after it was brought in from its native India, 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 in his Tao Te Ching, the "Tao Virtue Book,"
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 Lao Zi, 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 Zi, 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," Lao Zi advised others to "join the dust of
the world." What he saw operating behind everything in heaven and
earth he called Tao (DAO), "the Way."
A basic principle of Lao Zi's teaching was that this Way of the
Universe could not be adequately described in words, and that it would
be insulting both to its unlimited power and to the intelligent human
mind to attempt to do so. Still, its nature could be understood, and
those who cared the most about it, and the life from which it was
inseparable, understood it best.
Over the centuries Lao Zi's classic teachings were developed and
divided into philosophical, monastic, and folk religious forms. All of
these could be included under the general heading of Taoism. But the
basic Taoism that we are concerned with here 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. You might say that happy
serenity is the most noticeable characteristic of the Taoist
personality, and a subtle sense of humor is apparent even in the most
profound Taoist writings, such as the twenty-five-hundred-year-old Tao
Te Ching. In the writings of Taoism's second major writer, Zhuang Zi,
quiet laughter seems to bubble up like water from a fountain.
In the painting, why is Lao Zi smiling? After all, that vinegar that
represents life must 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. That is the message of The Vinegar
Over the centuries, Taoism classic teachings were developed and divided
into philosophical, monastic, and folk religious forms. All of these
could be included under the general heading of Taoism. But the basic
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.
One of the basic principles of Taoism is P'U; the Uncarved Block. The
essence of the Uncarved Block is that things in their original
simplicity contain their own natural power, power that is easily spoiled
and lost when that simplicity is changed. This principle applies not
only to things, but to people as well. Or Bears. Which brings us to
Pooh, the very Epitome of the Uncarved Block. When you discard
arrogance, complexity, and a few, other things that get in the way,
sooner or later you will discover that simple, childlike, and mysterious
secret known to those of the Uncarved Block: Life is Fun. Along with
that comes the ability to do things spontaneously and have them work,
odd as that may appear to others at times. As Piglet
put it in 'Winnie-the-Pooh', "Pooh hasn't much Brain, but he never
comes to any harm. He does silly things and they turn out right."
Owl instead, is the
opposite of Pooh, the Knowledge for the sake of Appearing Wise, the one
who studies Knowledge for the sake of Knowledge, and who keeps what he
learns to himself or to his own small group, rather than working for the
enlightenment of others. That way, the scholars can appear Superior,
and will not likely be suspected of Not Knowing Something. After all,
from the scholarly point of view, it's practically a crime not to know
everything. But sometimes the knowledge of the scholar is a bit hard to
understand because it doesn't seem to match up with our own experience
of things. Isn't the knowledge that comes from experience more valuable
than the knowledge that doesn't?
...One rather annoying thing about scholars is that they are always using Big Words that some of us can't understand and one sometimes gets the impression that those intimidating words are there to keep us from understanding. That way, the scholars can appear Superior, and will not likely be suspected of Not Knowing Something. After all, from the scholarly point of view, it's practically a crime not to know everything.
Now, scholars can be very useful and necessary, in their own dull and unamusing way. They provide a lot of information. It's just that there is Something More, and that Something More is what life is really all about. One more funny thing about Knowledge, that of the scholar, the scientist, or anyone else: it always wants to blame the mind of the Uncarved Block-what it calls Ingorance- for problems that it causes itself, either directly or indirectly, through its own limitations, nearsightedness, or neglect.
While Owl's little routine is that of Knowledge for the sake of Appearing Wise, Eeyore's is that of Knowledge for the sake of Complaining About Something and Rabbit's
is that of Knowledge of Being Clever. As anyone who doesn't have it can
see, the Eeyore Attitude gets in the way of things like wisdom and
happiness, and pretty much prevents any sort of real Accomplishment in
life. Cleverness, after all, has its limitations. Its mechanical
judgements and clever remarks tend to prove inaccurate with passing
time, because it doesn't look very deeply into things to begin with. The
thing that makes someone truly different -unique, in fact- is something
that Cleverness cannot really understand.
We refer to that special Something here as Inner Nature. Simply put Things Are As They Are. You can't fit square pegs into round holes although people violate this principle every day of their live. Everything has its own place and function. That applies to people although many don't seem to realize it, stuck as they are in the wrong job, the wrong marriage, or the wrong house. When you know and respect your own Inner Nature, you know where you belong, You also know where you don't belong. One man's food is often another man's poison, and what is glamorous and exciting to some can be a dangerous trap to others. That doesn't mean that we need to stop changing and improving, It just means that we need to recognize What's There. If you face the fact that you have weak muscles, say, then you can do the right things and eventually become strong. But if you ignore What's There and try to lift someone's car out of a ditch, what sort of condition will you be in after a while? The wise know their limitations; the foolish do not.
A saying from the area of Chinese medicine "One disease, long life; no disease, short life." In other words, those who know what's wrong with them and take care of themselves accordingly will tend to live a lot longer than those who consider themselves perfectly healthy and neglect their weaknesses. So, in that sense at least, a Weakness of some sort can do you a big favor, if you acknowledge that it's there. The same goes for one's limitations. Once you face and understand your limitations, you can work with them, instead of having them work against you and get in your way, which is what they do when you ignore them, whether you realize it or not. And then you will find that, in many cases, your limitations can be your strengths.
You cannot post new topics in this forum You cannot reply to topics in this forum You cannot delete your posts in this forum You cannot edit your posts in this forum You cannot create polls in this forum You cannot vote in polls in this forum