The Four Vinegar Tasters: Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Christianity

There is a famous Taoist painting called “The Vinegar Tasters”, showing together the three greatest prophets of Chinese philosophy:  Confucius, the Buddha, and Lao Tzu (the founder of Taoism).  Each of them is taking a taste from a great pot of vinegar.  Confucius tastes the vinegar and scowls; the Buddha tastes the vinegar and has no expression; Lao Tzu tastes the vinegar and smiles.

The painting is perhaps unfair to the Buddhists, for while Buddhism is sometimes characterized as cultivating a Spock-like lack of emotion, it actually encourages a lack of wrong attachments, i.e. attachments to inappropriate things and feelings; and once these attachments are dropped, what remains is not emotionlessness, but Nirvana, i.e. endless rapture.  This is why statues of the Buddha often show him smiling.  (The painting may be unfair to the Confucists, too, but I know very little about Confucianism.)

Nevertheless the Vinegar Tasters is a powerful painting, and it strongly makes the Taoist point that unpleasant experiences need not be avoided or expunged, but can be enjoyed as an integral part of the flow of the world.

What Would Jesus Taste?

I have often wondered what Jesus would be doing in this painting. Would he scowl in anger, as he did at the money-changers in his father’s temple?  Would he react with indifference, as when he callously said “You’ll always have the poor, you won’t always have me”?  Or would he smile, as when … hmmm…  did he ever smile? …

Continue reading “The Four Vinegar Tasters: Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Christianity”

Pagan Values: Ecology, Environmentalism & Practical Pacifism

A Guest Post by Ali, of Meadowsweet & Myrrh

Back at the beginning of April, I wrote a blog post ostensibly about global warming, but also in part about the various forms that our own complicity in and justification of violence can often take. I was amazed, and pleased, when this theme of violence was picked up by readers in the comments. After all, warriorship is a common topic of conversation in modern Paganism, especially among those practicing traditions with a particularly Norse or Celtic flavor. Given the sometimes less than subtle militaristic overtones of our modern Western culture, it can be all too easy to assume a simplistic warrior archetype that conflates nobility, honor and courage with the use of violence or the

imposition of brute force. Rarely do we hear of the “peaceful warrior,” or the ways in which responsibility and strength inform the goals of practical pacifism and enable modern Pagans to prevent, circumvent and withstand violence. By focusing too exclusively on our pre-Christian historical roots and the role of the warrior in ancient sociocultural structures, we miss an opportunity to integrate into the warrior ethic a uniquely modern emphasis shaped by our more recent social history of feminism, civil rights and environmentalism.

This last (r)evolution, in particular, exemplifies the changing conversation about the efficacy of violence when working towards mutual protection and prosperity. More and more, we see the image of the valiant, spiritually-grounded eco-warrior fighting, through political activism and conscientious conservation rather than through bullying and threats, to protect the earth and its diverse environments and ecosystems from the violence of exploitation and pollution. Such an inspiring, living archetype is a powerful example of practical pacifism in action. Continue reading “Pagan Values: Ecology, Environmentalism & Practical Pacifism”